It could be that Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense have been slow to learn new coach Jay Gruden's offense this offseason. But if Griffin's performance this preseason serves as a barometer for the development within the new offensive system, there's cause for concern in 2014.
Through 11 series over three games this preseason, Griffin has yet to orchestrate a touchdown drive for Washington. In total, he has gone 13-of-20 for 141 yards, an average of 7.05 yards per attempt. He has thrown two interceptions and taken four sacks.
|Robert Griffin III Drive Chart Through Preseason Week 3|
|Week 1 vs. NE||1||2-of-4, field goal|
|Week 2 vs. CLE||4||2-of-2, lost fumble|
|3-of-5, false start, interception|
|1-of-2, false start, sack|
|Week 3 @ BAL||6||Sack, field goal|
|3-of-4, sack, punt|
|1-of-1, sack, punt|
But the box score only scratches the surface of the problems that even limited preseason exposure has unearthed with this offense.
Griffin has demonstrated a recklessness this preseason that should have been eradicated when he tore his ACL and LCL in January 2013. He's playing behind an extremely suspect offensive line, but it can't protect him when he won't protect himself.
It's something we have to continue to talk to him about—how important he is to this team and this franchise. When he gets out of the pocket, he needs to protect himself. He's had a habit in his career of being able to get himself out of those predicaments with his speed and his athleticism. But here it's a 16-game season, with the great talent across the league in the NFL, (and) he's got to pick his shots and learn how to get down a little bit better.
After Griffin limped off the field following a particularly poor attempt at a slide, it's easy to see why Gruden is concerned:
Alarmingly, even though Griffin insists that he'll "keep getting better" at improving the way he slides, it's merely the preseason, and he has already displayed multiple times a disregard for his safety in order to extend plays. That ability, touted so highly when he was coming out of college, could shorten his NFL career.
Griffin's questionable decision-making in deciding when to take off running and when to slide (or not slide) resulted in some unnecessary hits against Cleveland. But he also failed to help himself Saturday against Baltimore, when he held the ball too long and was subsequently sacked by the Ravens' Elvis Dumervil.
Griffin didn't fare much better in the passing game. On his first play to open the second half, he was picked off by Ravens rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley. He left the game having averaged 2.5 yards per attempt and having generated no scores, while backup Kirk Cousins went on to throw two touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing (against, granted, Baltimore's second-string defense).
Two of Griffin's six drives were three-and-outs. One ended with the Dumervil sack, and one with the Mosley interception. He struggled to get anything going for Washington.
"The offense goes as I go," Griffin said after the game, via Liz Clarke of The Washington Post, "so personally I have to play better."
With that, at least he is showing some level of self-awareness.
Why is Washington's first-team offense struggling while the second-team unit has produced well-executed scoring drives this season? It goes beyond quality of opposing defenses. And more importantly, have we already seen the best of Griffin?
It won't be surprising if Griffin has a difficult time transitioning to Gruden's more conventional offense this season (as compared to Mike Shanahan's, which allowed him to just about run himself into the ground), which could have a direct result on his production.
After Gruden's hiring, Washington set about acquiring all the pieces Griffin would need to become a more refined pocket passer—signing DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts in free agency and retooling the offensive line to provide better pass protection.
Gruden "does not like the read-option stuff," an NFL assistant coach told ESPN's Mike Sando (subscription required), and there's no question that Griffin has the arm to support a more traditional aerial offense. Just recall this 49-yard bomb to Andre Roberts against Cleveland, a high point for Washington's first-team offense this preseason.
But Griffin's arm isn't the problem. His footwork, which has never been polished, affects his accuracy and ability to read through his progressions. He's entering a point in his career where those developments and improvements should be evident, but he's not showing that growth.
Rather than instill more confidence in the Washington fanbase, Griffin's play is posing more question marks.
If the offensive line holds up, if the pocket remains clean, if the receivers run their routes...we tend to see a very poised Griffin. He right now is a player who can perform at a high level when everything around him is perfect.
But perfect situations occur so seldom for NFL quarterbacks, and with this Washington offensive line, Griffin can't expect to be given much time in the pocket.
Yes, it's only the preseason, and the offense is likely still learning Gruden's system. But Griffin isn't showing the level of development to be expected from a player entering his third season in the league.
And it's proving to be cause for concern.