When Robert Griffin III spends an extra couple of seconds on the ground after taking a hit, his Washington Redskins teammates get concerned.
"A couple of those times he's laying as crooked as a question mark on the ground, and you're like: He's not moving," guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. "You're wondering what's going on, and then he slowly peels himself back up."
Griffin said he's using that time to compose himself, but already this season he has had plenty of chances to do so while planted on the ground. Through three games, the rookie quarterback has been hit more times than the Redskins would like to count, and he conceded Sunday that "one is too many." According to one count, he went to the ground 28 times in the 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, bringing the total to 54.
"But the one thing I won't do personally is quit or play scared. I've never played scared in my life," Griffin said. "It doesn't matter how many times they hit me, I'm going to continue to get back up. Even if they have to cart me off the field, I'm going to get off that cart and walk away."
Griffin plays as tough as he sounds, absorbing hits in and out of the pocket. Each time, he has been able to get up. And while the Redskins may not be judging the quantity of blows Griffin takes, it's a problem coach Mike Shanahan and Co. are aware of.
"You don't want a quarterback taking as many shots as he did [Sunday], that's for sure," Shanahan said.
A few teammates pointed out that the 22-year-old is young enough to be able to bounce back from hits, but that's not something they want to use as a justification for the punishment Griffin is taking.
"Right now, he's young and he can probably take a little more now," tight end Fred Davis said. "But later on, it's going to wear and tear on him."
For the Redskins (1-2) to have any kind of success, Griffin will need to stay upright. But that's easier said than done, considering the many factors contributing to his pounding:
Running for his life
The most prominent reason for Griffin landing on the ground so much is that he has the ball in his hands in the running game more than any other Redskins quarterback in the modern era of the NFL.
He's on pace for 171 carries as part of the inventive zone-read scheme that takes advantage of Griffin's mobility. That would be the most in franchise history since Cliff Battles' 216 in 1937; Battles threw just 33 passes in a different era of football.
The Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick, one of the most mobile quarterbacks today, has never had more than 123 carries in a season.
The Redskins' coaching staff repeatedly has said that it doesn't have a set number of carries in mind for Griffin and that games dictate how many times he runs the ball.
"I don't know. This is our first time going through it, too. We're kind of learning as we go also," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said last week. "Usually, when the defense covers everyone else, he has to be a threat and pull it away and go run with it. You hope you're not calling too many plays where he's running it versus every single look."
Given the option to hand the ball off or keep it, Griffin gets to be creative but also opens himself up to more risk. Vick's reckless abandon led to President Barack Obama to plead for him to slide more. It hasn't gotten to that point with Griffin, but the Redskins would like to see him avoid hits more often.
"Robert, man, he just has a lot of heart," Davis said. "He knows that the fact that he's a quarterback, he's got to protect his body."
Even when he takes shotgun snaps or drops back to pass, Griffin has an ability to extend plays that left tackle Trent Williams pointed out: "You can't teach that stuff." Sliding side to side to avoid sacks, Griffin can be slippery enough to cause headaches for opposing pass-rushers.
"Most times if he's moving, he's moving for a reason: He's avoiding pressure. That's the good thing about him is that he can avoid pressure," Williams said recently. "He's athletic enough to turn a 10-yard loss on a sack into a 15-yard gain."
When he does, the end result is sometimes an open-field tackle, if Griffin is unable to slide or get out of bounds. When he can't, like on the final drive Sunday, he's a sitting duck.
And he knows it.
"As a quarterback, you're a stationary target most of the time," Griffin said. "Even when you're a mobile QB, teams are still going to come after you even more."
According to league stats, Griffin has been sacked nine times through three games, including six by the Bengals. But considering he can typically spend more time evading pressure before going down, those numbers can be misleading.
What's not misleading is that Griffin has to drop back and pass instead of freezing defenses with his legs when the Redskins are playing from behind, as they did for most of the afternoon Sunday. The Bengals looked pass more often than not, and Griffin found himself in bad spots.
"You don't want to put yourself in third-and-long situations. If you do, your quarterback's going to have a number of sacks," Mike Shanahan said. "You keep on putting yourself in third and long, you're going to have some shots, because your quarterback is going to concentrate down field, and he's going to take some pretty good shots."
Pass-rushers tend to get juiced up to face rookie quarterbacks, thinking they can be rattled easily.
"Defensively, I guess if you can have an opportunity to hit the quarterback, sure, you would love that," Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher said.
Younger quarterbacks generally are more prone to mistakes under pressure. And while Fletcher cautioned that defenders can't get too caught up in getting hits that they lose sight of running backs, Griffin sensed that the Bengals let that affect them.
"They were just being aggressive, they were coming after the quarterback," he said, even if running back Alfred Morris had the ball.
He wasn't fazed.
"They were trying to run at me and just get quarterback hits on me. A lot teams think if you hit the quarterback enough, eventually he'll stop coming after you," Griffin said. "I just want to let everybody know that's never going to happen."
Banged-up offensive line
Much of the pressure Griffin has seen hasn't been the fault of any one player, but it's chiefly the offensive line's job to protect the quarterback. Prompted with the notion that Griffin has taken a lot of hits, Williams and Lichtensteiger said that naturally it's a concern.
"Every Monday, we come in here and I'm just kind of looking at him out of the corner of my eye, making sure he's OK," Lichtensteiger said. "He's a tough guy, and he's not going to complain about it. But you don't like to see your quarterback, especially a guy that is carrying the load that he is, taking those hits."
At right tackle, Tyler Polumbus took over for injured Jammal Brown at the start of training camp. Williams missed most of Sunday's game, replaced on the left side by journeyman Jordan Black. Williams is day to day with a bone bruise in his right knee, which might mean Black starts Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The jobs for the other offensive linemen don't change. They try to clear the road for Morris and the other backs and want to keep Griffin from getting hit.
One of the reasons Griffin has to spend so much time in the pocket is that he's without his No. 1 target, receiver Pierre Garcon. It was obvious early on in Week 1 at New Orleans how big of a factor Garcon could be in this offense, not only catching an 88-yard touchdown but opening the field for others.
Forced into shootouts each week, Griffin has had to rely on Aldrick Robinson, Joshua Morgan and Leonard Hankerson. Davis, the tight end, had just four receptions before a seven-catch, 90-yard showing vs. the Bengals.
As opposing defenses have been able to blanket those receivers, Griffin has been the victim of some coverage sacks.
Shanahan said Monday he didn't know if Garcon would be able to play Sunday.
Until Garcon returns and the Redskins are able to patch up some of these problems, Griffin likely will continue to take hits.
"As far as the hits go, It's football, so I got hit a lot," Griffin said Sunday. "I don't know how many I got hit, but I know I did get hit a lot."
The Redskins just hope he keeps getting up.
Rich Campbell contributed to this report
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