Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is playing his favorite sport: mind games.
Shanahan said quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered a Grade I LCL knee sprain against Baltimore and wouldn't rule him out against Cleveland on Sunday. It sounded sincere enough until Shanahan mentioned a few caveats, like practicing and proving he wouldn't get hurt further by playing against the Browns.
In other words, Griffin may play, but Cleveland's coaches still must spend extra time watching film of backup Kirk Cousins. Essentially with a wink, Shanahan said he has one game plan for both but each does different things. Translation: The Browns' coaches won't sleep this week preparing for both passers.
Inside, Shanahan is chuckling. Outwardly, Shanahan is giving the "who me?" look of someone accused of using smoke and mirrors.
Indeed, if it weren't for NFL sanctions, Shanahan wouldn't say anything at all. He's more cagey now after the team was fined for releasing poor information about Griffin's concussion against Atlanta on Oct. 7.
"We will put a game plan together that we think gives us the best chance to win with both quarterbacks," Shanahan said. "Obviously, Robert can do some things in the running game that Kirk can't."
Well, that clears it up.
Actually, Shanahan is right to keep Cleveland guessing. It might be the old "game-time decision" even though there's no way a team will wait that long on a quarterback. It's not like at receiver, where there are extras. By Friday night, Shanahan probably will know whether Griffin or Cousins will start, but there's no harm in letting Cleveland wonder longer.
Shanahan must love that his much talked-about fourth-round selection of another quarterback -- when the team might have taken a needed offensive lineman -- has proved right. It's not that Cousins wasn't worth a fourth, but the team already invested three firsts and a second-rounder to get Griffin, and the remaining needs were plenty.
The only way Cousins was playing this season was if Griffin was hurt, and sure enough a concussion and sprained knee gave the Michigan State quarterback two chances. The first was a typical rookie debut with mixed results, but Cousins rallied Washington to an overtime victory over Baltimore in the second.
Cousins could start for several NFL teams. He's better than former Redskins first-rounders Patrick Ramsey and Heath Shuler were as rookies. He's better than some of the 20 passers who started for Washington since its last Super Bowl victory in 1991, too.
Griffin's standout play makes people forget what many rookie quarterbacks are like, but Cousins' ability to grasp the playbook and moxie make him a steal. He's more important than a backup lineman such as third-rounder Josh LeRibeus, who has barely played.
Meanwhile, maybe Cousins will start against Cleveland. Perhaps Griffin will be ready. Shanahan's knowing smile isn't saying.