Seems like just yesterday we were debating the relative merits of the Stephen Strasburg Shutdown. And wasn’t that fun, sports fans? There’s an entire faction out there that can’t wait for the Washington Nationals to lose in the playoffs, just so they can shake their heads and say, “See? This is what you get for thinking long-term in an ADD world.”
Anyway, while the Nationals were ripped in many quarters for being too careful with their ace right-hander, the Redskins now face the opposite dilemma. They’re being criticized for not being careful enough with their own ace right-hander, Robert Griffin III. Too little, too much. Too much, too little. It can be such a delicate balance to strike.
Much of the heat the Nats took, most of it generated outside D.C., was undeserved. They weren’t given nearly enough credit for taking the hard way out, for doing something that was against their immediate best interests. How many teams would do that — choose discretion over valor, put the good of one player above the good of the other 24?
But training a magnifying glass on the Redskins’ motives is totally appropriate. Why? Because Mike and Kyle Shanahan are running the risk of turning their Franchise Quarterback into a Franchise Tackling Dummy. Or at least, that’s the way it looked Sunday.
Griffin had far too many “Will he get up?” moments in the 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. One of them, in fact — after he got pulverized on an option pitch — was more like a Code Blue moment, a bring-the-crash-cart moment. Worse, after the game, he sounded a little too George W. Bush-y when he essentially told opposing defenses to bring it on. His precise words: “Some teams think if you hit the quarterback enough that they will stop coming after you. I just want to let everybody know that that will never happen.”
The last thing you want to do, in any endeavor, is discourage creativity. There’s never enough of it, especially in the herd-mentality NFL. And make no mistake, the Shanahans are trying to reinvent the wheel with RG3. There are times when he looks like a conventional pocket passer, but there are also times when he looks like the QB From Another Planet — tossing pitches, running belly plays and generally conducting himself like a combination option quarterback/single-wing tailback.
Tim Tebow does this sort of stuff, too, of course, but lacks Griffin’s accurate arm. Cam Newton is another kindred QB, but Carolina coach Ron Rivera isn’t as adventurous, as all-in, as the Shanahans are. No, the Shanahans are determined to incorporate all of RG3’s many talents into the offense. And you can certainly understand that, even if you don’t completely agree with it.
I mean, who doesn’t want to see the Next Generation Quarterback, want to see the position take another step along the evolutionary path? Sometimes, though, daring to be different can be a bit dicey. I don’t mean dicey from the standpoint of a coach’s reputation; I mean dicey from the standpoint of a player’s career.
This, after all, is football we’re talking about. It’s hard enough to protect quarterbacks under normal circumstances, never mind when they’re loose in the wild — outside the pocket. One of the game’s less attractive aspects, though, is its tunnel vision, its tendency to focus on this week or this season at the expense of the future.
We’ve seen it a lot over the years with running backs, more than a few of whom have been overworked to the point of incapacitation. Eddie George comes to mind. So does a back Mike Shanahan had in Denver, Terrell Davis. Here’s a stat that might interest you: In 1997, Davis had 481 rushing attempts (playoffs included). The next year, he had 470. Those are highest and third-highest totals in NFL history. The year after that, Davis blew out his knee and was never the same. But what people forget is that, when he was injured in Week 4, he was averaging 3.1 yards a carry. (Olandis Gary, the rookie who replaced him, averaged 4.2 behind the same line.)
Did those two high-use seasons contribute to Davis’ decline (and eventual breakdown)? Quite possibly. But that’s pro football for you. It all about seizing the day — and not caring too much about the consequences. You just hope that’s not what’s going on with Griffin, because the franchise has been waiting too long for a quarterback like him.
Thus ends our tale of Stephen Strasburg, Robert Griffin III and their unlikely connection. Sometimes baseball and football are apples and oranges, but not always.