How Gruden’s Scolding Came About
updated Nov. 22, 2014 3:18 PM, MST
Robert Griffin III has not been playing well.
That has been no secret over the course of Griffin’s last two seasons after an outstanding rookie campaign that left fans around the country begging for more out of the development of the young quarterback. However, through the last season and a half, it’s been the very lack of production that has been the source for the drama that has continued to swirl around the career of RGIII, especially recently.
There’s actually more to it.
While the build up of hype entering the 2012 NFL Draft was deserved after closing his career at Baylor University claiming a Heisman Trophy, which led to Washington trading away multiple future first-round draft picks to select him, the expectation added to that has seemingly been too much for Griffin to amount to.
Entering Week 12 of the 2014 season, the last time he led his team to a win was over a full calendar year ago against the San Diego Chargers on November 3, 2013, in a game Washington went on to win 30-24 in overtime (he started a game earlier this season against the Jacksonville Jaguars that Washington went on to win 41-10, however Griffin left after only attempting three passes). He is 1-9 in that span (including the win against the Jaguars earlier this year), and since the start of his sophomore campaign in the NFL he is 4-13 in games he has started.
For the sake of parity, let’s continue to review how RGIII reached this point.
While I’ve never been one to knock players for taking advantage of themselves and selling their name when their brand is at its height in relevance and popularity, RGIII—as well as others a part of this new era of athletes, in general—seemed to take a lucrative road, instead of a road leading to complete development as a quarterback at the professional level.
When he tore his ACL in the 2012 NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks, it was interesting to see how RGIII managed to not only dominate headlines in the media, but he turned his recovery into an opportunity to sell his brand.
Okay, cool. Doesn’t seem too potentially detrimental, right? Sure, but RGIII continued to promote his promise of returning by Week 1, and this led to there being a disagreement with then-head coach Mike Shanahan concerning whether he was truly healthy or not.
In case you don’t remember, he clearly wasn’t, nonetheless prepared. After missing the preseason completely, a gimpy Griffin’s first action with the team came in Week 1, as promised, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia jumped out to a 33-14 lead by the end of the third quarter, and Griffin finished 30 of 49 for 329 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions, in the 33-27 loss.
The rest of the 2013 season was a very up-and-down year, both visually and statistically for Griffin, as more indication that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Shanahan continued to build. Finally, that song reached a screeching crescendo with RGIII being benched in favor of backup quarterback Kirk Cousins for the last three games of the season.
Regardless of poor play, however, RGIII ads continued to surf the channel waves throughout the year.
The decision at the end of the season was inevitable, as Washington parted ways with Shanahan, in favor of the offensive-minded Jay Gruden with the hope that he would be able to center Washington’s offensive scheme around Griffin’s talent and incorporate his running ability.
After missing the first six games of this season due to an ankle injury, Griffin has struggled to find his old form. However, while Griffin is undoubtedly aware of his spell of poor performances, that didn’t stop him from essentially throwing his team under the bus after the game last week.
That ignited his new head coach to quickly and earnestly rebuke what Griffin had said, responding by calling him out on his lack of fundamental skill.
“Robert had some fundamental flaws. His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times.”
The most resounding quote from Gruden’s rebuking was this:
“So from his basic performance just critiquing Robert, it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.”
He’s right. Griffin’s ability to run the football, healthy or injured, has been figured out and stifled, as he’s yet to score a rushing touchdown since his rookie season. From the pocket, analysts are in unanimous agreement that he has yet to show any real improvement both in reading coverages pre-snap and in getting the ball out of his hands before taking unnecessary sacks.
Is it disputable that Griffin has gotten in the way of his own development?
It certainly is, and should be. Despite his running ability being the most intriguing trait he possesses, to this point Griffin has failed to improve as a pure passer from within the pocket, even though when he was first drafted experts swore that he was just as capable from the pocket as he is on the ground.
The argument that Griffin posed in his press conference was that in order for him to be great like the “Peyton’s and Aaron Rodgers”, his team needs to play great.
He’s not wrong, but there’s a difference between two of the best in the game and Griffin himself.
The most consistent stretch of play we’ve seen out of RGIII from a positive standpoint occurred during his rookie year; Manning and Rodgers consistently play at an elite, championship-caliber level when they step on the field. They understand the game and force defenses to literally stay on the defensive, not on the offensive with the ability to dictate what the quarterback does.
I understand that he was remorseful even in making the statement, however, Gruden was right to publicly put Griffin in his place. Until he proves himself as simply being a capable starter, he has no place to make statements comparing himself to elite quarterbacks.
It also sends another important message to Griffin, too.
As Gruden put it, “It’s his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. It’s my job to worry about everybody else.”
For too long, RGIII has been too concerned with how the team has been operating instead of focusing upon his own game. Gruden is making it a point now to not allow Griffin to get in his own way, and by allowing him, rather telling him to focus upon his own play, it will give him an opportunity to truly go out and improve and fix what Gruden has said he needs to improve. Not only this, but Gruden’s words even display a willingness from Gruden to take control of the team and get RGIII to where he needs to be skill-wise in order for Washington to be a good team.
So, with six games left in the year, what should we expect from Griffin moving forward?
As Gruden stated, Griffin’s skills are of fringe-starter caliber. They face a formidable defense this week in San Francisco, too. However, this presents an opportunity for Griffin to maybe get himself back on his feet heading into the final stretch of the season.
Don’t expect any amazing performance from RGIII, however, look for him to slowly begin a transition into a better, relaxed passer. Washington doesn’t have too much to play for, although if Griffin and Gruden can manage to get onto the same page entering next season, it bodes well for the future of the franchise, especially with Griffin’s contract year coming up within the next offseason.