Gruden vs. Griffin
One word for Washington coach Jay Gruden’s public critique of quarterback Robert Griffin III late Monday: startling.
Startling because a head coach rarely, if ever, says his quarterback has “fundamental flaws," with a performance “not even being close to being good enough" to expectations.
Startling because Gruden, in his first year as coach, has been completely supportive of Griffin to this point, with no indication that he was unhappy with anything in his quarterback’s repertoire.
Startling because Gruden had to know he would create a firestorm by being so publicly critical of Griffin—and because it clearly will show that the coach has a major problem with his most important player.
There is something more at play here. There has to be. It’s an underlying dissatisfaction with Griffin by his coach, not based on one game or one post-game press conference in which Griffin was liberal with his criticism of himself and of the team as a whole. Nothing Griffin said—including the quote, “If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well”—was really pointedly critical of his teammates. A little self-unaware, in bringing up Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, as if Griffin belonged in the conversation with them, which he does not, yet. That’s why Gruden's strong and pointed criticism of Griffin is more than just a reaction to how the quarterback played on Sunday and what the quarterback said on Sunday.
I think Gruden doesn’t like Griffin’s preparation or his commitment. That’s what I took from Gruden's comments. And I think what he said casts doubt on Griffin’s long-term future with the team. I haven’t thought that until Monday afternoon. When Washington owner Dan Snyder fired Mike Shanahan after last season, I saw that as a vote for Griffin over Shanahan. I was sure the organization still considered the player picked second overall in 2012 the long-term quarterback for Washington.
Now I’m dubious about Griffin’s future in Washington. It is more than just being 4-14 in his last 18 starts, or not being able to stay on the field because of injuries. I wonder, and I believe the team does too, if the faith in Griffin to be the franchise cornerstone is wise.
As Pro Football Talk reported Sunday, the team has until May 3, 2015, to decide whether to exercise Griffin’s 2016 option year. If exercised, he will be paid an estimated $18.4 million in 2016. So obviously, for the organization to commit to paying Griffin a huge number like that in 2016—two years away—the end of this season is vitally important. If Gruden, Snyder and Washington GM Bruce Allen are going to commit to Griffin next May, the next six games are crucial. The next six games won’t matter much to a team playing out the string. But despite fans chanting for backup Colt McCoy to replace Griffin, that’s not happening. The next six games are too important to the long-term future of the franchise. Washington has to make the call on Griffin, and the last six games matter greatly.
If you missed it Monday, here’s what Gruden said about Griffin, speaking about his performance in the 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay, and about Griffin the incomplete player:
“Robert had some fundamental flaws. 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.
“It's his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. 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."
Now that Gruden has Griffin’s attention—and those around the team feel Griffin pays way too much attention to opinions in the outside world, as though he has rabbit ears—the coach should use this time to reinforce that Griffin needs to become a better student of the game. He needs to study the game more, study other quarterbacks more, and work as hard in the classroom as he does in the weight room and on his body.
All players have different personalities. Quarterbacks too. Peyton Manning is relentlessly meticulous and picky. Brett Favre was flippant and often gave off an I-couldn’t-care-less vibe. But with the great quarterbacks, whatever their attitudes during practice and on the sideline, they are commanders on the field. They are rarely surprised by coverages, and they dictate to the defense far more than the defense dictates to them. Too often Griffin seems to either be surprised by what the defense presents or reacts poorly to changes in the secondary or the pass-rush.
Griffin has to get better, and he has to get better under the gun, and it has to start in two tough venues: at San Francisco on Sunday, and at Indianapolis the week after that. In Indy, he can look across the field and see the man picked before him in 2012, Andrew Luck, who is miles ahead of Griffin three years into their careers. Some of that is due to Griffin’s two injuries—the torn knee ligaments suffered at the end of the 2012 season and the dislocated ankle that sidelined him for six games this year. But some is due to Luck being far advanced in other parts of the game. Luck is rarely fooled on the field. He’s a tireless student of the game. He is the unquestioned future of the franchise in Indianapolis. Griffin is teetering in Washington. His coach has fired a warning shot. Now let’s see if Griffin responds like a franchise player.
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