Redskins

A Fitting Matchup: RGIII vs. Russell Wilson

by David Elfin
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left to right: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (credit: Otto Greule Jr and Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

left to right: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (credit: Otto Greule Jr and Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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It’s fitting that Seattle is Washington’s opponent on Sunday in the Redskins’ first home playoff game since 1999.

That’s because the Seahawks are led by Russell Wilson, the third member of the most talented troika of rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. So Washington’s Robert Griffin, who made his home debut (albeit in preseason) against Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, will play his final home game of the year against Wilson, barring losses by the top three NFC seeds and victories by the Redskins the next two weeks which would bring the conference championship game to Landover for the first time.

Certainly, as Griffin is prone to pointing out, quarterbacks don’t actually face each other, they match wits with opposing defenses.

However, like a matchup of American League aces Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia, who never throw fastballs at each other, or Vezina Trophy-winning goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas, who never save each other’s slap shots, fans love seeing the best of anything have at it. The story isn’t Denver and New England being only one victory apiece from a Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship Game. People are pumped for yet another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady duel.

So it will be whenever Griffin meets Luck or Wilson for years to come. And since Luck plays in the AFC, he’ll only face each of his rivals every four years barring a Super Bowl showdown. However, dual pass-run threats Griffin and Wilson, who have more in common with each other than with more traditional drop-back passer Luck, could be seeing plenty of each other over the next decade or so.

“It’s definitely similar,” Wilson said about their style of play. “Robert runs extremely well. He throws the ball well, a nice deep ball. He’s a little bit taller than me, but I think the key with us is trying to have that leadership mentality. He’s had a tremendous season. He’s a great human being and I’m very happy for him.”

Although he called Wilson “a great guy” whom he’s happy to see succeed except against the Redskins, Griffin didn’t want to make a comparison even though their numbers are so similar:

Wilson, a minor league second baseman who was only the sixth quarterback drafted (75th overall), largely because he’s short for the position at 5-foot-11:

100.0 passer rating, 3,118 yards, 64.1 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns,10 interceptions, 489 rushing yards, 5.2 per carry, four touchdowns,11-5 record for a team that was 7-9 in 2011.

Griffin, a world-class hurdler who was drafted second overall (behind Luck) after winning the Heisman Trophy:

102.4 rating, 3,200 yards, 65.6 completion percentage, 20 touchdowns, five interceptions, a rookie quarterback record 815 rushing yards, 6.8 per carry, seven touchdowns, 9-6 record for a team that was 5-11 in 2011.

“I really liked Russell,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. “I liked the way he handled himself. I liked the way he played. If you took a look at all of his games [in] college you can see that he had the ability to run the football extremely well, He has a lot of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback. He’s really a class act … and a fun guy to talk to. We were together at the Senior Bowl which was a good experience to be around him. He’s a natural leader. He’s playing some good football.”

As for Griffin, for whom he gave St. Louis three first-rounders and a second-rounder for the right to move up four spots to draft, Shanahan said, “He had [athletic] skills most people don’t have. He picks things up very quickly. When he comes to work … everybody respects what he does and how he handles himself. [He’s] one of the first guys in and one of the last guys to leave. He’s going to go out there and have the game plan down and be prepared. He can pick a [struggling] guy up and at the same time he can demand perfection. For a young guy, not a lot of people can do that. He understands what it’s like to be a leader.”

Here’s Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Wilson, who surprisingly beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job during preseason: “He’s just such a special player [with] his natural ability to play the game [and] … to do it with poise. He’s improved the whole season. He’s going to go out today… and he’s going to work his butt off. He’ll be the first guy in the film room and he’ll be the last guy to leave the building. We’re just very lucky that he joined our team.”

Scarily similar, no?

“These two kids are just unbelievable,” Carroll said about the two highest-rated rookie passers ever. “They’re off the charts in terms of character and attitude and work ethic and creativity. They’re incredible individuals.They’re unbelievable men. They’re dynamic in that they have the running ability and all of those things are similar. It’s pretty hard to distinguish between those guys in what they bring to their teams.”

And it’s pretty hard to pick which guy’s going to prevail on Sunday in what should be the start of a rivalry worth watching.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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