Robert Griffin III's benching by Redskins is surprising, but inevitable
Since he became the Washington Redskins' head coach on Jan. 9, 2014, it was clear that he was going to do things his way. Head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Robert Griffin III never seemed to be on the same page, which makes the Tuesday evening news that the coach had benched Griffin in favor of Colt McCoy a seemingly inevitable aftereffect of an injured and ineffective quarterback who didn't fit the plan.
Under Gruden's system, Griffin had struggled when healthy, and when he returned from a six-week recovery after a dislocated ankle suffered in Week 2, things weren't much better. The Redskins have lost their last three games and stand at 3-8, with Griffin performing well below par in all three of those games. The worst came against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, when Griffin was sacked five times and completed just 11 of 19 passes for 106 yards and no touchdowns. In a new offense that often required him to stay in the pocket and make multiple reads, Griffin appeared lost, constantly under pressure, and unable to carry the team. This season, he's completed 83 of 119 passes for 869 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also been sacked 20 times in this short season, when he was taken down 30 times in his rookie year and 38 times in 2013.
On Monday, Gruden said that "right now, we have every intent for Robert [to start], but we’ll look at the tape and make our evaluations here shortly."
But the coach was more reserved when he was asked whether Griffin gave the team the best chance to win going forward. Washington will face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
"We’re still in the process of evaluating this tape," Gruden said. "We’re evaluating all of our guys right now, and our starting lineup is not etched in stone right now for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis. We’re going to evaluate everybody today and tomorrow, and have a plan moving forward, starting Wednesday."
Apparently, the plan came early. And it's a shocking reversal of fortune for the same player who set the NFL afire in his rookie campaign of 2012, setting multiple records on his way to the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The knee injuries that started to plague Griffin in that rookie year, though, limited him to just 13 starts in his second campaign, and the team fell from 10-6 in 2012 to 3-13 in 2013. Head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, and Gruden took over. From the start, he seemed unimpressed by the fact that the team had given up multiple draft picks for the right to move up and take the Baylor alum with the second overall selection in the 2012 draft. The three first-round picks involved in that deal are now off the books, and the Redskins will start the 2015 draft and season with a clean slate.
The question now is, what will become of Griffin in the future? ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that there are those in the organization who believe Gruden's way with quarterbacks will ultimately benefit RGIII, whose rookie contract ends in 2015 if the franchise decides against picking up his fifth-year option. McCoy seems like little more than a stopgap, and backup Kirk Cousins, who struggled in Griffin's place early in the season, doesn't appear to be the answer, either.
It's entirely possible that this is the first step in Gruden getting the quarterback he wants, whoever that may be. One thing's for sure: his patience for Griffin has elapsed.
After a 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 16, Griffin said that he needed to play better, but also that he needed more from his teammates. Gruden's response was fairly blunt.
"It's his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position," the coach said. "It's my job to worry about everybody else. And, yes, everybody else needs to improve. There's no question about it. But it's not his place. His place is to talk about himself and he knows that. He just elaborated a little bit too much."
Then, Gruden turned to Griffin's own performance, making public what coaches usually don't about their quarterback in a detailed fashion.
"Robert had some fundamental flaws," Gruden said. "His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can't happen. He stepped up when he didn't have to step up and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times. So from his basic performance just critiquing Robert it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.
"Just take your drops the right way and throw the five-yard stick route when you're supposed to and do the best you can. Sometimes he worries a little bit too much, we've just got to try to get him better. His frame of mind is in the right place. It just doesn't come out the right way sometimes, but he wants to get better. He knows he has a long way to go to get better. If he stays on the right track as far as work ethic and listening and preparing, then he'll get better."
Whatever Gruden is trying to accomplish with this public forum, he'll be doing it without Robert Griffin III, at least in the short term, and very possibly for much longer than that.