I know everyone is saying this on Twitter and elsewhere and I don’t want to turn this column into something it’s not meant to be, but: I can’t imagine the pain of those in Newton, CT. Such profound sadness.
Please do not wait for tragedies to go home and hug your kids. Do it anyway.
I’ll try to make an awkward segue to football. It feels silly writing about a sport after what happened Friday, but it is my job and it does provide a diversion. So that’s what I’ll do.
I haven’t addressed the whole Robert Griffin III “cornball brother” comments for a big reason: If I addressed every foolish comment by a sports personality on the air, I’d be working 100 hours a week. If someone of note had uttered those words – the President, a high-profile player – that’s one thing. But this was uttered by a sports commentator on a show that likes to rile people up; talk radio on TV and someone with a somewhat shady history of the truth whose name I had not heard mentioned in years. I had to remind myself who he was (yeah, he’s probably never heard of me either, but I’m not the one who said or wrote something ridiculous).
That said, what annoys me is that Rob Parker – who has been suspended -- said he talked to friends of his who are regularly at Griffin’s press conferences who provided the basis of his opinion. I call BS on that one. Major BS. Could there be someone who has sat in on one or two sessions, guess so. But regularly? No. In fact, Kirk Cousins and Griffin can now share their frustration over him. If you click on that link, it explains a lot. Finally, what I do know about Griffin is this: He comes across as the sort of kid a parent of ANY color would be proud to have. He’s not perfect, so don’t portray him as such. Neither am I or anyone reading this column. Griffin works hard, is respectful and humble. Yeah, I can see the problem with only displaying those qualities. Unreal.
That’s enough of that. Now, will he play? I honestly don’t know but I lean toward him playing –but not by a lot (51-55 percent range). I know there are reports that said he took no first-team reps; some players did say he took a couple reps on Wednesday. Yes, he knows the plays and Cousins must be ready. But when you put in a game plan you need to see how they fare against the look of that defense. So there’s a reason Griffin needs to run these plays too and the fact that he was so limited is troubling. If he’s getting better and you think, at this point, that he’s going to play, then you get him more reps. Period. But I also know some players can play without taking reps – London Fletcher, for example.
I think Mike Shanahan has an idea of what will happen, but I’m not convinced that they know for sure. They will test him out today and my guess is that by tonight they’ll know which direction they’re going. One longtime general manager said he thinks it won’t necessarily be Shanahan’s decision, that it comes down to the medical staff.
Reading between the lines is difficult. On one hand, Griffin has been upbeat, he looked better performing certain drills on Friday than he did on Wednesday. OK, you think he’s playing. But Kyle Shanahan mentioned the need to make sure he protects himself four or five times in one answer and that makes you think he’s probably not playing. Honestly, I don’t know if he will or won’t. One thing I won’t do is have Griffin just sit in the pocket all day and make quick throws. Makes no sense; if he can’t be who he is, even a reduced version of himself, then why play? You’re then admitting he’s hurt and putting him at risk to take shots in the pocket. The line has been helped all season by the ability to fool the defenders with fakes, slowing the rush, and moving the pocket. Take that away and it’s a completely different attack.
Can they win with Kirk Cousins? Of course. If they can force Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden to turn the ball over – he has 15 picks – it would help. Also, Browns running back Trent Richardson is not 100 percent and maybe not close to that. So they might be able to slow him (his backup, Montario Hardesty, has had a couple good games). But it would be asking a lot of Cousins to play a flawless game in his first start. He learned from the Atlanta game after throwing two picks, but he’ll also see different looks and be put in different situations that will bring about more lessons. He did throw 30 interceptions in college, a fairly high number (six of them coming in bowl games). That was a definite knock on him from people I talked to about him before the draft. But he is decisive on his reads, as we’ve seen. He does throw a nice ball – not the strongest arm, but certainly good enough. He also brings intangibles such as leadership and poise.
They have a chance with him, but this goes back to what Shanahan said before the season. For a rookie QB to succeed, he needs a strong defense and running game. The Redskins have the latter with Alfred Morris. The good news for Washington is that the Browns do allow 4.3 yards per run. Griffin’s presence has helped Morris, but he’s also proven he can get yards on his own from a traditional attack. So if the defense shows up, and Cousins plays a smart game, the Redskins absolutely can win. By the way, that rookie blueprint is different for guys like Griffin.
For what it’s worth, the Browns are 2-6 against teams that currently have winning records. Four of those losses have been by a touchdown or less. They’re a young team growing in confidence. But doubts remain about their QB.
Leonard Hankerson did a good job finding the open areas in zone coverage last week. It would do wonders for him and the receiving corps if he put up good numbers for a second straight game. His previous big games of six and seven catches were followed by one-catch outings. It’s difficult if you only play 25 snaps to always have five or six passes thrown your way. What we know about Hankerson now is that he’s capable of solid games, but how about a solid stretch of games? That’s the next step.
I thought Kory Lichtensteiger had one of his better run-blocking games last week. Given the surgery he had last season and the fact that he had more this summer, it’s amazing that he’s played in all 13 games so far.
Left tackle Trent Williams said if he were a rookie, he likely wouldn’t be playing because the deep thigh bruise impacts him that much. It’s forced him to change his game because he can’t just rely on athleticism.
That’s it. Pray for those impacted by the tragedy in Newton.