Back in 2015, I wrote this article about the decline of Robert Griffin III as an NFL quarterback.
His decline, and the impact on the Redskins, was documented in this article, featuring a film breakdown by former Redskins player Chris Cooley. The article shows that Griffin’s skills at reading NFL defenses were so deficient that even operating with a simplified playbook, Griffin was unable to move the Redskins offense down the field.However, the article also makes the point that, even more than 2 years removed from his injury, Griffin had not only lost his speed, he had also lost the ability to rapidly move left in the pocket. Cooley explains how this has had a profound negative impact on his whole game:
“He can’t move left, he can’t slide [his feet], he always turns to run. When he’s moving in the pocket, it’s always a running gesture, it’s always a tuck-ball-and-run gesture. It’s not keep poised, keep shoulder back, keep ball pressed back ready to throw, shuffle and slide. It’s a tuck-ball-run, then look to throw. This takes all vision off the field for Robert. When he takes all vision off the field at this point, he loses where he wants to go with the football. Which means unless someone’s coming across the field, directly into his vision, he is not able to find them or throw to them.”
Griffin signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, and seemingly won the starting QB job, but his injury bad luck returned again in his first game, when he suffered a broken bone in his shoulder which landed him on injured reserve. Prior to suffering the injury, some of his old issues were clearly still present, although other Browns players did not help the offense.
Returning to the starting line-up last week, Griffin posted another poor performance, with a completion percentage of just over 40% and a QB rating in the 20s.
Increasingly the career arc of RG III resembles that of Jason Sehorn, who for a couple of seasons was a genuine shutdown cornerback for the Giants, with blazing speed that allowed him to beat any wide receiver in the league to the ball. However, Sehorn ruptured his ACL and suffered other knee damage while returning a punt in the 1997 pre-season. When he returned the following year, it soon became clear that the injury had robbed him of his speed. He went from being a top-tier cornerback to an average, then mediocre cornerback, and ended his career as a mediocre safety, beset by other injuries.
RG III is now at the point in his career where he has to either show that he can operate usefully as a pocket passer, or be rejected by NFL teams. The era of offenses built mostly around the read option is temporarily over in the NFL. Teams now know how to shut down that type of offense, and RG III lacks the running speed to even stretch a defense if he keeps the ball.
So far, the evidence is that RG III lacks the ability and/or willpower to make the change. To be fair, other running quarterbacks also failed to adapt.
If RG III wants to make the leap before he lands on the scrap-heap, he might want to arrange to spend some time with Steve Young picking his brains. Young arrived to the 49ers as the heir-apparent to Joe Montana, but with a completely different playing style. Montana was the classical pocket passer, with incredible poise under pressure, great accuracy and the ability to bring the team from behind in games – his fourth quarter comebacks are the stuff of legend. Young, at that stage of his career, would take off running at the first sign of trouble and try to make things happen on the run. As he explains:
…when Bill got hold of me I remember him pulling me aside and saying ‘Steve, nobody knows where you are.’ And I’d go run for 10 yards, or I’d scramble around and throw the ball for a nice completion or something and he’d say, ‘That’s great. But nobody knows where you are. And the truth is, if you really want to make the most of it — get everything out of the play that I call. You left early. You didn’t explore every avenue or option. And people need to know where you are.’ And I remember thinking ‘Oh, crap. I better be where everyone expects me to be. And do everything that everyone expects me to do with this play. I’ve got to exhaust it.’
Note the key repeated message in the paragraph – “nobody knows where you are”. If the offensive line does not know where their quarterback is, they cannot protect him effectively. As the 2014 film breakdown from Chris Cooley showed, RG III was not only failing to pass the ball to the planned receivers for a play, he was also moving all over the place behind the O-line, but not in a useful-slide-around-the-pocket way. He was either running all over the place, or standing like a statue a long way behind the O-line. The first approach takes you out from behind offensive line protection. The second approach allows defensive players to run around the corner straight at the quarterback. As a result he was sacked a lot.
RG III operated like Harry Houdini for a season, but was injured doing so. Now he has a limited time to re-tool his approach, before the Exit door snaps shut on his NFL career.