The End of Robert Griffin III

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How the hell did we get here?

It’s tough sometimes to think that it was only four years ago that Robert Griffin III was the prince of Washington, DC. There was hardly an athlete more beloved, more revered, and more readily embraced by a fan base desperate for change. For a savior. For someone, anyone to pull them into football relevancy and, perhaps, finally get them back to the promise land.

How did we get from that, to people openly decreeing that they can’t wait until he leaves, and that they hope he takes anyone who dares talk about that electrifying 2012 season with them?

Four years ago, Robert Griffin III left an ACL on the battle ravaged, painted green dirt of FedEx Field. That moment — Griffin, in a heap, while millions at home had been screaming all day for then head coach Mike Shanahan to pull him out — is the moment when everything changed. The moment the savior became fallible, and the selfish sought to cover their own backsides, and the fans began to pin decades of frustration, anger and anguish on him.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. Griffin’s fall has been recapped over and over, but it always positions him as the architect of his own downfall. He was done in by his own ego, the story goes. He figured that he knew it all, that those around him knew nothing. He was weird, too quiet. He spent too much time in the weight room, not enough in the film room. He was too close to ownership, he was the product of a “gimmick”, flash in the pan offense that he needed to develop out of and yet needs in he’s to have a career going forward.

The blame, it goes, falls squarely on Griffin’s shoulders.

RGIII went from GOAT to goat in four short years. How? Continue reading

Kirk Cousins Is Slowly Improving, But Needs to Get To Play With Swagger to Take the Next Step

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Here’s a thing that you never thought you’d hear from me; I think Kirk Cousins has played pretty well the last couple weeks.

He still has his moments where you’d rather punt him into the sun than have him quarterback the team, but there has been a slow but steady uptick in his overall play during the course of the season. He’s (generally) been more accurate, his throws (generally) have had a little more umph, and all told, when Cousins gets it going, he looks like a capable NFL starter.

That’s not to say the Redskins shouldn’t look to upgrade the position, or give Cousins a big fat extension to keep him around. All it means is that Cousins is playing at an acceptable level, and isn’t entirely the reason the Redskins lost in last week’s match-up versus the Patriots, and that one hopes he keeps it up over the back half of the season.

With Rex Grossman (the guy Kirk Cousins gets most often compared to), the story was always whether Good Rex or Bad Rex would show up. Sometimes Good Rex would show up in the first, then Bad Rex would show up in the second. Sometimes it was vice versa. Sometimes they could happen on back-to-back drives.

With Cousins, I’m not sure there is a “Good Kirk” and a “Bad Kirk” as much as there’s a Swaggy Kirk and a Unconfident Kirk.

When Kirk is feeling it and things are going his way, he’s more than capable of throwing darts and leading last second comebacks. When the game starts to get away from him, he faulters, his play drops off, and the team around him isn’t good enough to elevate him back to a decent level.

Take, again, Sunday’s game versus the Patriots. Cousins first throw was a laser that bounced off Garcon’s hands and was intercepted. Still, Cousins came back on the second drive and did a great job of manipulating the pocket, stepping up and laying in a beauty to Derek Carrier…that was promptly dropped. Cousins came back with a throw short of the sticks that was dropped by Reed.

As the points piled on and the drops added up, Cousins didn’t press. He didn’t take unnecessary chances to get back in the game, as he might’ve last season. But you could see it in his play that, as the team struggled to succeed on the routine plays, his confidence wavered, and he did not have as good a second half as he did in the first.

Cousins seems to get into his own head too often, which makes him less risk averse. That’s only compounded by two things; an offensive scheme that encourages not taking chances, and the background noise of people who flip out when he makes a mistake.

One has to remember that Cousins was put in a bad position by head coach Jay Gruden from the start. After Gruden annihilated RGIII last season, it was only natural that the guy he kept picking to start was going to face intense scrutiny, and it didn’t help when Gruden seemed to go out of his way to avoid critiquing Cousins fairly.

It painted a picture of inequity between the two, pitted the two teammates against each other, and gave off the impression that Gruden was doing so because Cousins couldn’t suffer the slings and arrows the way RGIII could.

In reality, all it did was create two quarterbacks terrified of making a mistake, less they have to answer to a divided fanbase and story starved media.

Now, Cousins is the unquestioned starter, and RGIII is on the bench. The chances RGIII starts a game this year barring an injury are basically nil. (This is despite it being an actual talking point that Cousins is playing poorly — which he really isn’t, BTW — because he’s scared RGIII will play. Because RGIII is the root of all evil and steals candy from babies.)

But Cousins isn’t showing the confidence in himself to step up and take those next level plays, still playing like he’s a back-up. His Yards-Per-Attempt is still an abysmal 6.3; his adjusted yards-per-attempt stands at 5.7.

Again, part of that is a scheme devised by Jay Gruden and Sean McVay that more or less demands not taking chances. It’s not that the scheme doesn’t get guys open for bigger plays; it’s that the spent the entirety of the offseason and training camp telling their quarterbacks that they…well, that they had to be ordinary. That they didn’t have to play hero ball, to get the ball out of their hands quickly and move on to the next play.

Cousins has done that; his quick delivery is part of the reason the Redskins have only given up eight sacks on the season. But it’s also part of the reason that the offense produces few big plays and why teams can more or less sell out to stop the run first. The chances of getting beat deep with this group of receivers aren’t very high. Teams will give up those shallow crossing routes, screens to wide receivers and checkdowns to running backs all day. It gives the appearance that the offense is “moving”, but just because yards are getting gained, doesn’t mean the passing game is productive. (As evidence by the fact that Redskins currently rank 28th in points-per-game.)

Now, Gruden is extolling the virtue of improvising, of Cousins taking those chances and not being scared of making a mistake. Saying this after you essentially build a scheme around not doing so is funny and puts the burden on Cousins for not making bigger plays, which is the kind of slight passing-of-the-buck that Jay has become so, so good at.

But he’s not entirely wrong. Now, when Cousins does improvise (such as the drop by Carrier), people have to catch the ball. But even within the course of a game, Cousins could do so much better.

Take for example, DeSean Jackson. Jackson is quickly becoming the scapegoat for a lost season, because RGIII is benched and Alfred Morris is non-existent and Jordan Reed is healthy and playing again, so “DeSean Jackson” is next on the list of offensive players to get miffed at.

Jackson can be a frustrating guy because he’s not going to get all his yardage the dirty way someone like Pierre Garcon does. He’s not really a screen or shallow cross guys; he’s going to make his plays in the intermediate and deep levels of the field, the two places Cousins has struggled to make plays.

Jackson got knocked for some out of context quotes after the game, but there were a couple times where Cousins could’ve taken a shot for the big play receiver and didn’t. The old adage with a guy like Cousins is “if he’s even, he’s leavin’.” Facing a third and ten in a game that was getting away from them, Cousins chose a 2 yard out to Jamieson Crowder over taking a shot deep to DeSean Jackson, who was even with Malcolm Butler. Even giving D-Jax a shot to pull that ball down is better than a two yard route that won’t get you what you the first.

But that’s sort of been Cousins’ MO. Several times this season, the Redskins have managed to scheme a receiver open deep, only for Cousins to short arm the throw. It’s not that he can’t throw deep; Cousins has more than enough functional arm strength to throw vertically down the field (it’s in those intermediate routes in the middle of the field where his lack of arm talent starts to show up); it’s Cousins playing it safe, trying to complete the pass instead of just letting it rip.

Or, it’s Cousins taking a checkdown or route short of the sticks just to get the ball out instead of taking his time and trying to make a bigger play down the field.

“Get the ball out quickly and keep the chains moving” seems to have been a coaching point that was drilled over and over in Cousins head, and now, it’s adversely effecting his ability to play fast and throw with confidence.

And who knows; maybe Cousins taking those chances would result in more turnovers, and we’d all bemoan how he wasn’t playing smart. But I’d argue that a bigger issue fans have with Cousins than just the turnovers, is his reaction to them. There was a time when people would get frustrated that interceptions never seemed to bother Rex Grossman. But in some ways, that was Grossman’s biggest strength; he accepted turnovers as part of the game (albeit too big of one for him), and had full confidence in himself to go play at a high level.

That is the step Cousins must take next; to not just take the chances, but to realize that even the best quarterbacks make crap throws. The difference is whether or not you allow those early mistakes to pile up, or whether you learn from them and don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Cousins needs some more pep in his step and to play with less fear. The worst that could happen is that Washington benches him, at which point he’d still probably have his pick of teams that would sign him to a good deal to be a back-up and maybe compete for a starting job.

Be more swaggy, Kirk. It can’t possibly hurt. Suffice it to say, if it paid off, I think we’d all like that.

Jay Gruden’s Asinine Decisions Are Costing the Improving Washington #Redskins Wins

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Here’s something that sums up Jay Gruden’s basic competency level as an NFL head coach.

In the middle of the second half, the Redskins faced third and ten on their own 23. The Redskins lined up in an empty shotgun look, then motioned Jamison Crowder from the left slot to the right TRIPS side. The linebacker immediately walked out on Crowder, likely in anticipation of a screen, which is exactly what the Redskins ran.

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Kirk Cousins Self Destructs in the Clutch, Will Doom the Washington Redskins As Long as He Starts

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He is who we thought we was.

There’s something aggravating about the reaction to the Washington Redskins’ 17-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The talk goes that, sure, the Redskins coughed up a lead in a game they should’ve won. But they played something vaguely resembling okay-ish football for most of the game, and hung in there with a trendy pick for a playoff team. That’s something to be proud of.

To quote one of the greatest movies in cinema history, “Gag me with a spoon.”

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Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins Need To Part Ways. Soon.

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That’s where it’s all going, right?

The Washington Redskins are no strangers to dysfunction. Hell, at this point, their dysfunction is so dysfunctional, teams like the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders would be totally within their rights to point out how out wack they are.

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Robert Griffin III Says a Thing, Content Starved Morons Twist His Words #Redskins

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That Robert Griffin III gets huge press when he speaks isn’t surprising. This has been the pattern for Griffin since his Heisman year at Baylor; RGIII is big business. He generates intense reactions and big media traffic and is a huge draw in a blogosphere that is competing with an ever increasing number of other sites.  When you have to crank out content, an easy attention grabber like Griffin saying anything that be considered controversial is easy money.
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Everyone Talks About How Stupid Post-Draft Grades Are; Doesn’t Stop People From Doing It

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So I get it. The 2015 NFL Draft is over, and that means that coverage of it is about to dry up. There’s a sizable gap in content between the start of the draft and the start of training camp, a hole that voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamps can only fill for so long.

And so you have to ring every last bit of content out of the waning days of the draft as possible because unless Jameis Winston “forgets” to pay for some seafood again there will basically be nothing to talk about until July.

But man are draft grades dumb. I mean dumb for real. Just asinine and totally dumb. And the worst bit is everyone knows it, and yet they keep pumping out columns about it.

It’s impossible to grade a draft 24 hours after it’s happened. No games have happened, training camp is a gleam in most coaches’ eyes, and what every article about draft grades boils down to is “how many big names did they take” and “how many positions that we projected they needed did they feel.” It’s almost entirely based on the author’s personal opinion, which is impossible, because no one analyst plays that much attention to every team in the league.

And so it becomes easier to fall on cliches about teams — popular hearsay and prejudiced ideals — to better accomodate having to fairly judged 32 teams who have mostly drafted players that you don’t know about. If you’re making a draft grade article half an hour after the draft ends, you’re not spending hours looking at tape and searching up combine resorts. You’re making snap judgments based on little information.

In 2011, the Washington Redskins had what appeared to be a great class. They traded down, gaining multiple picks. They filled several needs and looked to be rebuilding a thin team.

4 years later? Two of their 12 draft picks from that season are still on the team. That draft only produced one pro bowler (Ryan Kerrigan). 6 of those 12 players are currently free agents or out of the league. The draft only produced one full time starter on top of that, and again, that was the first round draft pick.

It’s almost comical to look at that draft and compare it to say, Seattle’s much maligned 2012 draft, or even their overlooked 11 class. All they did was fine a bunch of solid contribuitors that eventually produced a Super Bowl, and yet those drafts were mostly treated like jokes.

Every Redskins fan ever laughed at Dallas when they drafted a center in the first round and a projected guard the year after that. They completely revamped their offense and dominated the line of scrimmage with their offensive line and gave Tony Romo 300 years to throw the ball, while the Redskins quarterbacks were sacked a combined 58 times.

Picks that look like slam dunks now will inevitably bust, and picks that look dumb now will inevitably prove people wrong. It’s how it works.

The way to do it is as CSN Washington’s Rich Tandler did it; not assessing each and every individual pick, but examining a team’s overall strategy and the general talent and fit across the team. That way you limit bold proclamations about something being horrible or the best and keep a mostly neutral viewpoint about the overall direction of a draft.

Content over quality analysis is a plague in the NFL; hell, in sports in general. Pieces that seek to generate controversy over inform make everything worse. The only thing worse than that is 2016 Mock Drafts in May 2015.

Follow me @KenClyburn

Kirk Cousins, EJ Manuel, and Why Bad Quarterbacks Keep Getting Starting Jobs

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The Kirk Cousins Error is over as quickly as it started. (Yes, I spelled that correctly). Jay Gruden has confirmed that Robert Griffin III, not Cousins, will re-assume the controls as soon as he is mentally and physically ready.

It has not been a good audition for Captain Kirk. Cousins has thrown 7 picks in his last 3 starts. How he managed to avoid getting picked off versus Seattle is a mystery, but four picks versus the Giants and three versus the Cardinals would kill any talk of him being a better fit for the Redskins offense. No one who has turned the ball over 17 times in 8 starts should be the starter if it can be helped.

And it’s not just that Kirk has thrown a lot of interceptions. It’s when he throws them; in the clutch, when you have to have your best players make plays. It’s been that way since he was a rookie; he threw back to back picks in a winnable game versus Atlanta. Versus Denver in 2013, again in relief of Griffin, he threw two forth quarter picks, including a pick six. He threw 5 picks in 3 games as the starter and had a fumble. His passer rating was a 58.4, which ranked him in the bottom of the league amongst qualifying QBs. His interceptions this season have all come in the second half, and his stats worsen as the game goes on. His passer rating just on third down is an astounding 39.8; that’s 20 points lower than any other qualifying passer. His second half quarterback rating is 63.9, which is worse than everyone but Chad Henne.

Why, oh why, would anyone view Kirk Cousins as a viable starter? Especially any head coach or offensive coordinator?

Because a quarterback like Kirk Cousins gives offensive coordinators what they want. Or what they think they want. The same ole tired cliches about quarterbacks that have been dying slow, painful deaths for at least a decade.

You can check off all the boxes for Kirk Cousins, at least at first glance. Good arm? Check. Quick release? Check. Good footwork? Check. Accurate? Check. Played in a “pro-style” offense in college? Check. Looks great in practice with no pass rush and no pressure to perform? Check.

Someone like Kirk Cousins is a safe option. He’s the definition of what a quarterback is. He is the default player you’d create in a video game. And thus it’s easier to fool a Jay Gruden into thinking Cousins fits his system. On paper he had a similar guy in Andy Dalton.

Someone like Robert Griffin III is rough around the edges and learning. Some days he’s up, some days he’s down. Cousins gives you the illusion of consistency.

Until he steps on the field, and you watch your team go 1-5, and all those check marks require white out. Good arm? Sure, if/when he doesn’t flip out at perceived pressure and he has a good base. Quick release? Almost too quick. So quick he doesn’t let the play develop. Accurate? Not over the middle, and not on third down. Good under pressure? Puh-lease.

It doesn’t matter how many athletes like Steve Young, and Michael Vick, Steve McNair, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton or RGIII come along. The coaches and front offices that make up the NFL have convinced themselves thay a prototype of a quarterback that continues to prove itself antiquated is the way to go. And in a league where patience is low, it provides some quarterbacks opportunity to play even when they’ve failed countless times, and others left in the dark.

Take the Bills second year quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel had an inconsistent, injury plagued rookie season in Buffalo, but performed no worse than you’d expect any rookie to play. He had an uneven preseason in 2014, but his team was 2-2 when he was benched for veteran back up Kyle Orton.

Orton forced his way out of Dallas, then signed a two year deal that will pay him $5.5 million a year in average salary. With a number like that, it seemed all too obvious Orton would start if EJ struggled.

But again, there was the 2-2 record. The stats and the film don’t back up the idea that Manuel was a boat anchor holding the team back. Manuel posted a completion percentage over 60% in the teams two wins. Outside observers pounded EJ for settling for checkdowns and not trying to stretch the field, but nearly every time Manuel had an opportunity with one on one coverage deep down the field, he took it, often making good throws with good location. Was his accuracy occasionally squirrelly? Damn right it was. But the Bills have also been plagued by drops and lack of separation.

On top of that, Doug Marrone’s offense is predicated on short passes and utilization of their running backs Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller. When afforded the opportunity, Manuel has no problem hitting the intermediate throws.

So what gives? Who pulls a second year quarterback, 14 games into his NFL career for Kyle Orton?

Kyle Orton is the modern day Steve Deberg. He’s just good enough to get you beat. His career as a starter is a perfect 36-36. He’s thrown 86 touchdowns to 61; for every touchdown he throws, he throws 1.4 interceptions. His passer rating is 80.4. In going on ten seasons, he’s never been able to lock down a starting job.

He once lost his starting job to Tim Tebow. He couldn’t keep Rex Grossman on the bench.

You couldn’t grow a more genetically average quarterback in a laboratory.

But Orton is exactly the kind of quarterback that fools coaches. The idea of consistency is better than the idea of a young quarterback learning the position. Coaches still treat the games’ most important position as though they can throw any average guy into their system, and somehow a guy who’s never been able to elevate a team will become something he’s never been.

It’s why Kyle Orton keeps getting a job. It’s why Jay Gruden can entertain the idea that Kirk Cousins is a “better fit” than the more talented but more raw Robert Griffin III. It’s why his brother Jon went through half a dozen quarterbacks, failing to develop any young talent. It’s why Lovie Smith signed career back up Luke McCown to a pricey deal, rather than see what he has in Mike Glennon, who played well in his rookie season in the midst of Greg Schiano lighting the Bucs on fire.

It’s why Bill O’Brien rather hope Ryan Fitzpatrick morphs into a different player than draft a quarterback first overall, and why somehow Brady Quinn was signed to a team this offseason, and why the Jaguars stuck with Chad Henne despite clearly showing less than their first round quarterback in preseason, and why team after team passed up Teddy Bridgewater after a bad pro day for whatever scrap heap quarterback they had laying around.

The idea, or the illusion of consistency trumps the reality that most all of these guys are just guys. Every once in a while a Matt Schaub gives the general appearance of elite ability, only to fall off a cliff.

In today’s NFL, coaches are rarely afforded the benefit of time. All too often, it’s “win now, or get bent”. And so they’d rather play it safe, and try to win now, instead of trying to win in the future.

It shouldn’t take 1-5 with seven picks in three games to know that Griffin is a better long term bet than Cousins. Manuel gains little by sitting on the bench, while Kyle Orton has only improved the amount of yardage the offense puts up, while turning the ball over 3 times against 3 touchdowns. He’s won one (that he could’ve/should’ve lost if the Lions had a half decent kicker) and lost one.

Bad quarterbacks get starting jobs due to a dangerous combination of fear and arrogance. Fear that a younger, or rougher passer may not be consistently good, but they can turn consistently mediocre into great.

Mediocre is as mediocre does. Jay Gruden now awaits Robert Griffin III’s comeback to get to the hard work of developing him into a franchise QB, because Cousins sure as hell isn’t one. The sooner the Bills, and the league in general, learns that development of talent is actually better than casting retreads and guys who look good throwing in practice as potential franchise leaders, the better.