Why Is Robert Griffin III Struggling so Much?

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Why Is Robert Griffin III Struggling so Much?
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Robert Griffin III just isn't himself. He's had his moments this season, but those rare glimpses of the 2012 rookie sensation haven't been sustainable. The support hasn't always been there, so it's not all on the 23-year-old sophomore quarterback, but he ultimately deserves a significant amount of blame as well. 

Despite a dramatic late dash, Griffin had one of the worst performances of his career Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and as a result the Redskins are now 3-7 and out of the playoff race. 

I don't want to suggest Griffin is having a bad year, because that hasn't been the case. The best way to describe the season he's having is "unstable and inconsistent." There have been multiple peaks and valleys, and nobody has been able to get a feel for exactly where his trajectory is headed.

For example, some pieces I've produced just in the last two months:

Sept. 17: "What's Wrong with RGIII?"

Oct. 14: "RGIII Finally Returning to Form"

Oct. 20: "RGIII Has What It Takes to Keep Redskins in Playoff Hunt"

Oct. 31: "Examining RGIII's Recent Rash of Mistakes"

Nov. 8: "Don't Blame RGIII for Washington Redskins' Struggles"

But in all five of those cases, I resembled an apologist. The first concluded that, medically, his knee was still holding him back. The second and third were optimistic. The fourth actually concluded that Griffin was turning it over a lot as a result of a perfect storm of offensive issues, many of which are beyond his control. The fifth shifted the blame further to his coaches and supporting cast.

That final post was prompted by a strong performance from Griffin in a losing effort against the Minnesota Vikings. But he followed that up with another dud in yet another loss Sunday in Philadelphia, completing only 17 of 35 passes.

That completion percentage was the second-lowest of his 26-game career (including playoffs). And on top of that, he turned it over twice.

He had turned it over just once in his previous two games, but those two mistakes were costly against the Eagles. Both were killer rookie-type miscues.

The first came inside the Philly 10-yard line during the second quarter. Griffin is ultimately responsible for letting the ball come loose on a sack by Connor Barwin. He didn't detect pressure coming from the right side. By the time Barwin arrived, he already should have used his mobility to scramble left, but he really had no idea there was a threat.

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In his defense, though, it's important to remember that one individual is rarely entirely responsible for a turnover. In this case, Roy Helu missed an easy block on Barwin right off the bat.

If anything, Griffin was foolish to have such faith in his pass protectors. 

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The second turnover was a game-clinching interception thrown to Brandon Boykin in the Philly end zone with less than a minute to play. In this case, the blame again deserves to be shared by Griffin's pass protectors as well as No. 10 himself.

Sure, Fletcher Cox came through far too easily, but Griffin has to know his capabilities. He assumed he could get the ball through the back of the end zone and out of danger, so he tossed it up off his back foot.

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“In that situation, where you get a sack there, it ends the game,” Griffin explained, according to John Keim of ESPN. “I was trying to throw the ball to the back of the end zone. It didn't get to where I wanted it to go. Obviously I was on my heels and it's something I can definitely learn from.” 

He overestimated his strength in that situation, and the result was a crushing interception.

But it's possible Griffin didn't even have to chuck it up like that. Notice Helu coming open on the checkdown:

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An easy completion underneath there would have brought them to about the 10-yard line with—after a spike—about 20 seconds to go. But Griffin didn't make those calculations on the fly and instead became more desperate than was necessary.

Again, rookie mistake from a sophomore quarterback.

Both turnovers happened inside the Philly red zone, which is another major concern. Griffin's legs made him a red-zone hero last season, but it's almost hard to believe that his rushing touchdown total remains at zero in late November. He's struggling to make plays in tight spots, which is discouraging but also not surprising if you continue to view him virtually as a rookie.

Griffin's decision-making hasn't been good. He ignores checkdowns too often and stares down his first read. An example of the latter on Sunday came when Griffin inexplicably threw to Pierre Garcon despite the fact he wasn't open. There was little pressure and Griffin spent three seconds in the pocket, never surveying the field for another option.

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An example of the former came earlier in the season against Dallas, on a play in which Griffin fumbled the ball on a sack despite having two underneath options wide open.

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And here he is in Denver, failing to acknowledge targets open both underneath and deep while staring at Garcon on what resulted in an interception...

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Those moments have become so frequent that opposing defensive coordinators are wising up and clamping down on that initial read. Griffin has failed to adjust by making more of an effort to go through his progressions. 

Those are the types of things that, again, plague rookie quarterbacks. And it's why we have to keep in mind that Griffin's right knee robbed him of a first full NFL offseason. I believe that is a major reason why he hasn't been himself this year.

Griffin sort of threw his coaching staff under the bus with this comment after the game, via Will Brinson of CBS Sports:

You have to give credit where credit is due to Philly. They did a good job of scheming us up. Obviously, we were able to run the ball effectively, but in the passing game; they kind of had us. They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and like I said, that is disheartening. But we still have to find ways and that's what I told the guys—no matter what's going on out there, we're the players, we have to make the plays work. We just weren't able to do that during that first half.

And I get that. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis won the chess match Sunday by forcing Griffin to find his second and third reads, and Griffin failed. Take that initial read away from a young, tentative quarterback with shoddy pass protection and what do you expect? Plenty of scrambles and sacks along with a low completion percentage? Bingo.

Mike and Kyle Shanahan didn't adjust in order to ease things up on their quarterback. When Griffin and the offense finally got into a groove in the fourth quarter, RGIII was simply figuring out how the Eagles were defending him.

It was a little late to make that discovery. 

And while a myriad of factors are indeed at play, Griffin is simply missing too many of his receivers. There were plenty of timing issues early, which I suppose could also be blamed on the lack of a preseason or training camp for RGIII, but that doesn't explain why Griffin wasn't even close on passes like these:

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His mechanics aren't a concern. Griffin wasn't finishing his throws often enough early and may have been planting poorly thanks to that knee, but that hasn't been a glaring problem lately. Regardless, he's still making too many mental mistakes.

He also continues to struggle at leading his receivers. That fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson was plain ugly, and it's not the first time we've seen Griffin leave it behind a guy. 

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Robinson made a great adjustment there, and that happened a lot during Griffin's rookie campaign. But his receiving corps has helped him less frequently this year, which isn't ideal considering the circumstances.

He had only one dropped pass Sunday, making him the most inaccurate starting quarterback in the league in Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But his receiving corps has still dropped 30 passes on the year, which is the third-highest total in the NFL and is only five short of the total from 2012.

Unsurprisingly, it's just been a constant mix of good and bad, even within games. During the fourth quarter Sunday, he'd go from missing the broad side of a barn to drilling a receiver in stride on 3rd-and-long.

RGIII's sophomore slump
2012 (rank) 2013 (rank)
Comp. % 65.6 (5th) 59.7 (21st)
TD % 5.1 (8th) 3.8 (21st)
INT % 1.3 (1st) 2.7 (19th)
YPA 8.1 (1st) 7.3 (10th)
Rating 102.1 (3rd) 83.6 (19th)
QBR 71.41 (5th) 45.21 (23rd)
Rush YPA 6.8 (1st) 5.2 (3rd)
Rush YPG 54.3 (1st) 34.5 (4th)
Rush TD/GM 0.5 (1st) 0 (N/A)

Pro Football Reference

Again, I think it's impossible to take one factor or one player or coach and chalk these problems up to this or that. It's complicated, but I do believe that the primary root cause is Griffin's surgically repaired right knee.

I think we're underestimating how significantly Griffin was impacted by losing his entire 2013 offseason. That second career offseason is vital, and Griffin just wasn't able to address the flaws in his game (yes, they existed) after his rookie season ended. 

Every defensive coordinator in the league was able to spend the offseason plotting for Griffin, but he was relatively helpless. Don't think for a second that his early reads haven't been better covered and that his ability as a runner hasn't been limited by that phenomenon. Davis and the Eagles exemplified that in Week 11.

It's extremely difficult to fix these problems on the run during the season, especially when you're not getting a ton of support from the rest of the offense and the coaching staff. It does remain a perfect storm.

The Shanahans have been slow to adjust, that zone-blocking, smallish line has struggled to buy a less-than-100-percent quarterback some time, and the receiving corps has simply been bad. The defense is ranked 30th in the NFL in terms of points allowed per game, the special teams is ranked dead last in the league at Football Outsiders and they've taken a lot of silly penalties.

Dr. David McAllister, an orthopedic surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center with special expertise in knee ligament injuries, told us back in September that Griffin's 2013 season might be a struggle, and the four other experts we spoke to for that article agreed. 

"This is kind of what I would expect," said McAllister. "Will he get better and progress over the season? He might, but it might be another year before he looks more like himself."

The good news is that—unless something catastrophic happens between now and Dec. 30—he'll have a chance to make the necessary adjustments this upcoming winter, spring and summer. And in 2014, he should be himself again.

As far as that storm goes, cap constraints that handcuffed the Redskins the last two offseasons will be a thing of the past this spring. That'll give Mike Shanahan a chance to address the support issues that exist on both sides of the ball.

Simply, this hasn't been Griffin's year.

We should have seen the sophomore slump coming a mile away, but that Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign and Adrian Peterson's amazing 2012 comeback from a torn ACL gave a lot of fans with burgundy-colored glasses false hope. 

Now, with this team having invested four prime draft picks in Griffin and tied its fate to Shanahan, the only option is to hope that an offseason of hard work from all parties involved can fix what has ailed the franchise quarterback. In other words, patience will be required.

But Redskins fans are surely used to that by now. 

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