It's Time to Stop Blaming RG3's Knee for Continued Woes

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It's Time to Stop Blaming RG3's Knee for Continued Woes
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As Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin dragged his toes in the back of his own end zone, Robert Griffin III watched his potential comeback end from a familiar position: the ground.

With a 3rd-and-1 from the Eagles' 21-yard line, Griffin backpedaled away from the Eagles pass rush, then flicked a deep jump ball off his back foot. Unconscionably, Griffin threw the game up for grabs with 40 seconds left on the clock and favorable down/distance.

Griffin's would-be comeback attempt—a 24-point miracle in the making—fell short, and Washington's 2013 season fell with it in the 24-16 loss Sunday.

After a surprising run to 10-6 and an NFC East title in 2012, the NFL world spent most of the offseason assuming the health of Griffin's surgically repaired knee would determine whether Washington would repeat in 2013.

Griffin's knee didn't throw that interception, though, and it's beyond time to start wondering what happened to Griffin, how much of it is his fault, and whether he'll ever again be the electrifying playmaker he once was.

 

A Slow Start

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Earlier in the season, Griffin's knee was clearly affecting him. In the season opener, at home against these same Eagles, Griffin looked slow. Not just slow afoot, but slow making reads, slow making decisions, and slow delivering the ball.

In the second match, RG3's physical speed was there from the jump—but it looked like Washington got jumped.

In the first quarter, Griffin couldn't seem to complete a pass for anything. Counting an incomplete pass that drew a roughing the passer penalty, Griffin's six dropbacks resulted in one completion for one yard and a sack.

Already holding a 7-0 lead, the Eagles started the second quarter with a 43-yard pass to Brent Celek, first ruled a touchdown. Instead, it was followed up with a one-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown plunge.

Down 14-0, Griffin started crisply executing the short passing game, and tailback Alfred Morris started grinding out yards. The Redskins suddenly had no problem chewing up turf, getting all the way to the Eagles' 5-yard line. Then, Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin made this fantastic strip-sack:

The Eagles then drove for a field goal, good for a 10-point swing about four minutes before halftime. The ensuing Washington drive ended with yet another sack of Griffin and a loss of eight yards on 3rd-and-9. At the half, Washington trailed 17-0.

The Eagles opened the second half with a touchdown drive, pulling ahead by a score of 24-0—putting the game, it seemed, out of reach.

 

A Furious Finish

That's when the Washington comeback didn't start.

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No, first Griffin and his teammates had to struggle through two more drives, both ending in punts. With less than a minute left in the third quarter, Griffin threw an apparent interception—only to have it reversed. Then, after the teams traded a pair of failed fourth-down conversions, that, finally, is when Griffin put it in gear.

Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Griffin faced a 1st-and-10 from his own 38. After a little dancing around (and a feint forward as if to run), Griffin found fullback Darrel Young wheeling down the sideline and put it on him. Young made two defenders miss with a single nifty move and took it 62 yards to the house.

On his next drive, Griffin flashed some vintage 2012 RGIII. After faking the handoff to his left, Griffin rolled right, found receiver Aldrick Robinson and threw a 41-yard touchdown strike. Griffin then called his own number on a quarterback draw, leaping into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

In two possessions, Griffin displayed all of the most dangerous dimensions of his game: avoiding the rush and extending plays with his feet, using play action to open up the deep passing game and designed runs that gash a defense respecting his arm.

 

A Glorious Future?

Now that we've seen Griffin do everything that made him great in 2012, we know there's nothing physically stopping him from doing it.

The game-ending interception was a truly horrible decision, but anyone trying to hold up that play as proof Griffin has given up, or lacks the mental fortitude to be a franchise quarterback, didn't see how many times Griffin had to be scraped off the turf.

In the end, my piece calling Griffin slow proved prescient; Griffin's health is indeed the least of Washington's worries. His protection, his mediocre weapons and the porous defense forcing him to attempt 24-point comebacks are all much bigger problems.

Washington head coach Mike Shanahan—and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle—did a beautiful job of putting Griffin in a position to win last season, as detailed by Chris Brown of Grantland. To get more of the quick-strike points Griffin put up in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, the Redskins will have to get back to the read-option, play action and boot motion that worked so well RG3's rookie year.

While Alfred Morris seemed a classic product of his environment in 2012, he seems to be a difference-maker in 2013. The Shanahans need to build more of the offense around his threat to run.

It's too late to save Washington's 2013 season, but it's not too late to save Griffin's career as the team's franchise quarterback—or Mike Shanahan's legacy as a brilliant head coach.

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