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Redskins’ interceptions are way down with RG3 at the helm

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed wants his name on the short list by the time night falls Sunday.

It consists of only four. Cortland Finnegan, Antoine Winfield, Stevie Brown and Charlie Peprah are the only players who have intercepted Robert Griffin III through 12 games of Griffin's rookie season. The Washington Redskins' quarterback is protecting the football at a record-setting level.

For all of his electrifying physical talents, that might be his greatest contribution to the offense. A year after Redskins quarterbacks threw 24 interceptions, Griffin is positioning his team to score more points because he is not giving the ball away.

"He's pretty precise on when he's getting rid of the ball, and he seems to have guys open," Reed said Wednesday. "That's the key to it, really."

Griffin is rewriting the rookie-quarterback record book as the Redskins enter the final quarter of the season. He set the season rushing record (714 yards) in Monday night's win over New York, and many more are possible.

Interception percentage is one of those. He has four interceptions on 325 attempts; a 1.23 percentage. That's way ahead of the current rookie record of 1.98 percent set by Charlie Batch with Detroit in 1998.

And in this Year of the Rookie Quarterback, Griffin is way ahead of his draft classmates. Indianapolis' Andrew Luck has 16 interceptions and the same number of touchdown passes, 17, as Griffin. Seattle's Russell Wilson has thrown eight picks along with 19 touchdowns.

Griffin's ability to protect the ball also goes beyond the scope of rookies. Only two other quarterbacks in the league this season have at least 200 attempts and four or fewer interceptions: Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, each of whom has Super Bowl jewelry to spare.

Griffin believes his low interceptions total is the product of sharp decision making.

"I just don't force things," he said. "Trust the system that you're within so that you can go out and work through the system. And then if something does happen to where you can use your God-given abilities, then you can, rather than going into it thinking, 'All right, I'm just going to run every single play.'"

It's something he has always done. Griffin's ability to protect the ball isn't a surprise considering how he did so at Baylor. He threw an interception on only 2.13 percent of his 800 collegiate attempts.

"One of the reasons he didn't throw a lot of interceptions in college is because he had a great feel," coach Mike Shanahan said.

That means understanding timing and what throws he can get away with.

Think back to his 59-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon against Dallas on Thanksgiving. The throw over the middle barely avoided Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter's fingertips.

"I think he's got the arm strength when he does see a hole, he can get that ball in there very quickly," Shanahan said. "It doesn't have to be a big hole because that ball is going to get there usually quicker than most."

The offensive scheme helps, too, according to Reed, whose 61 career interceptions are 10th-most in the NFL all-time. Reed has been watching film of Griffin in preparation for the Redskins' game against the Ravens on Sunday at FedEx Field.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme is designed to put defenders in conflict, making them choose between covering two receivers. Simply described, the quarterback is supposed to read who that defender covers and then throw to the other receiver.

"It's all predicated to what the defense is giving them," Reed said. "He's making great decisions. He still has a lot to learn, obviously. The offensive scheme that they're running helps him out a lot."

Griffin said he must be aware of Reed's location on the field at all times Sunday. But he doesn't sacrifice big gains for the sake of being conservative.

That's a delicate line that he is learning to balance this season, and he believes he has found it.

"I try to make sure I'm conservative when I have to [be]," Griffin said. "But for the most part, I stay really aggressive and try to play fearless all the time without being dumb at the same time. So I know when I can try to make a play."

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