Initial Thoughts: Robert Griffin III in Redskins 30, Colts 17

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(UPDATED 9:20 a.m.)

Here’s what I’m thinking about quarterback Robert Griffin III immediately after the Redskins’ 30-17 preseason victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday evening:

Griffin finished his preseason 20-of-31 passing for 193 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 103.3. Those are good numbers, but are the 31 attempts enough?

Dan Daly came up with this line of thinking in his column, and he’s 100 percent on target. (Read it here). He did some great research on the matter, too, and he identified one of the major storylines involving Griffin as we move into the regular season.

Cam Newton had 57 attempts last preseason. Jay Cutler, in his rookie season under Mike Shanahan in 2006, had 62. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has 60 this preseason, including 36 attempts in one game two nights ago.

Daly is correct that Mike Shanahan is taking a calculated risk here. Shanahan wants to show opponents as little of Griffin as possible, and to compensate for that he altered the structure of practices this summer to put Griffin in all sorts of game situations. The Redskins scrapped 7-on-7 drills and exclusively ran 11-on-11. Also, Griffin played against the Redskins’ starting defense more than the starter did the last two years.

The questions, then, are: Will all the practice reps have Griffin ready for the regular season? Is mystery going to help Griffin more than game experience?

If Griffin starts the regular season slowly, Shanahan will face second-guessing about how he handled the rookie quarterback this preseason.

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Griffin excelled at throwing deep balls in college, but we haven’t seen that in preseason games yet. He missed three of them against the Colts.

Griffin barely overthrew Pierre Garcon on the first play of the game. A second deep throw to Garcon was way too long. Leonard Hankerson didn’t connect on another after Hankerson appeared to slow down midway into his route.

“Those type of things, those situations, you have to get used to a guy’s game speed,” Griffin said. “I talked to [Garcon] while we were on the sideline and told him those passes, they’ll come. Once we’re in season and we get a few more reps at those deep routes, we’ll hit those like there’s no tomorrow.”

Okaaaayyyyy. But that goes back to Daly’s point. If Griffin says he needs game experience to get his timing down with Garcon on deep balls, the preseason seems like a good time to work on that. With only 31 throws, though, he’ll now have to wait until the games count for his next game experience. Maybe Griffin will sharpen his accuracy and timing on deep throws in practice. If he doesn’t, there will be questions about why Griffin didn’t throw deep in the first two preseason games. He has said he takes what the defense gives him.

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Andrew Luck has distinguished himself as deserving of the No. 1 pick over Griffin. His 31-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hylton was pure brilliance. He sensed the rush, moved in the pocket and then dropped a perfect throw over safety Madieu Williams in the back left corner of the end zone. Griffin hasn’t made a throw of that quality yet.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. Luck’s superior NFL-readiness was well-established coming out of that offense at Stanford. He is more accustomed to dropping from under center, as opposed to Griffin operating out of the shotgun/spread at Baylor.

“He has the potential to be a great quarterback,” linebacker London Fletcher said of Luck. “He made some plays out there on third down situations moving around in the pocket. Coming into the game, I thought he was pretty good. He can make all the throws, has a lot of great poise, athleticism. You could see why Indy is excited about him.”

It’s not just the one touchdown throw. As Fletcher said, it’s Luck’s body of work – how he moves in the pocket, sees the field and can make even the most difficult throws.

This isn’t a that big of a deal. It’s not as though the Redskins chose the wrong quarterback. They had no choice. But in seeing Luck and Griffin first hand today, it’s clear that Luck is meeting the expectations of being further along.

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Shanahan says third down is a quarterback’s money-maker, and Griffin converted third downs with his arm and his legs.

On third-and-5 on the first series, he escaped pressure up the middle and ran to the marker at the sideline. On third-and-3 near the end of the first quarter, he pumped fake, then extended the play to his right and found Joshua Morgan in tight coverage over the middle. It was a fantastic throw on the run.

Griffin also connected with tight end Fred Davis near the right sideline to convert third-and-5 in the second quarter. Davis was matched up in man coverage against a linebacker, so Griffin gets credit for exploiting that.

The Redskins threw twice on third-and-1, including one of those incomplete go routes. Here’s thinking they find different ways to exploit Griffin’s athleticism and talent in short yardage during the regular season.

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Griffin’s speed on the sprint he threw for a touchdown shows what a threat that can be. The Redskins can change the point of attack by getting him on the perimeter quickly. Griffin also made up for Will Montgomery’s slow shotgun snap, catching it and getting outside. The right side of the offensive line and the running back did well to secure the edge so Griffin could get out and find Santana Moss. Griffin threw well on the run today.

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