Rookie getting first look at all-time great safety
ASHBURN -- It happens quite often. Ed Reed's instincts kick in, honed by hours of film study, and he spots a clue in the quarterback's thinking. Then he breaks toward the ball and adds another interception to his list. It's at 61 and growing.
It happens quite infrequently. Robert Griffin III has thrown just four interceptions. If he isn't sold on the pass, he looks elsewhere or takes off running, saving the Redskins from a turnover.
When the Redskins play the Ravens on Sunday, one pivotal part of the game will be whether Reed can add Griffin to his list. Reed ranks 10th on the NFL's all-time list for interceptions. But it will be tough to pick off Griffin, who threw only 17 interceptions in 1,192 passing attempts in college.
Of the four other rookie quarterbacks starting, only one -- Seattle's Russell Wilson -- has thrown fewer than 10 picks. And he has eight. Indianapolis' Andrew Luck (16), Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (15) and Miami's Ryan Tannehill (12) all have had their share of turnovers. Only Wilson has thrown more touchdown passes (19) than Griffin (17).
"He's pretty precise on getting rid of the ball," Reed said of Griffin. "He seems to have guys open. That's the key to it really. When he does throw to guys that are covered, you can see that he's accurate, a good decision maker. To run the option and making plays the way he makes plays, you have to be a good decision maker."
One NFL defensive coach said Griffin's ability to run helps prevent him from forcing the ball. He said when they faced Griffin, he saw some hesitation. But rather than force a ball, Griffin would look elsewhere -- or he knew he could pick up a half-dozen yards by running.
"The scheme that they're running helps him out a lot," Reed said.
The Redskins run a lot of play-action, whether in the traditional manner or off the zone-read look. Their scheme forces linebackers to scramble into coverage, sometimes losing sight of players or the quarterback. And receivers get free.
But you can't just credit the scheme. Another defensive coach echoed what Reed said about Griffin's accuracy. This coach was impressed by how Griffin could throw receivers open and how he often placed the ball in a spot where only the offensive player had a shot. It's a misnomer to think he only throws to open targets; against Dallas, for example, some of his more impressive throws were thrown into tight windows.
"He has the arm strength, so when you do see a hole, he can get that ball in there very quickly," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "It doesn't have to be a big hole."
Griffin has a simple philosophy.
"Just don't force things," Griffin said. "Trust the system that you're within so you can go out and work through the system. ... God blessed me with decision-making ability to know when to put things into those tight windows and when not to."
Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson played one season with Reed and called him a film-a-holic. He said if a team runs a certain play 30 out of 30 times before facing the Ravens, Reed will be waiting in the right spot on the 31st time.
"If you show him anything over and over again, he'll take it as truth," Wilson said.
Said Griffin: "He's the best safety to ever play -- or one of the best. He covers a lot of ground, does a lot of unconventional things. It's nothing to fear, but you definitely have to be aware of where he's at."