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Pete Dougherty analysis: Griffin slow to regain playmaking form

Sep. 10, 2013
 
Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams sacks Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in the second quarter of Monday night's game at FedExField in Landover, Md. / Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers are fortunate to be facing Robert Griffin III early this season.

Last year, there wouldn’t have been much difference between playing against Griffin and Colin Kaepernick, two of the young starting quarterbacks who revolutionized NFL play calling with their combination of big-league throwing talent and a halfback’s running ability.

But after Kaepernick beat them in the regular-season opener last week in San Francisco, the Packers this week won’t see the same Griffin who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2012 for the Washington Redskins.

Griffin has returned unusually fast from knee-reconstruction surgery — he had his anterior cruciate ligament rebuilt eight months ago, on Jan. 9 — but was on an extremely limited practice schedule in training camp and looks like a rusty and limited player to start the season. Based on his performance Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s weeks — more likely months — from being the game-changing runner and scrambler he was as a rookie last season.

“They’re definitely not looking to expose him,” said an NFL scout who watched the Washington-Philadelphia game on television Monday night. “From what I saw, even in his motions he wasn’t as light on his feet. I’d say he’s between 70 and 80 (percent).”

The Packers spent a good part of their offseason preparing for these first two games against Kaepernick and Griffin, and especially defending the read option. But based on Monday night, it’s clear they won’t have to game plan for Griffin running this week like they did last week against Kaepernick.

Griffin ran only one read-option play against Philadelphia, and on that he handed off. It’s difficult to see Washington coach Mike Shanahan putting his franchise quarterback’s knee at risk with called runs this early in the season.

“They’re being cautious with the play calling,” the scout said. “Realistically, they get to November and maybe you’ll see a switch in the game plan.”

For much of Monday night, Griffin looked tentative as a runner and thrower. Especially in the first half, when he threw several passes off his back foot even when he wasn’t about to be hit, which affected his accuracy and pace.

On one early interception, he threw into triple coverage in the middle of the field. Then early in the third quarter, his throw on a long out pattern to Pierre Garcon hung in the air, which allowed cornerback Cary Williams to make the play. Griffin threw only five interceptions last season.

“Definitely saw rust on him, especially with the reads,” the scout said. “But his arm strength and his accuracy came on in the second half.”

At 70 or 80 percent of last year, Griffin is far from the explosive runner and scrambler who led NFL quarterbacks in rushing last season (815 yards). But as the game wore on Monday night, he showed he at least has more mobility than most starting NFL quarterbacks, so the Packers still have to plan for a decent or better scrambler.

The question is whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers will rush Griffin like he did Kaepernick last week. Against the 49ers, Capers didn’t blitz much and mostly had his rushers squeeze the pocket and mirror Kaepernick rather than go hard after the sack and risk creating big scrambling lanes.

However, Philadelphia blitzed Griffin regularly and with success. Besides any loss in Griffin’s mobility, he also was rusty from a rehabilitation schedule that prevented him from practicing in 11-on-11 periods until last week in practice. In training camp, the most Griffin did was seven-on-seven passing periods.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Eagles blitzed Griffin on 24 of his 56 drop backs, and on those blitzes had two of their three sacks and held him to a 26.3 passer rating. Griffin’s statistics to finish the game were OK — 30 completions in 49 attempts, 329 yards — but those numbers were inflated by a fourth quarter in which he threw for 169 yards while trying to come back from a 20-point deficit.

Griffin also gained 24 yards on his five scrambles, numbers the Eagles had to consider more than manageable. So Capers has to be tempted to come after Griffin and make him prove he can beat him as a scrambler in his current state of health.

Capers, though, has to be wondering how much sharper Griffin will be this week after getting his first game action since last January. The Packers can’t count on him being as tentative this week as he was last, and even diminished as a runner and scrambler early in the season, he still has a strong and accurate throwing arm.

Last year he led the NFL in average yards per pass (8.14), was third in passer rating (102.4) and fourth in completion percentage (65.65 percent).

“Not a great thrower but a good thrower,” another scout said. “I think Kaepernick is a better thrower.”

pdougher@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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