Robert Griffin III's Knee Continues to Be Root of His Problems in 2013 Season

BJ KisselContributor IOctober 3, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins throws a pass during the second quarter against the Oakland Raidersat Coliseum on September 29, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The optimistic line of thought was "If Adrian Peterson can come back that quickly, then RG3 can too!"

This is what many Washington Redskins fans were hoping for after Robert Griffin III underwent surgery on his right knee last January. Griffin had reconstructive surgery on his ACL and also had his LCL repaired in that same knee. 

It's no easy comeback from a knee injury, especially one dealing with an ACL. But after what fans saw Peterson do last year for the Minnesota Vikings en route to the NFL MVP award, that raised expectations for how Griffin, and all players, can bounce back from knee injuries, albeit completely unfair. 

After just four games in 2013, Griffin has displayed tentativeness and distrust in the knee that underwent its second reconstructive surgery just eight months ago.

Most sane people didn't expect RG3 to step onto the field and immediately display the same abilities he showed last year as a rookie. The cuts he would make in the open field and quickness he displayed in and around the pocket weren't going to come back right away. 

The big question was how the Redskins were going to game plan around their franchise quarterback, given the state of his surgically repaired knee and the offensive system that ran him 120 times last season.

The biggest thing that jumps out about these stats is the rushing attempts. Griffin averaged eight carries per game last season and that's almost cut in half through the first four games this season, averaging just over four carries per game.

The Redskins are making a concerted effort to not run Griffin more this year. Whether that's because of his knee or negating the number of hits he's taking during the game is anyone's guess, but the fact is they aren't using him the same way as they did when he broke onto the scene last year. 

While the rushing yards and attempts have changed dramatically so far this year, even with the small sample size of four games. It's Griffin's passing that has been affected by the knee as well. 

Below is a graph from Pro Football Focus showing Griffin's passing numbers to each area of the field last season. 

Griffin's passing chart in 2012, per Pro Football Focus.
Griffin's passing chart in 2012, per Pro Football Focus.

You'll notice how well Griffin delivered the ball down the field. He had ratings of 104.9 to the deep left, 87.3 to the deep middle and 140 to the deep right. These were on passes that traveled at least 20 yards down the field. 

Now take a look at that same chart through the first four games this season. 

Griffin's passing chart through first four games in 2013, per Pro Football Focus.
Griffin's passing chart through first four games in 2013, per Pro Football Focus.

Griffin has ratings of 43.2 to the deep left, 57.4 to the deep middle and 39.6 to the deep right. There's a significant difference in these numbers than what we saw last season. 

How might his knee be affecting his ability to get the ball down the field accurately?

If a a player doesn't have the trust in his knee to drive off his right leg and extend on release, he'll end up with inconsistent results. That's what we've seen from Griffin so far this season.

Most people believe that accuracy has to do with your arm action or something to do with your upper body, but the truth is most of it has to do with your lower half. And if you're not getting a consistent or powerful drive off your plant leg, there's nothing consistent that will come from where the ball ends up. 

Here's a look at Griffin from a pass in 2012 driving off his plant leg, which is the same knee that he had surgery on this past offseason. 

You can see that even with his three-step drop from shotgun with a simple curl route from the wide receiver, a pass that doesn't travel that far, Griffin still gets something behind it and drives off that right leg. 

Fast forward to this season and take a look at the play below. 

This play is from the Redskins opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. After watching this play, most people were probably too enamored with the play by Eagles cornerback Cary Williams to see that the pass had very little behind it. Williams was able to dive and undercut this route and make the play because Griffin didn't put enough velocity behind the throw. 

And when you look at his lower-half, you can see why there wasn't much velocity behind the throw. 

The screen shot in the top left (No. 1) shows Williams completely turned as the receiver makes his break and the ball is released from Griffin's hand. The separation in this play from the receiver and cornerback is what you see in a lot of out-routes and comebacks at the NFL level. That is considered "open" for a receiver. 

In the No. 2 shot you can see that Griffin is tip-toeing back in his drop, which wouldn't be an issue if he eventually planted and drove forward to deliver the pass, but he doesn't. Rather than planting and driving, Griffin swings open as shown in No. 3, losing all "torque" and "leverage" against his front side, and essentially uses all arm on this throw. 

Griffin never actually plants off his back foot to make this throw. He uses the momentum from dropping back and swinging open with his tip-toe drop to take pressure off his right knee, and therefore has all of the weight shift to his left leg after the throw, which is why in No. 4 you can see his right leg come all the way through and around his body. 

This pass travels 20 yards down the field in the air from the far hash to outside the numbers. This is one of your prototypical "NFL throws" that people often talk about. It has to be thrown with velocity because NFL defensive backs are too athletic. They'll break on the ball if you float it out there, and that's exactly what happens to Griffin. 

There's not enough behind it and Williams jumps underneath and makes a fantastic play for an interception. The timing wasn't bad on the play, but the interception could have been avoided with better mechanics from Griffin's lower half. 

This is a very detailed explanation of a simple drop back, but it illustrates how Griffin isn't trusting his knee yet to make the same plant-and-drive throws he did last season, and that's ultimately affecting his deep passing numbers and the Redskins offense. 

The mental side of trusting his knee is going to take some time and it's entirely possible that Griffin regains that trust and gets back to his 2012 form. But between the repaired knee and eliminating the number of hits he was taking last season running the ball, Griffin will learn to play quarterback in a different manner than he did last season. 

How many times last season did we see Griffin take off and run the ball in the same situation presented above? It's probably fair to say most of the time.

But here we see Griffin throwing back across his body to a tight end when he's got 14 yards of green grass in front of him before there's a defender. 

Maybe this is the Griffin that we're all going to get used to seeing on Sundays, a quarterback that's protecting himself a bit more and becoming more of a traditional pocket passer.

As the season goes on and Griffin learns to trust his knee more, it will be interesting to see if he reverts back to his 2012 self and runs more when the opportunity presents itself. It's obvious things aren't right as far as his explosiveness and quickness, but that doesn't mean he won't get back there at some point. 

In any case, it's fair to say that version of Griffin is still a ways off.