The Identity Crisis Facing The Redskins Offense & Robert Griffin III

When I sat down almost four hours ago to watch the Washington Redskins play the Houston Texans, I’d have felt pretty good, as a Redskins fan, if I had known the following…

  • The defense would play a credible football game, only giving up one big play of note
  • The punt coverage would be excellent
  • Alfred Morris would find holes and run the ball effectively
  • Robert Griffin III would not make any mistakes

That’s generally a pretty good formula for winning football games. So why are the ‘Skins on the wrong side of a 17-6 loss? The short-term answer is this—the ‘Skins got a punt blocked for a touchdown, had an extra point blocked and Jordan Reed Niles Paul fumbled on the 10-yard line when the team looked to be going in (both teams had fumbles in the red zone, which canceled each other out).

The long-term problem though is what’s on my mind and it’s this—are the Redskins aware that yes, it is permissible to have a pass attempt more than five yards down the field? RG3 completed 15 of his first 16 passes and managed to accumulate less than 50 yards in the process. It wasn’t that he was doing anything wrong—the play appeared to be executed as called. It’s that he wasn’t doing anything at all.

I didn’t know what to expect in Week 1, and I was prepared for extremes. When I was in a good mental state, I saw the RG3 of 2012, whirling about, making plays. When I was in a low mood, I saw him trying to force plays and making mistakes. The one thing I didn’t see was a game that would be ultra-vanilla.

There’s nothing wrong with building a football team around the notion of a quarterback playing it safe and not making mistakes. In fact, in my ideal world that’s what I would do. But that presumes certain things—it presumes you’re not just going to play competent on defense, you’re going to wreak havoc. It assumes you won’t have any hiccups—certainly not get a punt blocked. Marty Schottenheimer built an entire career of winning football doing it exactly this way. The Seattle Seahawks could do this every week and go 13-3.

But based on what we’ve seen from the Redskins in recent years, it’s completely unrealistic to think they’ll get through an entire game without doing at least one or two things that are insanely stupid. The hope is that the dumb plays will be kept to a minimum and the playmakers on offense can do enough to compensate. Washington played well enough in the defense, special teams and running game phases for that work. But not only didn’t it work, there was no real effort to even try.

At the heart of this is an identity problem when it comes to RG3. The coaching staff—apparently with the approval of the quarterback himself—seem determined to make him a generic pocket passer. But why do you draft someone with speed to burn and a clear ability to throw down the field—as he did the few times he was allowed in the second half—and then put him in a system that 90 percent of NFL quarterbacks can run.

Let’s be more blunt—if all Washington wants to do is find someone who will make the right read and drop a three-yard dump to the wideout, Scott Tolzien can do that.

The person with the most at stake here is Robert Griffin III. I know he believes he can be a great pocket passer. I think his pocket game gets too much unnecessary heat, a fallout of the Mike Shanahan-orchestrated media campaign last December. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s Peyton Manning in the pocket either. RG3 is pretty good as a pocket quarterback. The only way his team is going to win is if the quarterback is dynamic, and the only way Robert Griffin III is going to be dynamic is if he’s unleashed. I’d rather have a dynamic QB for 12-13 games, even if taking off costs him a handful of starts with injury.

The NFL establishment mindset doesn’t like anyone that varies from the rule that every quarterback must look exactly the same, like they all came off the assembly line. Jay Gruden and RG3 are giving in to that.

I don’t expect Gruden to change, but if I were in a room alone with Robert Griffin III and had the chance to tell him one thing it would simply be this—In sports, as in life, there are times when you have to decide if you’ll succeed or fail based on who you are, not what others would have you be. Your legs and ability to improvise are a part of your athletic package. Embrace it.

Or in a town that loves political slogans, let’s sum it up thusly—Run Robert Run.