Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Irrationally Confident Redskins Guy: RGIII’s Debut

Robert Griffin III played pretty well in his first NFL game last night. Against the Buffalo Bills, he completed four of his six passes for seventy yards and one touchdown. Everyone else out is going to pretty much say, “Well yeah, but it is just preseason. It doesn’t mean anything.” While this is for the most part logical to say that very little can be discerned about a team or player in the first preseason game, I have lately realized that I am definitely not rational about the Washington Redskins.
So why should I pretend to be? The Redskins are the only team that I have an emotional connection to. DC didn’t have baseball when I was a kid, I never played hockey and our basketball team changed its name during my formative years and were never very good anyway. I still root for the Nats, Wiz and Caps, but only my 'Skins generate emotional responses in me. My first year I can remember watching games every Sunday was the 1991 Super Bowl season. I was eight years old that year. I have memories of watching games with my dad and uncles and grandfather; all the men gathered around the TV with cans of beer in their hands and all rooting together for the burgundy and gold. I admit it had quite an effect on me.
 I know in today’s objective world it’s supposed to be embarrassing to admit such an emotional connection to something like a professional sports team. I don’t care. They are my team. I say “we” when referring to the Redskins, and I'm not going to apologize for it. So in writing this, I am not claiming to be an impartial football analyst when talking about the Redskins or Robert Griffin III. I am a fan, and an excited one. While everyone else is going to say that it’s just a preseason game and to get ready for another four to six win season, I’m going to tell you the reasons why RG3’s debut has me excited about the prospects for his rookie season and thus, the ‘Skins’ 2012 campaign.
But first, some disclaimers: I am a Redskins homer. I have trouble being objective about them. I secretly think every year they are going to win the Super Bowl. Now, that said, I do believe I know a fair amount about football. It’s not that I don’t recognize their weakness or the potential pitfalls lurking, I just choose to ignore them and focus on the positive aspects. This year’s team, not unlike the editions from previous years, is a seriously flawed one but, nonetheless has a decent amount of young talent. My argument I make to myself every year is about the same, and it always contains a lot of ‘ifs.’ It usually goes something like this: ‘If the offensive line can stay healthy, ‘if’ Player X can have a breakout season, ‘if’ the defense can generate more turnovers or 'if' they can pull out more close games, then they can make the playoffs, and ‘if’ they can sneak in to the playoffs anything can happen from there. All that said; let’s point out a couple of the positives of young Mr. Griffin’s first game in the burgundy and gold.
The first thing that impressed me about RGIII last night was his poise and decision making. The caveats are that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan kept the game plan pretty simple and Griffin was only out there fourteen plays. However, he still seemed to make quick reads on the defense, found the open receiver more often than not and got the ball out of his hand with his quick release before the pressure could reach him. We have always been told that in the Shanahan offense, there were always receivers running open, but we lacked the quarterback to get them the ball. In this very small sample size, Griffin looked competent at finding these open receivers and accurately delivering the ball.
More accurately, RG3 was able to find mostly just one particular receiver over and over again. Which brings me to my next reason to be excited: free agent acquisition Pierre Garcon (I don’t know how to type the squiggly 'c' and, no offense to Pierre, I don’t care enough to ‘search engine’ it) seems to have already developed chemistry with our rookie quarterback.  Garcon was targeted on four of Griffin’s six throws, catching three of them for 58 yards. He had receptions of 20, 18 and 20 yards. On the only incompletion, Griffin and Garcon just missed connecting on a sideline out that would have been a sure first down, with Pierre barely unable to get his feet down in bounds. The Faux Frenchman is still only 26 years old, is six feet tall, 210 pounds and has blazing speed. If RGIII is able to connect consistently in the regular season with Garcon the way they hooked up tonight, Pierre will be earning every one of the forty million dollars Dan Snyder gave him in the offseason.
The next reason to feel good about the game tonight is that the offensive line did a good job protecting Griffin. Although he only dropped back to pass six times, he for the most part had time to throw each time he did. The one time he faced pressure, he did a good job of getting rid of the ball, albeit at the expense of getting Niles Paul crushed by Jairus Byrd. The offensive line is always a legitimate concern for the Redskins. They have a history of not investing a lot of early draft picks there and their starters in recent years have been plagued by injuries. They gave up 41 sacks last year, which was the 11th most in the NFL.
However, there are a few reasons to believe they could be better this year.  Of those 41 sacks, only ten were in the last six games. That’s just over 2.5 sacks a game for the year, but just 1.67 in the last six games. Ten was also the number of times these (mostly) same Bills sacked John Beck in Toronto last season. For the record, the Bills’ defensive line is no joke. This year, they have switched to a 4-3 base defense. They added Mario Williams, one of the best pass rushers in the game, and are lining up him and fellow free agent pass rushing pickup Mark Anderson on the outsides of second year wrecking ball Marcell Dareus and former All-Pro Kyle Williams.  Now of course neither teams’ starters played very long, and again, it’s just preseason, but the Redskins’ offensive line did not allow a single sack last night. Mostly meaningless? Of course. But encouraging nonetheless.
The final reason to be excited about Robert Griffin III today is that we saw very little last night of what he can do. He was restricted to a limited playbook for many reasons, those including they didn’t want to risk injury, it was his first pro game and they didn’t want to make it too complicated for him, and they don’t want to give away too much information about RG3 and how they plan to use him for the scouting reports of future opponents. He was never going to take off running last night. There was very little play action, boot-legging or vertical passing. We will have to wait to see if his dynamic running ability translates to the pros, if he is able to find receivers down the field as well as he did in college; in short, if he has what it takes to become the elite franchise quarterback that we all hope he will. What we did learn tonight is that RG3 can stand in the pocket in an NFL-like situation, be calm under pressure and deliver the ball quickly and accurately to the open man. Considering the play we have gotten out of the Redskins' quarterback in recent years, simply that is something to be excited about. 
 Hail To The Redskins!