Throwing Not Everything For Robert Griffin III
While the quarterback has insisted he wants to be eventually known as a passer, not just a runner, his frequent attempts over the first three games demonstrates value in both.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – Ask any quarterback about throwing the ball and they’ll admit, maybe after some heavy prodding, they wish they could do it more often.
Robert Griffin III is no different. From early in his tenure with the Redskins, he’s expressed a desire to be known not solely as someone who can escape the pocket and run, but a player who is capable of making all the throws required of a top-caliber quarterback.
The Redskins’ slow start to the season has provided him ample opportunity to do just that. Though he struggled in the season’s first two losses as he recovered from surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his right knee, his performance Sunday in the Redskins’ loss to the Lions – a game in which he threw 50 passes, a career high – demonstrated it’s not impossible for Griffin to be known as a thrower, too.
“I don’t think anyone would expect us to throw the ball over 40 times the first three games of the season,” Griffin said. “It’s not anything I’m not comfortable with. I just know a lot of times, when you get into that range of throwing the ball, it’s not conducive to winning, and we did that to ourselves. We got down and we had to throw that many times in those first couple of games.”
Griffin attempted 49 passes in the season-opening loss to the Eagles and 40 in the first road game against the Packers. The game situation, more than anything, was to blame for the frequency of throws; with the Redskins trailing by 19 and 24 points, respectively, over the first two games, running the ball and keeping the clock moving simply wasn’t an option.
The game against the Lions, an eventual 27-20 loss, was markedly different. Griffin may have attempted 50 passes, but five attempts were during a last-ditch effort with 38 seconds remaining at the end of the second quarter and 17 attempts came on the final two drives of the game, which included a 13-play drive over 2:16 and three tries to set up a Hail Mary attempt.
“Once you get into the two-minute situation, those numbers can get really carried away one way or the other, and that’s what’s happened,” Mike Shanahan said. “But when you really break down the game, you’ve got to break it down and look at it, and the run/pass ratio was right at 50 percent.”
During the offseason, as Griffin recovered from knee surgery, his father, Robert Griffin Jr., made it known that he wanted to see the quarterback throw the ball more. The 815 yards Griffin gained on the ground during his first season were a league record for a rookie, but his father didn’t think it was in his best interest to be running as often as he did.
Only on Sunday did Griffin truly show for the first time some semblance of his ability to work within the Redskins’ offense. He took his first two zone-read carries of the season for a total gain of 11 yards, and his 21-yard improvisation on the first series of the fourth quarter – a run he ended with a fumble when the ball popped out as he dove head-first – was his most Griffin-like play thus far.
Not having the threat of the run has changed the way opposing defenses have played Griffin – especially in the first two weeks, when he saw frequent blitzes, especially from the inside.
“That’s what we expect from him,” running back Alfred Morris said. “That’s the type of player he is. I wouldn’t say that it had a direct impact on us. That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s what he should be doing. He’s getting more confident, more comfortable with it, and just coming back from this injury – each week he’s getting better, so I know he’s gonna be even better when we play Oakland.”
Griffin did an adequate job of moving the pocket against the Lions when passing lanes weren’t open. The game situation also allowed him to work deeper into the Redskins’ playbook, making gains on bootlegs and other designed rollouts.
The frequency with which he threw the ball, though, did trouble him. He knows that if he’s throwing the ball as often as he did against the Lions, the Redskins likely aren’t winning. He’ll need to run, and he’ll need Morris to run as well.
“If you throw 50 times and it’s just part of the game plan then that’s great, but we have to make sure we limit that and really work our game plan all the way through the game,” Griffin said.
➤ A version of this story appears in Thursday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.