"I read your story,'' Robert Griffin III told me the night of the NFL Draft in New York. "Interesting."
Griffin was talking about
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for your insight, Tim.
A CHIEFS FAN CHECKS IN ON THE BOOING.
You are not alone, Justin. Thanks for writing.
ROGER GOODELL'S LEGACY.
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.