RG3 struggles mightily in loss to Denver

RG3 struggles mightily in loss to Denver
October 28, 2013, 7:30 am
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RG3: 'Our division is still wide open'

DENVER — For the first month of the season, Robert Griffin III deserved—and got—a pass because his health.

He was coming off of major knee surgery, after all. It would take time for him to regain his physical skills, rediscover his confidence and reestablish the chemistry he built with his teammates at the end of the 2012 campaign.

Everyone understood that. But everyone must understand this, too: that excuse is no longer valid. He returned to his pre-injury form last week against the Bears. So when Griffin struggles as he did Sunday at Mile High, it’s now on him.

“For me,” Griffin said after the Redskins’ 45-21 implosion, “I have to find a way to do more.”

Sav Rocca’s shanked punt in the fourth quarter delivered a body blow to the Redskins’ hopes of pulling off the upset. Trent Williams’ missed block on Von Miller’s fumble-causing sack staggered the visitors. But, in the end, it was Griffin’s uneven effort, particularly in the second half, that delivered the knockout punch.

He completed only 15 of his 30 pass attempts for a mere 132 yards, his lowest total of the season. He tossed two interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one. His passer rating of 45.4 was the lowest in his two-season NFL career.

It’s hard to win a football game when your quarterback produces numbers like those. And it’s even harder to comprehend how it happened against a Broncos’ team that entered the afternoon with the league's worst pass defense, a unit that had been yielding more than 300 yards per game through the air and an average of two touchdowns.

Yet, for much of Sunday’s game Griffin failed to take advantage. He struggled to read the field. He was often indecisive, holding onto the ball too long. At other times, he simply overthrew (or didn’t locate) wide-open receivers.

His struggles in the passing game were underscored on an incompletion in the second quarter. He locked in on Jordan Reed but overthrew the tight end. Meantime, Josh Morgan was wide open on the right side of the field and Pierre Garçon was even wider open near the end zone.

A frustrated Morgan waived his arms in disgust to indicate how open he was. Then he pointed at Garçon before shaking his head and walking to the sideline. Griffin, realizing his error, grimaced and lowered his head.

“Be better, period,” Griffin said when asked about the need to be on the same page with his receivers. “There is no secret formula. …We just have to be better.”

Wayward passes, though, weren’t all that stood out about Griffin’s performance. He also was also a non-factor in the run game. Two weeks ago, he broke loose for a season-high 77 yards against Dallas. Last week, he topped that, gaining 84 yards against the Bears. Against the Broncos? A mere seven yards on five carries.

Griffin acknowledged that the Broncos were committed to stopping him on zone read plays. He also said he can only run what’s called by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Still, it’s difficult to reconcile such a dramatic drop off from one week to another. The Redskins are a different team when Griffin is threat to tuck the ball and take off. It opens the entire playbook. It creates space for his teammates. It also leads to wins more times than not.

But it never materialized Sunday.

“Whatever is called, that is what we run,” Griffin explained. “We have to execute on that. There were plays that were left out there, that we have to make and we didn’t make them. Obviously, we are a running football team, myself included.”

Griffin’s struggles intensified in the second half as the Redskins surrendered a two-touchdown lead.

After DeAngelo Hall’s pick-six put Washington ahead 21-7 in the third quarter, the visitors’ meltdown was as much about the defense’s inability to stop Peyton Manning as it was Griffin’s inability to move the ball.

After Manning brought the Broncos all the way back and knotted the score at 21 early in the fourth quarter, Griffin’s response on the ensuing pretty much summed up the Redskins’ offensive issues.

Griffin misfired deep, throwing a pass behind a wide-open Morgan. On second down, he aired it out, lofting a deep pass 10-yards over the head of Garçon, who was doubled-covered anyway. On third, Griffin went deep over the middle but Aldrick Robinson couldn’t come down with the ball. Then Rocca shanked his punt, giving Manning a short field--and the Broncos all they needed to seize control.

Griffin finished the second half was 5 of 13 passing before leaving the game in the final minutes with a left knee injury that’s not believed to be serious. He also committed all three of his turnovers in the final 30 minutes.

“There’s a lot of missed opportunities,” Coach Mike Shanahan said, asked to assess Griffin’s performance. “And if you’re going to beat Denver on the road, you’re going to have to play one of your better games.”

In Griffin's postgame remarks, he used the phrases “get better” or “be better” a total of 10 times.

Indeed, he’s going to have to do both of those things if the Redskins are going to beat the Chargers next week and begin to crawl out of the 2-5 hole in which they find themselves buried.