The dazzling debut of Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III last Sunday was certainly impressive.
The second overall pick completed 19 of 26 passes (73.1 percent) for 320 yards and two touchdowns, for a quarterback rating of 139.9.
But what most stood out as the Redskins walked into the Superdome and took a 20-7 lead in an eventual 40-32 victory was the manner in which Griffin dismantled the Saints, whom we expected to unleash pent-up frustration over the bounty scandal.
Specifically, how the Redskins tailored the offense to Griffin’s strengths and weaknesses.
The first six passes were at or behind the line of scrimmage. There was a heavy dose of read-option plays, similar to what Griffin ran so well at Baylor. There were also plays in which Griffin had the opportunity to hand the ball off or throw it. He looked at what the defense was giving him, then determined which play would be best.
In the past, this was the type of flexibility that only the top, most cerebral quarterbacks were given. It’s now become almost standard operating procedure in the NFL, because college quarterbacks are more prepared than ever to compute different variables during plays. It’s what they do in college every day thanks to the rise of the spread offense and the different variations.
“The zone read, there’s so many things you can do off of it,” Griffin said. “It’s kind of like pick your poison. What do you want to stop? Do you want to stop the throws off of it? Do you want to stop the running game? Do you want to stop the running back?
“They chose what they wanted to stop, and we had to make plays in other areas, and we made those plays.”
A large amount of credit also goes to the coaching staff, namely head coach Mike Shanahan and son/offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Redskins have joined a growing line of teams that appear dedicated to putting their players in the best position to succeed, especially quarterbacks.
“That’s our job,” Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said last season. “That’s the beauty of our business, and that’s what we get paid to do, is try to put the team in the best position possible to win football games.
“Every quarterback, or every football team — offense, defense, special teams — when you make certain changes, your personality might change a little bit, but you have to take care of the talent you have and do whatever you can to help the football team win.”
McCoy might be the best example of adapting to the talent you have on the team. Last season, the Broncos completely retooled their offense — midseason, mind you — to accentuate the talents of quarterback Tim Tebow. The Broncos scrapped their drop-back scheme designed for Kyle Orton and changed course to the read option (primarily ground-based) for Tebow.
Another prime example was how the Panthers and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski tailored their offense to Cam Newton last season. (You could make a case — albeit a little different, because of Tom Brady’s presence — that the Patriots’ mid-2010 switch to a varied short-passing game after the Randy Moss trade deserves consideration, too.)
In Carolina, the result was a dynamic talent who broke Peyton Manning’s record for passing yards by a rookie (4,051 yards) and Steve Grogan’s record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).
“He’s really just a genius,” running back Jonathan Stewart said of Chudzinski. “He spends a lot of time with the offense trying to create ways for players to be successful, and that’s what a good offensive coordinator is all about.”
It hasn’t always been this way in the NFL. The reason rookie quarterbacks rarely played, or played well, was that coaches wanted them to sit and learn the system that was already in place. There was a year or two spent changing the quarterback to fit the system.
Now, instead of fixing the quarterback and not knowing what the result is going to be, teams are adjusting the offense to fit the quarterback. The chances of success should increase exponentially if teams continue to follow that blueprint. Fewer quarterbacks should be busts, at least in theory.
But not everyone has completely bought into this line of thinking.
Was Mark Sanchez not as successful last season because of his own deficiencies, or was it because the Jets tried to ask him to do too much?
Even now, you wonder whether Brandon Weeden is going to succeed in the traditional West Coast offense of the Browns.
And Mike Martz tried to fit Jay Cutler and the Bears’ personnel — which was lacking, especially, on the offensive line and at receiver — into a pass-happy scheme that was a near-disaster before Martz was fired after the 2011 season.
Such examples are dwindling, though.
A nod also goes to the coaches on the college level, who are preparing quarterbacks like never before.
The result is an unprecedented explosion of young talent at the quarterback position. That’s good for everyone.
Early fake gave Packers a kick
The mere mention of “fourth and 26” around Packers fan would normally send them into a tizzy about former coach Mike Sherman and the loss in the 2003 playoffs to the Eagles.
With about a minute left in regulation, and the Packers leading, 17-14, the Eagles converted the almost impossible down and distance on a pass from Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell between two-deep coverage.
The 2012 Packers gave “fourth and 26” a different connotation Thursday night in one of the most brazen early-season play calls in recent memory.
Leading, 3-0, the Packers ran a fake field goal from the Bears’ 27-yard line with 1:56 left before halftime. Holder Tim Masthay flipped the ball to blocking tight end Tom Crabtree, who went untouched for a touchdown that ignited a Packers team playing its sixth straight mediocre quarter to start the season.
It appeared that it could have been one of those situations in which the player reacted to a certain look but didn’t think about the situation. (Think Patrick Chung’s fake punt in the playoff loss to the Jets.) But no. The play was called from the sideline.
‘‘I was trying to send our team a message when I did call it,’’ said head coach Mike McCarthy. ‘‘And, frankly, I would have been fine with the field position.
“We’ve been working on that play, it’s got to be two or three years. We were looking for a certain look from the Bears. They gave it to us. It was great execution on the part of our players.”
Masthay said the call was a shock to him.
“To be honest, I was surprised when the call came in because it was fourth and 26,” Masthay said. “That was a really gutsy call by Coach. I had to basically make sure a certain look was there, and it was, so we kept it on and Tom made a great run and the guys blocked well.”
You could say that McCarthy’s message to his team — that the season had started and it was time to wake up — was heeded. The players knew the stakes. What if the Packers failed to pick up any yardage and the Bears scored? Instead of being up, 13-0, at halftime, they could have trailed, 7-3.
“That’s a gutsy call,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “You’ve got to score on that.”
LIONS ON STAGE
This could be defining game
One of the more intriguing matchups in Week 2 is the Sunday night game, in which the Lions travel to San Francisco.
Everyone knows about the 49ers, who were just a few plays in overtime away from beating the Giants and facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. San Francisco’s résumé was further enhanced by the “butt kicking” — to use the term of Packers coach Mike McCarthy — it handed to Green Bay in a 30-22 victory in Week 1 at Lambeau Field.
The 49ers are absolutely Super Bowl contenders.
Does anyone know exactly what the Lions are? Even they realize they are a bit of an unknown on the national stage.
“I think if we get the win, people will give us a little bit more respect,” said defensive end Cliff Avril. “But respect is earned, that’s just with anything. We definitely have to go earn it, get that W.”
There’s no doubt the Lions are talented. The offense, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, is a fantasy football player’s delight. The defensive line of Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, and Corey Williams, is one of the league’s best.
The Lions went 10-6 last year and secured the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1999. Dating back to a four-game win streak to close 2010, the Lions are 15-6 in their last 21 games.
But they haven’t really beaten anybody. There was the 7-3 victory over the Packers in 2010 when Aaron Rodgers was knocked from the game. The Lions lambasted the Broncos, 45-10, last season, but that was before Denver tailored the offense to Tim Tebow.
Otherwise, the Lions have failed to assert themselves in losses to the 49ers, Falcons, Bears, Packers (twice), and Saints (twice).
Lions coach Jim Schwartz, at least publicly, isn’t putting too much on this game.
“We don’t care how people look at us,” he said. “That’s fine for fans and for TV and everything else. Power rankings and all that other crap doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s about getting the win.
“I mean, it’s a big game and people are talking and we certainly are excited to play. But we still have 14 games after this one. Whether we win the game or lose the game, we’re playing next week.”
The Lions players, though, believe you can change perceptions on national TV, and that this is a measuring-stick game.
“You could say that, a lot of people would say that,” Johnson said. “We definitely want to see what we’re stacked up to, and we feel like we have a good shot going into there. A great shot.
“It would definitely propel us through the early part of the season.
“We feel like we are a formidable opponent on the road. I think our concentration is real high on the road so I think — I know — we’re going to be ready.”
Reasoning seems fishy
Last Sunday, the Miami Herald cited a friend of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross as saying that general manager Jeff Ireland could be in serious trouble if the team really bottoms out. Ross does not have “blind faith” in Ireland, according to the report. I have no reason to doubt reporter Barry Jackson, but this needs to be asked: Is Ross completely insane? Let me see if I have this straight. Ross decides that Ireland is worth keeping on after Tony Sparano fizzles out as coach. Ireland is then allowed to pick the new coach, Joe Philbin, who then hand-selects a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who successfully ran the scheme of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in college. And after one season Ross might fire Ireland? Might as well chalk up the Dolphins as being terrible for another four years in the AFC East (I know, completely shocking in this phenomenal division). Ross can’t be serious. Say he does fire Ireland. Well, the new general manager is going to want his coach, so you either allow Philbin to pick the guy, or you hire someone else. Given Philbin’s lack of experience, the former isn’t likely. So that leaves a new general manager. He will fire Philbin at some point (ask Sherman from his Packers days how it works when a new general manager comes in). The new coach will want to find his own quarterback. So the Dolphins are back to starting over. Again. At least the new rookie salaries make starting over possible. But Ross has to let Ireland, Philbin, and Tannehill to work together at least through 2013.
1. People are rightfully raving over Robert Griffin III’s debut for Washington. But they may be shortchanging the role Jim Haslett’s defense had in beating the Saints in the Superdome. Some want to chalk it up to a bounty-scandal hangover. That would be incorrect. The Redskins swarmed Drew Brees at the line and challenged the receivers all over the field.
2. In the past year, the Redskins have beaten Eli Manning twice, beaten Brees on the road, and nearly knocked off Tom Brady and the Patriots. In those four games, the quarterbacks completed 54 percent of their passes, with six touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 73.0 rating. How many defensive coordinators can boast of that?
3. Peyton Manning’s arm at this stage is certainly good enough, and it might get better. But I’m not ready to jump on his bandwagon. We’ll know where Manning stands at the bye week after facing Atlanta, Houston, and New England. The Steelers could be headed for a long season and didn’t have James Harrison or Ryan Clark.
4. Jay Cutler is the easy target, but until the Bears put him behind a competent line, I don’t know how anybody pins Chicago’s struggles on the quarterback. That line is terrible. Oh, and Brian Urlacher can’t move anymore on his left knee. It was painful to watch.
5. ESPN really has no shame when it comes to Drew Rosenhaus. The network has barely mentioned the reporting done by Yahoo! Sports on some of the agent’s dealings. And not once but twice it has allowed free agent receiver Plaxico Burress — a Rosenhaus client — to go on all ESPN platforms to beg for a job. To borrow one of ESPN’s lines: “C’mon, man!”
Former Patriots center Dan Koppen was reunited with his former Boston College line coach, Dave Magazu, when he signed with the Broncos to back up J.D. Walton. “It’s just depth, and an accomplished guy that can step in if, God forbid, anything happened,” said Denver coach John Fox . . . Former UMass long snapper Travis Tripucka, the son of former NBA player Kelly Tripucka, had a tryout with the Raiders last week but the team went in another direction. Tripucka was also a standout lacrosse player for the Minutemen . . . Expect some chippiness in the Bills-Chiefs game. Kansas City safety Eric Berry accused Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson of going low on him on the block that tore Berry’s ACL in Week 1 last season. “It is going to be fun,” said Johnson. “It is going to be interesting. We will see what happens. However he feels is however he feels. I already said it before that I have never been a dirty player and I never try to take somebody out.”
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.