Whichever of the 11 apparent candidates to coach the Redskins in 2014 winds up with the job, he’s going to have work well with Robert Griffin III, the franchise quarterback.
So quarterback is the appropriate place to start the review of the disaster that was Washington’s 2013 season, otherwise known as the biggest collapse in Redskins history or “The Poseidon Adventure.”
If there’s going to be a morning after in Washington next fall, Griffin will be the one leading the renaissance. That wasn’t as clear this time when he was facing major knee surgery on his right knee a year ago tomorrow. The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year rushed back to action eight months later, in part to fulfill a promise made in one of his numerous advertising campaigns, and was never really the dazzling dual threat that he had been during his debut.
In 13 games in 2013, Griffin topped his rookie record 102.4 passer rating just three times, including Week 2 at Green Bay when he piled up the numbers once Washington’s defeat was assured. Griffin also topped the 54.3 rushing yards he averaged in 2012 just three times in 2013.
Griffin’s 82.2 passer rating was just 19th among the quarterbacks with at least 400 attempts. He trailed Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon, the rookie from Westfield High School, but among the passers in the ratings behind him were the last two to win the Super Bowl, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning.
And to put Griffin’s supposedly dreadful 2013 season in a Washington context, during the 12 seasons this millennium prior to his arrival as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, only three Redskins starting quarterbacks topped that 82.2 rating with Jason Campbell’s 86.4 in 2009 the high-water mark.
All that said, Griffin has much to work on this offseason, on and off the field.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old needs to recapture the passing form that produced 65.6 percent accuracy with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2012 compared to 60.1 percent accuracy, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year. He needs to do a better job of going through his reads to find the correct target instead of locking in early on a specific receiver as Patrick Ramsey, one of just two other quarterbacks whom Washington took with its top pick during the past 52 drafts, was prone to do.
Since-fired coach Mike Shanahan sat Griffin for the final three games of last season supposedly to preserve his health for this offseason after he was sacked 24 times during his last five starts. Surprisingly, Griffin’s sack percentage only rose from 7.1 percent in 2012 to 7.7 percent last year although he wore a brace to protect his knee. Presuming that Griffin sheds the brace, that number should decrease in 2014, but he needs to be smarter about when to throw the ball away, when to take off and run with his world-class speed and when to take a sack.
Griffin can also be better next year if Jordan Reed can stay in one piece. In Weeks 7-10 of 2013, Reed forged serious chemistry with Griffin catching 27 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. During that same stretch, receiver Pierre Garcon, who would lead the NFL with a Redskins record 113 catches, caught 26 balls for 395 yards and a score. It also would help if the Redskins had a reliable No. 2 receiver. During Griffin’s two seasons, Washington has had just one player (Garcon last year) account for more than 48 catches or 633 yards.
Off the field, Griffin has to spend less time shooting commercials and more time establishing bonds with his teammates that were apparently frayed last year when he was involved in public exchanges with Shanahan, then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Garcon and veteran receiver Santana Moss. Garcon might well be the only one of that group to return, but the quarterback needs to have his teammates’ support and vice-versa. And yet, Griffin was announced yesterday as the Redskins’ Ed Block Courage Award nominee, an honor voted on by the players, so perhaps the reports of disharmony have been greatly overblown.
As for Kirk Cousins, who quarterbacked Washington throughout the offseason and preseason, the fourth-rounder in 2012 played well in Week 15, OK in Week 16 and horribly in Week 17, overall taking a step back from the potential he had shown as a rookie and dampening any thought of trading him for a high-round pick. Cousins also continued his penchant for interceptions as he has thrown 10 in just 203 passes.
Rex Grossman, the starter in 2011, didn’t play for a second straight year and doesn’t figure to be back since he was tied to Kyle Shanahan going back to 2009 when they were together in Houston.
But whether Washington’s new coach is an offensive wizard, a defensive guru or even a special teams specialist, he has to be all in on Griffin. That’s the way the Redskins will roll for at least two more years until the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner’s rookie contract expires.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.