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Playing archrivals late is seen as a bonus by Redskins
During the summer, when Robert Griffin III was all expectations and hype, before he electrified fans with his speed or helped the Washington Redskins finally put up crooked numbers on the scoreboard, New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora had a message for the new franchise quarterback.
"When he does anything in the NFL, we're gonna call him RG3," Umenyiora told WFAN radio in July. "Right now, he's Bob Griffin."
It took Umenyiora only one game to acquiesce. After Griffin led the Redskins to victory in New Orleans in Week 1, he agreed to call him by his ubiquitous nickname.
Griffin, though, has continued to prove himself. The accolades have streamed in during the six games he's had to tune up for Sunday's critical NFC East matchup against the Giants.
And as the Redskins join San Francisco and Pittsburgh this week as the last NFL teams to open divisional play, they are thankful the schedule makers afforded Griffin, rookie running back Alfred Morris and several new contributors on offense time to evolve before these important games.
"It's always an advantage if you're going to play within your division if it's little bit later than earlier, especially with rookie players," coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think it is a big benefit for us with Robert and a kid like Alfred."
Griffin, for the record, laughed off Umenyiora's comments Wednesday. He did that back in July, too.
"Your play makes you respectable," he said.
Griffin is earning more as he accumulates game experience. He believes he does some things better now than he did in September.
"Just throwing everything when I'm supposed to throw it and getting to my checkdowns when I'm supposed to get to my checkdowns," Griffin said. "I think I've done a better job of managing that aspect of the offense, but that comes through hard work, it comes through game time reps, just knowing where to go with the ball. Every game that goes by, things are clearing up."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin notices Griffin's evolution, too, from watching him on tape. His team would have faced a more flawed quarterback if it had played Griffin earlier.
"He's got a better feel of what's going on," Coughlin said. "He's more acclimated to the game, to the circumstances, the situations. He's playing with outstanding poise. He's not forcing anything. I've seen improvement, as you would imagine, for an athlete of that caliber over the course of the six games."
The Redskins' offense, as a whole, has followed a similar progression. It has developed an identity in that it has established strengths and weaknesses, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said.
Entering these divisional games — which are more important because of how the postseason is formatted and seeded and how tiebreakers are structured — the Redskins have a keen sense of how to best match themselves up with an opponent.
"We're a good running football team, and we have an efficient passer back there," Lichtensteiger said. "We have receivers that are going to get open. I think we've got a lot more big plays to this point in the season than we had last year. So there's obviously things we have to work on still, third-down efficiency and staying out of the long third downs, but I think if we can stick with what has been working so far, we've got a good chance to beat anybody."
Ultimately, that flexibility is the key, Shanahan said. The Redskins rank first in the league in yards per pass and second in yards per run.
"What we've tried to do is adjust our offense to the type of defense we're going to face, and we have the capabilities to do a lot of different things," Shanahan said. "As you get a quarterback like Robert, you see what he's comfortable with and you try to run your offense accordingly. But it's a learning experience. We're going to grow with this thing every week."
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