Sunday we get Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. Two Sundays later, after the bye week, we get RG3 and Michael Vick (Andy Reid willing). Life is good, no?
All three share a common, and somewhat unfortunate, bond. When they came into the NFL — Griffin with the Washington Redskins, Newton with the Carolina Panthers and Vick with the Atlanta Falcons — they were hailed as revolutionaries who were going to “reinvent” the quarterback position. This, of course, is because they possessed, in addition to their whip arms, the ability to run a hole in the wind, as they say in certain sectors of football country.
It’s a burden being dubbed a reinventor. It’s hard enough, after all, to play QB, never mind to reimagine how it should be played — which sometimes involves Making It Up As You Go Along.
Besides, the position doesn’t need reinventing. Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, the winners of nine of the last dozen Super Bowls, probably couldn’t outrun Teddy in a match race. No matter. Being a successful quarterback has never really been about that. It’s always been about delivering the ball, first and foremost. And about leadership. And about being able to take your team down the field at the end of the game. Everything else is frosting.
In a sense, Griffin, Newton and Vick are victims of their athletic freakishness. You’re not supposed to be able to throw a football 70 yards and run a 40 in under 4.6. I mean, it isn’t fair to the rest of the mortals. And when you have that kind of speed, it seems a shame not to use it, either spontaneously or by design.
But again, no quarterback has ever run his club to the championship. Vick spent the first part of his career setting rushing records for QBs — and collecting zero rings. And one of the reasons for this, though far from the only reason, is that he isn’t an accurate enough passer. In the NFL today, completing less than 60 percent of your throws just doesn’t cut it (unless you’re, say, Trent Dilfer and blessed with the greatest defense since the 1985 Chicago Bears). Expectations for quarterbacks have risen just as they have for kickers. With all the rule changes favoring the passing game, the spread offenses and whatnot, if you’re not up around 62 or 63 percentage-wise, and preferably higher, you’re going to be watching the Super Bowl on television.
That’s the problem Newton has run into this season. After a breathtaking first year, one in which he threw for 4,051 yards (a record for a rookie QB) and rushed for 14 touchdowns (a record for any QB), he’s seen his completion percentage slip from 60 to 57.1. And as has been well documented, 57.1 usually doesn’t get it done. Thus, the Panthers will show up at FedEx Field with a 1-6 record — and without the general manager they began the season with (former Washington Timesman Marty Hurney).
Griffin is doing much better in the accuracy department: 66.8 percent, even after 10 drops in the Pittsburgh game. That’s a level that many quarterbacks don’t reach for several years, if ever. Heck, Eli Manning didn’t break 60 percent until his fifth season (60.3). RG3’s marksmanship is much more exciting, for my money, than his ability to run 76 yards for a touchdown. Running 76 yards for a touchdown will get you on SportsCenter; completing 66.8 percent of your passes will put you in contention for titles.
It was telling Wednesday that, when the comparison to Newton came up, Griffin said he’d prefer to be linked to a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, “someone who has won Super Bowls.” It also was wise. Rodgers, an extremely precise passer who also can flee the pocket if necessary, is closer to RG3’s ideal. In the NFL, a QB wants to be mobile enough to avoid a few sacks, mobile enough to occasionally run for a first down and mobile enough to make the defense think twice about blitzing. But for the most part, he should leave the running to the running backs — out of self-preservation as much as anything.
Let’s face it, you can pay too high a price when you try to reinvent the quarterback position. The Redskins are walking a fine line right now with RG3 — and they know it. Mike Shanahan actually used an obscenity this week to describe his decision to send his do-everything QB out for a pass against the Steelers, a miscalculation that ended with Robert getting walloped by a defender.
It’s such a temptation, though, when you have a quarterback with Griffin’s many talents. You want to give RG3 enough freedom to be RG3. Or to put it another way, you don’t hitch Secretariat to a wagon. But there are limits, and the sooner the Redskins learn those limits, the better.
Bottom line: The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented. The wheel is turning just fine. There’s a romance to playing quarterback differently than others have played it, but the reality can be quite different. Just ask Michael Vick and Cam Newton.