Key Matchup: RG3 vs. Russell Wilson

Key Matchup: RG3 vs. Russell Wilson
January 3, 2013, 3:30 pm
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Who's more dangerous: RG3 or Russell WIlson?

Seahawks at Redskins

Key matchup: Robert Griffin III vs Russell Wilson


Many comparisons will be drawn between Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson ahead of Sunday’s first round showdown between the Redskins and Seahawks, from their pass attempts (393 apiece) to their passing yards (3,200 and 3,118, respectively) and ratings (102.4 and 100.0).

But there’s something else the dueling dual threat quarterbacks have in common: Four months ago, neither was expected to be in this position.

Griffin joined a Redskins’ team that was coming off a 5-11 season and supposed to be too flawed on both sides of the ball to contend for a postseason berth. Wilson, meanwhile, arrived in Seattle’s training camp as the 75th pick and ended up beating out veterans Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.

What’s happened since is, well, history. In a literal sense.

Since 1966, only 11 rookies have started at quarterback in the playoffs. This weekend, Griffin, Wilson and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck will join a select group that includes names such as Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger.

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan pointed to three reasons for the rise of rookie signal callers: Prodigious talent and drive, more instruction during the NFL offseason and, perhaps most important, the sophisticated offenses used in the college ranks these days.

“I think they’re throwing the football a little bit more than in the past,” Shanahan said. “I think that gives them a big advantage. You have a lot of hours in the classroom [during OTAs and minicamp] with a quarterback that you never had 10 years ago. It’s a chance to learn the system. They’re [also] used to a good passing attack, they’ve thrown the ball quite a bit and are a little bit more prepared.”

Seattle’s Pete Carroll agreed, adding that quarterbacks are receiving better coaching at an earlier age.

“The coaching that starts way back when they’re in Pop Warner, throwing the football around in spread offenses, the high school teams are throwing 300-400 passes a year for these kids,” Carroll said. “And the offseason camps, the Elite 11 and all of those. They’re just so precocious and so well prepared and so much better coached because of their background. … It’s totally turned in the last five, six years.”

Then, of course, there’s the stuff that can’t be coached. Such as Griffin’s 4.3 second 40-yard dash, or Wilson’s leadership and arm strength.

In 15 games, Griffin set franchise records for a rookie in almost every passing category, as well as team records for rushing attempts by a quarterback (120), yards (815) and touchdowns (7). RG3 also set NFL rookie marks for passer rating and percentage of passes intercepted (1.27).

Wilson, on the hand, defeated noted quarterbacks Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler in his first go around. The Richmond, Va., native also tied Peyton Manning’s record for passing touchdowns by a rookie (26). He’s also proven clutch, tossing a game winning touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime three times, while sealing another victory with a rushing touchdown after the two-minute warning.

“I really liked Russell,” Shanahan said, asked if he considered drafting Wilson out of Wisconsin. “He has a lot of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback. He’s a natural leader.”

While there’s no doubt about their ability, both have also received plenty of help.

In training camp, Shanahan said the plan was to use a strong ground game to take some of the pressure off his 22-year-old signal caller. Enter Alfred Morris. The Redskins’ other rookie shared the load with Griffin, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Together, they helped the Redskins lead the NFL in rushing yards with 2,709.

“If you run the ball, you’re going to play-action pass,” Griffin said. “That’s just the way it goes. Teams have to stop your running game and if they don’t, you run for 274 yards. When you have a back like Alfred and an offensive line that’s great at run-blocking and coaches that know what they’re doing in the running game, it’s hard to stop.”

Another development for the Redskins during their improbable run to the postseason: After floundering for much of the first half, the team’s defense pulled itself together. In the past seven games, in fact, the unit yielded an average of 20 points per game. That would rank tied for eighth best. 

It’s basically that same formula that propelled Seattle to the NFC’s fifth seed.

Behind Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks rushed the ball a league-leading 536 times, even as the game continues to trend toward pass dominated offenses. Lynch finished the season with 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition to Lynch, the Seahawks’ defense allowed a league-low 15.3 points per game – which was almost two points fewer second place San Francisco 

Add all that to a game featuring Griffin and Wilson, and what you’ve got is a wild card matchup that captures the imagination.

But don’t count Griffin and Wilson among those shocked that they’re here.

“Coach drafted me to be the franchise quarterback for this team and that’s what I planned to do from day one,” Griffin said. “Really, my goal was to come in and show them that they picked the right guy and show the team that they could believe in me.”

Wilson added: “Not at all. I always believe in myself and I have full confidence in myself and my abilities.”