Should Robert Griffin Sit or Play?

Updated: December 11, 2013
RG3 & Shanny

By now you probably know that Washington Redskins head coach [for now] Mike Shanahan announced during his Monday afternoon presser that he’s considering benching QB Robert Griffin III for the final three games because of fears for his health. A decision on this is expected today and indications are that Kirk Cousins will get the nod against Atlanta.

However, it does not appear as if a final decision had been made.

Although Shanahan said Griffin is healthy now, he believes the physical toll he is taking [25 sacks in the last five games and many more hits] is unsustainable. Shanahan said several times that it worried him that a Kansas City Chiefs defense, which had two sacks in the previous five games, would come up with six sacks against the Redskins. [Five of those sacks were of RG3.] Two of the final three games the Redskins play this season will be on artificial turf, a fact that also seemed to concern Shanahan. ”I want to make sure he’s healthy… going into the offseason,” said Shanahan Monday. Later he added “it would set our franchise back” if Griffin does not have a full offseason of work in 20134.

I certainly agree that Griffin has been taking a beating in recent games and the offensive line is the major reason for this problem. Of course, that’s also an indictment of Shanahan, since he’s responsible for every single player on that offensive line. Every player was drafted or signed at the direction of Mike Shanahan and if the likes of Tyler Polumbus, Chris Chester, Will Montgomery and Kory Lichtensteiger are not playing well — and they are not — that’s Shanahan’s fault. He hired these guys. He told team owner Dan Snyder to pay them. And he, Shanahan, put them in charge of protecting the team’s franchise quarterback — by far its most precious asset.

Shanahan has been asked if he is considering replacing some of the starter with backups like Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus and Tom Compton. Shanahan says he will consider it, but has made no move to do it. That indicates he believes that, as bad as his offensive line is playing, it’s still better than what is sitting on the bench. Again, that’s another indictment of Shanahan since Gettis, LeRibeus and Compton are all Shanahan draft picks.

I don’t understand Shanahan’s thinking in all this and I question his motives. After saying over and over again that RG3 needed game repetitions to improve as an NFL quarterback — something that has been supported and repeated by virtually every NFL personnel expert I know and trust — Shanahan is now saying the best thing for Griffin is to play less. I don’t buy it. If Shanahan is worried about Griffin’s health, why didn’t he sit  him against the Chiefs. After all, why would a snowy, slippery field — the notoriously poor FedEx Field turf — against a decent Kansas City defense be less dangerous than playing inside on solid surface against a bad Falcons defense this Sunday? That doesn’t make any sense.

Obviously, I can’t prove it, but considering the way Shanahan has used RG3 as a pawn in his battle with team owner Dan Snyder, I think this is more of Shanahan’s gamesmanship. I suspect he is making a big public show of benching Griffin — a move that makes absolutely no sense for a young, still-learning quarterback than Shanahan himself admits is healthy enough to play — because he is trying to goad Snyder into a rash move. If Snyder fires Shanahan the coach’s contract will have to be paid off and Shanahan will argue that he was fired because Snyder did what he promised he would not do — meddle in personnel decisions.

The most valuable training there is for a young NFL QB is taking snaps in a real NFL game against a real NFL defense that is scheming to stop him specifically. The more RG3 gets of that, the more he will learn, the faster he will progress, the better he will play and the quicker the Redskins will improve in this pass-heavy, QB-dependant football league. If I know that, I’m sure Mike Shanahan knows that. So it is difficult for me to believe he will bench RG3 in the best interests of the Washington Redskins. I can believe, however, that the coach will bench RG3 in what he believes are the best interests of Mike Shanahan.