Everyone in the nation's capital has an opinion on Robert Griffin III. There are those who think he's the franchise superstar bound for a bounce-back 2014, those who are taking a wait-and-see optimistic approach and those who are starting to think Washington has backed the wrong horse.
Count Redskins legend Joe Theismann among the latter group.
Speaking on the team's broadcast during Saturday night's preseason loss to the Ravens, Theismann advocated for coach Jay Gruden to start backup Kirk Cousins.
“Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition," Theismann said, per Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post. "Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to, because of the efficiency with which he has run [the offense]. Now Kirk, like I said, is basically a drop-back quarterback. I see Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, I see Kirk Cousins that way.”
Theismann's comments came as Cousins was one-upping his fellow third-year counterpart on the field. The former Michigan State standout led the Redskins on two long touchdown drives, each culminating with a short pass from Cousins into the end zone. He finished the game 14-of-20 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns, picking apart Baltimore's second unit with a series of short throws.
Griffin, for his part, struggled mightily in the first half. The 2012 Rookie of the Year completed five of his eight passes for just 20 yards and threw a bad interception deep in Baltimore territory in the first quarter.
The Redskins first-team offense is yet to score a touchdown in three preseason contests. Griffin has been at the center of what's become a widely criticized unit, with his ability to comprehend the playbook and adjust his style being pushed to the forefront. He has thrown two interceptions in 20 passes this preseason and has lacked his trademark confidence on the field.
Gruden, in his first year with the Redskins, defended his quarterback in his postgame meeting with reporters:
He is further along than it appears he is. Based on his production [Saturday], a lot of people would say he’s not further along. He’s a lot further along than he gets credit for. All you have to look at is practice and game tape, and it wasn’t very good from anybody. But I’ve seen him practice, and I’ve seen him come a long way. [Saturday] didn’t show how much he’s come forward.
While criticism from fans and some media members is to be expected, it's something of a surprise coming from Theismann. A two-time Pro Bowler during his 12-year career in Washington, Theismann has become known as a consistent defender against criticism of the franchise. He's been a staunch advocate of owner Dan Snyder, including defending the team's controversial nickname.
As for his assertion that Cousins has been better, he's correct. At least if you're only counting preseason stats—nearly all of which Cousins accumulated against second-team defenses.
Based on our sample of their respective regular-season work, though, it's difficult to tout the Cousins-over-Griffin argument.
Former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan tried that experiment last season. It didn't go well. In five 2013 appearances, Cousins threw for 854 yards and four touchdowns against seven interceptions. His three starts to end the season, each coming against below-average pass defenses, were a series of near-disasters so bad they evaporated his trade market.
According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, Cousins was the worst quarterback in football to attempt 100 or more passes. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) measured Cousins as being better than only one signal-caller who had at least 100 dropbacks: Blaine Gabbert.
Griffin ranked 31st and 23rd in those metrics, respectively. For as frustrating and injury-prone as Griffin has been, he was light-years better than Cousins last season despite his fractured relationship with Shanahan and a still-recovering knee. As a rookie, the former Heisman winner ranked seventh in DVOA and was fourth in Pro Football Focus' measurements (subscription required).
Washington's offensive struggles this preseason are disheartening, and perhaps Griffin will never reach the considerable heights of his rookie campaign again.
But starting Cousins over Griffin based on their performance in games that don't count? That might be one step on the hot-take meter too far.
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