Robert Griffin III is a name that should inspire confidence. If we play that NFL name association test, immediately an image of a booming arm should come to mind. Then next, his speed and creativity on the run. Combined, that strength and improvising once put him at the forefront of the modern quarterback movement, a new breed that sees mobility as a must.
That’s who you saw two years ago during his offensive rookie of the year season, the same year that ended with Griffin tearing apart his knee. It was a season that essentially erased 2013, with a recovered Griffin healthy enough to be on the field, and that was about it. The quarterback we saw out there was only physically present, with his body unwilling to escape, juke, and manipulate the pocket as he did with so much ease two years ago.
Now he sucks. He sucks bad, he sucks often, and he sucks so much that after three preseason games and a whole 20 pass attempts in a shiny new offense, there are real, educated football voices saying if an honest quarterback competition was held, he would lose.
Those words came from Joe Theismann, the legendary former Redskins quarterback turned analyst and hot take artist who assessed another poor performance by Griffin, this time against the Ravens (three sacks, an interception, and only 20 passing yards).
For Theismann, if an alternate world existed in which Griffin wasn’t the cemented starter in Washington after every pick ever was given up to acquire him, a quarterback competition against Kirk Cousins wouldn’t be a competition at all.
“Let’s stop beating around the bush. Kirk Cousins has played much better at the quarterback position than Robert Griffin III has. Now, Robert is learning to work out of a pocket. He doesn’t look as smooth or as comfortable throwing the football. I mean, your eyes will tell you everything you need to know.
“It’s going to be a decision that Jay Gruden is going to have to make. Right now, Robert Griffin III is his quarterback. Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition.”
Griffin has been terrible this preseason, and no one is debating that. The eye test Theismann speaks of returns a failing grade and lunchtime detention for more work with the teacher.
As new head coach Jay Gruden attempts to contain Griffin a bit more and focus on comfort working from the pocket, his project has sputtered, often taking too long to process what’s happening in front of him. The result is then a hurried play, and in turn that leads to sprayed throws or a run that goes nowhere.
Beyond what we see, the numbers associated with Griffin are downright petrifying. Through three preseason games he has a passer rating of 46.0. In Week 3 of the preseason, the regular-season dress rehearsal, that rating fell to 27.1, while Griffin averaged 2.7 yards per pass attempt. His longest completion — of which there were only five, even while the first-team offense stayed on the field into the third quarter — went for seven yards.
Yet still even with all of that stumbling awfulness, it’s remarkable how easily the human mind can both block out large chunks of time, and focus solely on what’s happening right now.
Quickly we forget how lost Cousins looked last year during his first extended regular-season tryout, when games mattered and he faced first team defenses (something he hasn’t done much this preseason). The mere hint of a quarterback controversy in Washington or suggestion that he could win a battle means there’s also a talent gap of some significance between the two.
There absolutely is, and Griffin is much further ahead.
Cousins appeared in five games last year, three as the starter. His season of confusion started during a garbage-time cleanup job against the Broncos in Week 8, when he needed only nine pass attempts to throw two interceptions.
In total on 155 attempts Cousins averaged 5.5 yards per throw, while chucking seven picks and completing 52.3 percent of his passes. One of those poor outings (5.5 YPA, 58.3 completion percentage) came against the Cowboys, who trotted out the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense.
Right now Cousins is what he’s always been: a backup who’s young and has shown promise in the past, enough that eventually a general manager will convince himself the former Michigan State standout is worthy of a sizable trade payment. That’s the same way we once described Matt Flynn.
Meanwhile, Griffin is absorbing a new offense. That’s not an easy thing for any quarterback, and especially not one who’s spent most of his football career running and improvising, and one who just became fully healthy for the first time in a year.
He’s allowed to learn, and develop as he takes in something completely foreign. And he’s allowed to struggle while doing it. That’s normal.
A year ago during the preseason Philip Rivers was horrible while learning the new system put in place by rookie Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and then offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He averaged only five yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 48.3 in August. Then he went on to win Comeback Player of the Year.
Prior to his rookie season Cam Newton did nothing to shed those now laughable bust concerns, completing only 42.1 percent of his passes while adjusting to a pro-style offense, a similar transition to the one Griffin is going through now. Then he became the first quarterback in league history to pass for over 400 yards in each of his first two starts. He also scored the most total touchdowns by a rookie, threw for the most rookie yards, and was named offensive rookie of the year.
August is a time for development, learning, and growth. It’s not a time for panic. Save that until at least Week 2.