Grading the Redskins: Rookie QB's ace the test

Grading the Redskins: Rookie QB's ace the test
January 22, 2013, 10:15 am
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Over the next two weeks, CSNWashington.com Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2012 and evaluate its outlook for 2013. Previously, we looked atoffensive tackles, the interior offensive linewide receiversrunning backs, and tight ends. Today, it’s the quarterbacks.

Position: Quarterback

Grade: A

2012 starters: Robert Griffin III (15 games), Kirk Cousins (1)

Key reserves: Rex Grossman

Key free agents: Grossman

Rewind

The Redskins pushed all of their chips into the pile in order to move up in the draft to take Robert Griffin III second overall and they hit the jackpot. If he can stay healthy—and that caveat carries more weight than the usual cliché—the Redskins will be set at the most important position on the field well into the next decade.

The Redskins swapped first-round picks with the Rams, moving from sixth overall to second. The price for that was steep as Mike Shanahan gave up Washington’s second-round pick in that draft plus their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.

You don’t pay that price for a thoroughbred and then leave it in the stable. At the end of a rookie minicamp just a few weeks after the draft, Shanahan announced that there would be no quarterback competition. “He’s the starter, period,” Shanahan said of Griffin.

Griffin rewarded his coach’s for his faith in him. His NFL debut against the Saints was historically good. He completed 19-of-26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. That added up to a passer rating of 139.9.

He became the first player in NFL history to compile 300-plus passing yards, two or more passing touchdowns and no interceptions in an NFL debut. His passer rating was the highest ever for a rookie making his pro football debut.

The hot start was no fluke. Griffin finished the season with a passer rating of 102.4, the highest ever for a rookie. Prior to this year, no rookie quarterback with at least 320 pass attempts in a season had thrown fewer than nine interceptions. Griffin threw a ridiculously low five.

We could go on about RG3’s stats here but they only tell part of the story. His leadership ability was important as well. From the moment that Shanahan named him the staring quarterback, Griffin assumed the responsibility of leadership that came with the job. The veterans on the team saw how hard he worked and the special ability he had as a player. “Everybody gets in line behind him and says, ‘Take us to the promised land,’ ” said wide receiver Santana Moss, a 12-year veteran.

After the Redskins lost a home game to the 1-6 Panthers to fall to 3-6 entering the bye week, Griffin’s status as a team leader was formalized when his teammates elected him captain. One of his first acts as captain was to get in front of his teammates and tell them that he was not going to give up on the season.

Whether it was Griffn’s words, what Shanahan had said about shifting to a phase where he would be “evaluating” the team for the rest of the season or things just coming together, the Redskins didn’t lose the rest of the regular season. Griffin was a huge part of the winning streak. He posted five straight games with a quarterback rating of 100 or better and the Redskins won all of them. To get the streak going he became the first rookie ever to throw four touchdown passes in back to back games. The wins over the Eagles and over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving got things rolling.

But the storybook season took a wrong turn in Week 14 against the Ravens. With the Redskins down by eight in the late going, Griffin went back to pass, couldn’t find a receiver, and took off scrambling. Instead of heading to the safety of the sideline he cut back to the middle of the field. As he was trying to get to the ground he was hit by massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata. Griffin’s lower leg whipped back in an unnatural fashion. He went out of the game, tried to go a few more plays, and then went out for good. Kirk Cousins led the Redskins to an overtime win (more on him below). The diagnosis was a sprained LCL.

It was the beginning of the end of Griffin’s magical season. Cousins started the Redskins’ next game and led them to a win over Cleveland. Griffin returned and while the Redskins beat the Eagles and Cowboys to take the NFC East title he clearly was not the same dynamic weapon he had been for most of the season.

It looked like he was back in form in the playoffs as he led touchdown drives on the Redskins’ first two possessions. But near the end of the second drive he left his feet while throwing a pass and landed awkwardly. The star quarterback was hobbled the rest of the game and Shanahan made the controversial decision to leave him in. Griffin toughed it out until he could no longer. The injured knee gave out as he tried to corral a bad shotgun snap.

He emerged from the game with a torn LCL and with his previously injured ACL at least partially torn. Dr. James Andrew performed surgery a few days later. Recovery estimates range from six months to 12 months.

Fast forward

The outlook for 2013, of course, depends on Griffin’s knee. If the optimistic estimates prove to be accurate he’s ready for the start of training camp. The 12-month estimates have him taking his next snap in 2014. The middle ground of eight or nine months has Griffin ready at some point during the first half of the season.

Until then, it will be Cousins’ team. He proved to be able in the win over Cleveland but even he will tell you he’s not the talent that Griffin is. Winning in a spot start over a weak Browns team is one thing; starting several games in a row while opposing defensive coordinators put together a book on you is quite another.

Cousins’ ability to handle being “the guy” for at least a few weeks may determine whether or not the Redskins will be able to have a shot at defending their division title.

If Griffin was healthy, Grossman may have been let go. But since the third-string QB might be the top backup if Griffin misses significant time, a veteran signal caller who knows the offense is a potentially valuable asset.