- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Robert Griffin III doesn’t care much for comparisons. He’s unique in so many ways, and he knows it. A comparison establishes boundaries. He’s not interested.

Griffin, though, understands the media’s penchant for comparisons as a means to understanding. The comparison du jour, then, as the Redskins prepare to play Carolina on Sunday, is to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

The last two Heisman trophies belong to them. Both quarterbacks are at the front of a nascent zone-read running game trend in the NFL. Both are exceptional throwers. Newton won the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award last season, and Griffin is halfway to that same honor this fall.

Still, Griffin is not interested.

“I’d rather be compared to an Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that,” Griffin said Wednesday, “someone who has won Super Bowls.”

It wasn’t a knock on Newton as much as it was a statement about Griffin’s priority at the midpoint of his rookie season.

His personal performances and statistics through eight games have exceeded coach Mike Shanahan’s expectations — “There is no question about that,” Shanahan said Wednesday — but still the Redskins, at 3-5, require a major turnaround if they are to make the postseason.

The first step toward that is winning Sunday. For now, though, we have a historic matchup of quarterbacks to consider. Sorry, Robert.

Never have two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks played each other in the NFL as a rookie and second-year pro, respectively. More importantly, Griffin and Newton are establishing something of a new prototype in a quarterback’s league.

Griffin and Newton aren’t the same type of runners, but the dual threat they present defenses with in the option game is making the league take notice. Just ask Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, whose defense faced Newton and Griffin in consecutive weeks earlier this season.

“It’s been a long two weeks, I can assure you that in terms of our preparation,” Smith said the week they played Washington. The Panthers and Redskins “have a similar tinge in terms what they’re doing,” he continued. “It’s not exactly the same, but you have to account for the quarterback in the running game. You’ve got to really put an extra guy to get the math right when the quarterback is a runner.”

Newton leads Carolina with 310 rushing yards on 51 attempts. At 6-5, 245 pounds, his size is his greatest asset. He is difficult to tackle, as the Redskins learned last season when Newton ran 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 33-20 victory.

Griffin, meanwhile, is Washington’s second-leading rusher with 476 yards on 70 carries. At 6-2, 217, his running success is more the product of speed.

“The thing about Robert Griffin that’s a little bit different from our guy is he’s more of a north-south runner,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s got such great speed that he can get to top speed really fast and get going.”

Newton last fall was sufficiently impressed to vote for Griffin to succeed him as the Heisman Trophy winner. They met at the Super Bowl last February.

“He’s an exceptional athlete, and he’s excelling right now and doing a great job for his team,” Newton said.

Newton experienced the high of a successful rookie season, similar to the one Griffin is enjoying now. But his second season has been wrought with difficulty as defenses have adjusted.

The Panthers are 1-6, having lost four consecutive games by a total of 12 points. Newton’s passer rating is 75.2, down from 84.5 last season. He has more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (five), and his completion percentage is only 57.1.

Newton described it as “humbling.”

“Some people have changed up the way they cover,” Rivera said. “You see a little bit more what people call soft zones, where they just try and say, ‘We’ll just keep everything in front of us and keep our vision on the quarterback. That way, if he scrambles, he can’t hurt us.’”

Understanding the pitfall of familiarity, Griffin leaves it up to coaches to continue to tweak the Redskins’ scheme and stay a step ahead of defenses.

It has worked so far, but Griffin is mindful of how Newton’s second season is unfolding. It’s another similarity he would rather avoid.

For now, in the midst of his own rookie hype, he’s grateful for his personal success while the quest for team goals continues.

“You try to appreciate everything and try not to weigh too much on your personal success so that you don’t have to be humbled,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to ever need to be humbled because I always appreciate things and make sure I continue to forward and try to do better.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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