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Analyzing Robert Griffin III’s Redskins debut

Rookie quarterback excels in Buffalo, but tougher tests await

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Some thoughts and observations about QB Robert Griffin III's preseason debut, in which he completed 4 of 6 passes for 70 yards, threw for a touchdown and posted a passer rating of 145.8:

Griffin is running a scaled-down offense during the preseason, so there were three main criteria on which to judge him against Buffalo: decision-making, accuracy and timing. Considering his uneven play during training camp, his debut went as well in those three areas as anyone could have hoped. Reviews from coaches and players were positive inside the locker room after the game.

Two plays, in particular, delighted Redskins coaches: Griffin's 20- and 18-yard completions to WR Pierre Garcon on the third series.

On the 20-yarder, Griffin progressed through two potential targets, TE Fred Davis and WR Leonard Hankerson, on the right side of the field before coming back to Garcon, who cut in from the left side.

Linebackers bracketed Davis to the sideline, and then Hankerson was not open against three deep defensive backs in a Cover-3 look. The Redskins' offensive line deserves credit for protecting Griffin long enough to make that read.

"In the NFL, from what I've heard, you don't get very many opportunities to get to your last read, so that felt good," Griffin said. "Coach was happy. He told me good job after that play."

Griffin on that play showed command of his reads, and he placed his throw in position for Garcon to gain 9 yards after the catch.

On the 18-yarder, Griffin dropped seven steps from under center and faked a handoff. Coaches have worked extensively with Griffin on such drops because he operated mostly out of the shotgun at Baylor. The footwork required is a bit unfamiliar to him, and he also has to turn his back to the defense on the play-fake.

Garcon, on that route, had the option to continue deep or cut it off, depending on the coverage. The Bills took away the deep ball by keeping both safeties high, so Garcon cut off the route. Griffin was on the same page as his receiver and anticipated the shorter route against the deep coverage he saw, too. He then stepped into the throw and for a nice chunk of yardage.

Griffin was accurate and on time hitting Garcon out of his break, and they demonstrated some positive chemistry, too.

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While Griffin excelled at the basics against Buffalo, it's important to keep this performance in context. Several reasons for his uneven play in training camp involve elements of the offense that were left out of the preseason game plan.

For example, Griffin has been inaccurate at times when he has to reset after faking a draw or some type of option read. Well, the Redskins didn't run any of those option fakes on Thursday. Early in camp, he was inaccurate throwing while rolling to his left. He never made that throw against Buffalo. He might have had one opportunity (the first play of the third series), but the linebacker contained the keeper, and Griffin had to dump the ball quickly to TE Niles Paul.

Think of it this way: Griffin got an A in Quarterbacking 101 on Thursday. He'll graduate to a more difficult level during the regular season.

"A lot of safe throws," Garcon said.

Added Griffin: "It is the preseason, so I'm not going to be running around as much as people would like or would want to see from myself."

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Griffin and RB Evan Royster vowed to correct the fumbled handoff. They're glad happened now instead of when the games count.

"I should have had it and I take full blame for it," Royster said. "I tried to pull it up and it just rolled off my hand."

When I saw Griffin chasing after the fumble return, my first vision was of him getting injured, similar to what happened to Clinton Portis in the 2006 preseason. But Griffin is a competitor, and he showed he has his teammates' back.

Coach Mike Shanahan bristled, and rightfully so, when a media member suggested he tell Griffin not to pursue that play.

"He's a football player," Shanahan said. "He is going to make a tackle on that guy. That's what he should do."

And how about Griffin taking on a blocker, shedding him and then nearly jarring the ball loose in bounds? The guy is a bit of an athlete, no?

                                                •     •    •

Griffin and Garcon extensively analyzed their performance on the sideline after they were taken out of the game. That falls in line with what we know about Griffin as a committed student.

"He was just trying to tell me to make sure I stayed focused, make sure I look at all the reads, learn how to read the defenses and those type of things," Griffin said. "Then just me and him talking, just making sure we were on the same page versus what coverages we did get while we were in the game. A lot of the times as a football player if you only get 10 or 12 plays you want to make sure they're perfectly right. We were just going over those plays again."

Another positive sign in an overwhelmingly positive night.

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