My initial goal was to write five thoughts on Robert Griffin III’s debut. I needed a sixth. Yes, one word could suffice: Wow. Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Redskins’ 40-32 win over New Orleans. But, as usual and because I like to get paid, I have a lot more to say.
- This is why the Redskins were so tough to predict this season. Yes, we knew all the problems, but we had no idea what Griffin really would do in this offense (or how soon). The preseason showed nothing (which is why whether he threw 31 passes or 40 in the preseason it really didn’t matter). And it’s why anyone making a dire prediction for this team now must wonder. Remember, Griffin has a lot to learn and should improve, right? Having said that, you can’t get carried away because it is just one game and the Saints’ defense isn’t great and plenty of good ones await. There’s a heck of a long ways to go. Just keep repeating: one game, one game, one game. You can also then think: but that was one hell of a game. And it showed that, channeling my inner Denny Green, Griffin is who we thought he is. That’s why fans should be ecstatic. How often does a guy live up to the hype in his debut. Especially the hype surrounding this kid. While I thought Griffin would have a good game, there’s no way this sort of game could be anticipated. No way. Redskins’ staffers walked around Friday with a T-shirt that read on the front, ‘Making History.’ It was in reference to the 80th anniversary, but now it looks like a statement on Griffin’s game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first NFL QB to debut with a game of 300-plus passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s not as if the Saints played a vanilla cover-2 all game. They tried to pressure; they changed looks.
- The only time we saw the zone reads and options were in practice and you could see the impact at times. Linebackers would jump wide and Griffin would cut inside. Or they’d crash hard on the ballcarrier and Griffin would bounce outside. The point: It was tough to defend. And you saw the Saints having problems with it Sunday. Want to know why some of those bubble screens worked so well? Because of the fake zone read runs. Here’s one: On a 12-yard bubble screen to Pierre Garcon to the left, the outside linebacker on that side (David Hawthorne) got sucked inside by the fake. This enabled Trent Williams to seal him inside, opening a lane for Garcon. Saw it several times. And part of the success stems from Griffin’s calmness in the pocket. In training camp we called that calmness “being deliberate.” He never looked to be in a hurry. Well, it worked to his advantage today. He hid the ball well as he turned his back and forced the Saints linebackers to honor the fake. There will be games when Griffin won’t be able to be so deliberate, but those fakes will be difficult. They not only have to worry about the back carrying the ball, but now Griffin. They’ll pause an extra split second and open the middle perhaps a little more.
- Here’s the obligatory Griffin-wasn’t-perfect- item. Well, he wasn’t. I mean, a 139.9 passer rating isn’t perfect, right? Griffin was nearly intercepted on one pass, though it took a terrific leaping effort by the defensive back to have a shot. There was a botched play fake in which he dropped the ball (though I love how he didn’t panic, picked it up, saw he had nothing and stepped up and took a five-yard loss; could have been a lot worse). There was another time on a blitz in which he forced a ball to Aldrick Robinson (two plays after the other near pick). Lucky for Griffin his feet weren’t set properly and he sailed the pass or it could have been an easy interception. That’s all we’ve got for this game. I’m sure there will be days that don’t go quite so well and now that teams have more of his game on film they’ll adjust accordingly.
- All you have to do is look around the NFL at the other rookies and their struggles today to know how special this debut was. But the shot it provides the defense is tough to measure. The frustration that they’ve felt over the years was obvious and they had to pitch a near-perfect game to win. Those days are gone. They still need to play well, but there’s a different feeling as a defender when you know the QB on your team can make plays. It helps you stay in games mentally; it provides a lift during the week as you prepare. Had Griffin struggled or had a pretty good game, it would have helped too. They know where the kid is going; they’ve been around him and seen it in practices. But to see him have a debut like this will take them a long way mentally. Think anyone on that team isn’t now thinking they have a shot to do more than just improve this season? I also liked how Griffin handled red zone situations too. More on that for Tuesday’s film review.
- The poise Griffin showed wasn’t a surprise. Spend any time around him and you can tell pressure doesn’t bother him. Some guys just like being in certain situations. Griffin is one of them. He also played with a trust, not just in his receivers but in his protection. On the touchdown pass to Robinson, the Saints sent six rushers. That left the Redskins blockers, including running back Roy Helu, in man blocking. Griffin never appeared worried, set his feet and tossed a strike for the score. Liked his decision to throw it away on a third and three in the fourth quarter, setting up a 45-yard field goal, rather than force a pass. There’s a reason Griffin didn’t throw many picks in college. That poise was evident, too, with 6:19 left after the Saints had cut it to 33-25. First down, loud dome; Griffin calmly hits Robinson for 13 yards.
- Griffin’s mindset is a perfect one for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (who could ride Griffin to a head coaching job if this continues). Both want to make big plays downfield. Shanahan took the pressure off Griffin with a lot of his calls, not forcing him to make the big plays downfield. But how many coaches would have a rookie throw a play-action pass late in the game protecting an eight-point lead? Griffin executed the pass to Logan Paulsen perfectly. On the 26-yard pass to tight end Fred Davis, the Redskins ran a swap-boot to the left and Darrel Young was open in the flat. But Davis leaked out to the other side and Griffin, with pressure, turned and threw to him. Defenses will learn you must play tight coverage no matter where a receiver is on the field. Just a sweet play. On the fourth-and-1 pass to Aldrick Robinson, Griffin wanted to throw to Young but he was held up. So he sprinted wide and tossed to Robinson. It’s an aggressive throw. Even if the penalty was questionable (others were too), it’s hard to instill that mindset. As Griffin gets more comfortable, the Redskins will attack in different ways. He combined athleticism with poise against the Saints to produce a near-perfect debut.
To subscribe to my free weekly email report, click here.