BALTIMORE -- Some thoughts and observations from the Redskins' 23-17 loss to Baltimore:
Two words: growing pains. But is that all it is with quarterback Robert Griffin III or is it something more? Griffin did not look good Saturday night against Baltimore. At all. Neither did his protection for that matter. But Griffin is the one undergoing the transformation, becoming more of a pocket passer. He’s the one the franchise pinned its hopes on for the future. So he’s the one who will take the heat and he’s the one whose progress will be measured every week. It’s sort of important for the future. Griffin knows it was not a good night, for himself or for the rest of the offense.
I’ll re-watch the game early Sunday for a more detailed report on Griffin. But suffice to say he was not throwing in rhythm at all for whatever reason: Indecision, players not open, protection issues. The Ravens were missing their top three corners, but their pass rush was strong. On the interception, tight end Jordan Reed was running down the left seam open but the ball wasn’t thrown and Griffin checked down to a covered Alfred Morris. It was not the best decision.
Griffin also had a severe hitch on a near pick-six to the right flat. To make this offense work he has to get into more of a rhythm in games. As a passer he was much better last week against Cleveland, save for one throw (tossing aside the decisions on when to run and/or slide). But as Griffin develops he must throw more decisively and anticipate throws.
Kirk Cousins does a lot of this already; that’s not to say he’s the best quarterback for Washington. But that part of the game he does well. Now, even Cousins will admit that there are plenty of times he’s decisive -- and his throws are off-target. We saw that a few times Saturday when some passes were on time, but low or wide. So it’s not as if he’s dead-on all the time. But he handles that aspect of the position well, knowing that he must go through his progressions fast or he’ll get sacked; he’s not going to escape the rush. He moved the team and led two touchdown drives.
Cousins is an excellent backup. He knows the offense well and is comfortable in the pocket. He’s also hard on himself and more than willing to dissect his game and analyze what he could have done better. Usually with him that’s the route he goes.
Griffin, though, is the future. If you want to see him grow, you stick with him through whatever struggles there might be until you are convinced it’s more than just growing pains. But there’s no way you can be at that point yet. If you are, then the job should have been open from the get-go. Even last year’s coaching staff understood that Griffin’s ceiling is still high because of his unique abilities. But I also remember talking to one former NFL executive before training camp who did not think it was a good idea to turn Griffin into this much of a pocket passer. Not now. The Redskins keep saying he’s making progress, but it also should be more evident on the field. Griffin is rebuilding his game.
Defensive lineman Jason Hatcher clearly makes a difference with the pass rush. He drew extra attention from Baltimore’s front. He moved around, playing over the center, both ends and tackle. The Redskins did a good job getting him inside against guards, much like he did last year in Dallas when he had a strong season. His sack was the result of good coverage, but also an excellent pass rush, which showcased his strength and his hands (at the end).
Defensive end Chris Baker had an active night as well. As key as Hatcher is, the Redskins need someone else to add a presence inside, whether it’s Baker or Barry Cofield. Saturday, Baker was that guy. He beat his man to the inside to stop one run in the first quarter. He tipped a pass. He also collapsed the pocket on Ryan Kerrigan's sack. Kerrigan did what he did last year, but too often in 2013 the interior was not collapsed and therefore he could not finish off a sack.
Corner David Amerson made two big-time plays. He broke up a fade in the corner of the end zone, a play the Redskins have been victimized on in the past. Amerson played it well by reading the receiver’s eyes and getting his arms up and preventing the catch. He also had a terrific open-field tackle.
The defense gave up too many yards in the pass game (180) and there were some missed tackles that lead to bigger gains. It’s been a good summer for the defense and they were solid against the run -- and better when Hatcher was in the game. There’s a trickle-down effect when Hatcher is in and I’ll be curious to see how that plays out once the season begins. More on his game Sunday.