"I read your story,'' Robert Griffin III told me the night of the NFL Draft in New York. "Interesting."
Griffin was talking about the cover story in Sports Illustrated the week before the draft, in which I debated the pro prospects for him and Andrew Luck. I didn't conclude which quarterback would be a better pro, but I did say I believed Griffin's mobility could actually be a negative compared to Luck's tendency to stay in the pocket more. My point was summed up in this paragraph:
It's a game of roulette. Three quarterbacks had more than 75 rushing attempts last year, and two got hurt. Cam Newton ran it 126 times in 16 games last year and stayed healthy. Tim Tebow ran the ball 137 times in 13 starts (including playoffs) and was beat up by season's end. Vick had 76 rushes in 13 games, missing three with broken ribs and overcoming an early-season concussion. In 2010, one quarterback had more than 75 rushes (Vick with 100), and he missed four starts with rib and leg injuries.
Bill Polian spent all last fall scouting quarterbacks because he thought he'd have to pick one in Indianapolis, but he was fired before he had the chance to make the pick. But six months ago, he told me: "I'd probably pick Luck. When you boil it all down, you worry about running quarterbacks getting hurt. But it's close. Very close."
Sunday was a day of great contrasts in the NFL with these new quarterbacks playing big games at home against Super Bowl contenders. Luck opposed a great quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and the Green Bay Packers. Griffin played another top young passer, Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta Falcons. Luck made the first stirring comeback of his NFL career, leading the Colts back from an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat Green Bay 30-27. Griffin had the Redskins in an even struggle with the unbeaten Falcons until he scrambled out of the pocket midway through the third quarter and took a vicious hit from Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Griffin left the game with a concussion. His status is uncertain for Washington's game with Minnesota -- another voracious defense -- on Sunday.
MMQB: COLTS WIN ONE FOR PAGANO
Griffin has outplayed Luck this season. He's been more accurate, with a far better rating (101.0 to 77.1). But he also has been exposed to far more hits than Luck, with his 42 rushes and 11 sacks in five games. He's on pace over 16 games to be exposed to 170 plays with hits -- the combination of running plays and sacks; this doesn't include the number of times he gets hit behind the line while delivering the ball.
A 218-pound quarterback is not suited to be hit like that and to play every week in the NFL. Yet, I'm not sure what exactly Washington coach Mike Shanahan can do about it, other than to emphasize to Griffin to follow the old Franco Harris rule: When you're about to get blasted near the sideline, every time, duck out of bounds before the hit comes. And instead of taking hits on scrambles or designed runs in the open field, slide two yards early. Shanahan has to make this a rule. A hard-and-fast rule.
The reason I don't think Shanahan should staple Griffin to the pocket is simple. His line isn't good. And if Griffin tries to be a pocket quarterback (something he's told me he'd like to become), he's going to get blind-sided and ear-holed by the Jared Allens and Justin Tucks of the NFC, and he'll end up sidelined that way.
So he's got to use his mobility, especially now, since GM Bruce Allen and Shanahan, cap-strapped, haven't been able to build him the kind of protective shield up front that he'll eventually play behind. For now, he just has to be smarter.
Last point: Griffin's smart enough to adjust his game. He's a competitor, but not a reckless person or player. He takes coaching very well. He can learn to avoid the killer Weatherspoon hits. And he must. Or the Luck-Griffin debate of last April, long-term, will be an easy one.
Now for your email:
ON UNITAS VS. BREES. "Peter, I understand why everyone is praising Drew Brees for breaking Unitas's record, but I'm honestly not that impressed by it. Johnny U did it when the NFL was running the ball just as much as throwing, if not more. Today, rule changes and technology like radio sets have lessened the difficulty of passing and running backs are being used less and less. The game is all about passing the ball, so why is everyone so impressed by the breaking of passing records?"-- From Stephen Cogan, San Angelo, Texas
I think people were wowed because the record stood for 52 years. But I would agree with you that the Unitas record was amazing and Brees breaking it impressive but not amazing -- simply because of the volume of throws by quarterbacks these days ... and the fact that Tom Brady is on course to Break Unitas' mark 11 games down the road too.
A POINT TO CONSIDER ABOUT JAY CUTLER. "Regarding Jay Cutler and his less than happy attitude. Cutler has Type-1 Diabetes, and requires insulin everyday. I'm also a diabetic, and one of the problems you can have with high blood-sugar levels is mood swings, especially anger and irritability. Those high blood sugar levels can come from all the stress of playing a game, both the mental as well as physical strength. Sometimes they can sneak up on you, so you have to be diligent on testing your blood glucose levels, which Cutler does several times a game.
Anyway, Jay Cutler may well be a jerk. I don't know. I've never met him. However, I've seen folks with diabetes get frustrated, angry or insolent, moody without realizing that it's their blood glucose levels being out of whack that's causing it. It's happened to me. It's just something to consider when considering how much of a jerk he might be. It's not an excuse for boorish behavior, mind you, but maybe one of the reasons he gets like that. Thanks for your MMQB column. It's a must-read for this old disabled Navy veteran.''-- From Tim Kindred, of Bath, Maine
Thanks for your insight, Tim.
A CHIEFS FAN CHECKS IN ON THE BOOING. "I have been a life-long, die-hard Chiefs fan. On Sunday, I went to my first Chiefs game since the days of Trent Green handing the ball off to Larry Johnson. All my life I have taken pride in hearing about how great Kansas City Chiefs fans are and have been so happy to say that I am a part of that. I was so excited to witness it firsthand at Arrowhead, but what I witnessed at the game on Sunday was embarrassing. I have always liked Matt Cassel as a competitor and a person, even if I did not always like his play. I have become frustrated this year with him, but not to the point I would cheer his injury. Cassel doesn't deserve that.
If you want to be disgusted with anyone, be mad at Scott Pioli for not bringing in a different QB, not a guy who has week in and week out showed the passion of having that arrowhead on the side of his helmet. I was there, and can say that it was not everyone who cheered, but it was enough to leave a sour taste in my mouth. For the first time in my life, I am embarrassed to say that I am a Chiefs fan.''-- From Justin Wiggins, of Mankato, Minn.
You are not alone, Justin. Thanks for writing.
ROGER GOODELL'S LEGACY. "Two weeks ago there was an Op-ed in the NY Times calling for Roger Goodell to resign. In discussing the recent debacle with the replacement refs the writer noted: 'He has failed in the first responsibility of any league commissioner, which is to safeguard the integrity and credibility of the game.' Over the last several years you have given much praise to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Much of that praise was based on him overseeing 17 years of labor peace and uninterrupted play. How would you contrast their tenures at this point? What does Goodell need to do to turn around his legacy?''-- From Joel, of Detroit
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com asked me basically the same question during the officiating debacle. He asked how this would impact Goodell's Hall of Fame candidacy. And I said I thought it was silly after six years of a man's tenure that might last for 20 years or so to try to pass any sort of meaningful judgment on Goodell.
Yes, he deserves to be marked down significantly for believing replacement officials could officiate games nearly as well as the regular officials. But what credit do you give him for a 10-year CBA with players? For a 10-year TV contract? And for the fact that in a sports landscape that has labor disputes ruin seasons every couple of years in one sport or other, the NFL for the first 15 seasons (at least) of his tenure will be strike-free?
His legacy is likely to be impacted by how safe Goodell can make an unsafe sport, and what the courts end up thinking about the myriad lawsuits over head trauma currently winding their way through the legal system. So the answer to your question is: I don't know, and none of us can know, what Goodell's legacy will be through maybe a quarter of his career as commissioner.