By no means does that indicate it's time to panic or declare a quarterback competition, because we're only two weeks into the first preseason of the Jay Gruden era, but it's concerning that the franchise pivot continues to look at least mildly uncomfortable while running that new system.
This year is supposed to be different for Griffin, who was exposed to far too many hits and made far too many bad choices during the first two seasons of his career. The 2012 second overall pick has relied too heavily on his legs, has failed to slide when doing so and has often held on to the ball too long regardless.
A lot of RGIII apologizers have pointed to former head coach Mike Shanahan's system, which had Griffin taking off frequently within an option-oriented attack. Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme also featured undersized offensive linemen, which certainly caused the young quarterback to face an unfair amount of pressure.
But in his first extended dress rehearsal within Gruden's pro-style offense Monday night against Cleveland, Griffin looked a lot like the same old fragile, unsettled signal-caller we saw throughout the 2013 season. Only this time, with Mike Shanahan gone and his son, Kyle, coaching for the opposing Browns, and with his right knee now 19 months removed from reconstructive surgery, his excuses were gone.
A review of what went wrong:
He's Scrambling Too Much
There's more to it than this, but Griffin took off three times Monday night, with none of those runs coming completely by design. That's a lot when you consider that he dropped back only 13 times on three possessions.
The only scramble that resulted in a big gain came when he picked up 18 yards on a 2nd-and-20 on his second offensive series. On paper, that looks good. But look at what Griffin put himself through, all so that he could get a few extra yards to cap a second-down run in a preseason game...
Count not one, not two, but three big hits to cap that run. And Chris Russell from ESPN 980 in D.C. also noted on Twitter that Griffin may have had open targets before taking off:
That's a problem. But the fact that he'd let himself be exposed to that kind of contact in a situation like this indicates there could be a lot more trouble to come.
I've been wondering if Griffin is any different than Michael Vick, who took heat for the same habits a decade ago. This is an indication he still isn't totally catching on.
He Isn't Sliding (or at least not well)
On that run, Griffin should have either slid earlier or gotten out of bounds. On his two other runs during Monday's game, he at least attempted to slide. But on the first run, he was too late and went down awkwardly:
Plus, he probably should have checked that to fullback Darrel Young the moment the linebacker committed, preserving himself while also likely gaining more yardage on the play. But Griffin defaults to his legs, and it sometimes costs everyone involved.
Later, there was this awkward slide on a 3rd-and-17 play...
There, Griffin had to just throw in a towel by tossing it deep (essentially a punt in the worst-case scenario) or out of bounds. He didn't take a hit, but the slide was a mess. Not worth the risk.
"A little bit," said Gruden after the game when asked if he's concerned about Griffin's ability to protect himself, per NFL Network. Gruden continued:
It's something we have to continue to talk to him about—how important he is to this team and this franchise. And when he gets out of the pocket he needs to protect himself. He's had a habit in his career of being able to get himself out of those predicaments with his speed and his athleticism. But here, being it's a 16-game season with great talent across the league in the NFL, he's gotta pick his shots and learn how to get down a little better.
He Isn't Throwing it Away
That's something that probably should have happened on at least one of those scrambles, probably two. Luckily for RGIII and the 'Skins, that didn't cost them. But this did...
What went wrong here? Where to begin?
1. He stared down his receiver
2. He didn't step into the throw
3. He didn't give up
The first problem happens to young quarterbacks. Not the biggest issue Griffin has. The second problem became quite a concern last season as Griffin was adjusting to a brand-new ACL, so it's a little worrisome that his footwork remains off at times. Still, it's not as though he had a lot of room with which to work there.
But not giving up—even though that is inherently supposed to be a positive trait in the world of sports—continues to be Griffin's greatest weakness. We also saw that when he spent nearly four seconds in the pocket on a first-quarter sack...
Only three NFL quarterbacks took longer in the pocket before sacks in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That's yet another habit he's yet to prove has been kicked.
The Rehearsal Is Almost Over
Throw in two first-quarter false-start penalties and it wasn't a pretty night. Not terrible, but not good enough for a guy who is supposed to be a star.
As ESPN's John Keim wrote in his initial wrap-up on the game, Griffin "had a couple good throws." And that's basically true. His 23-yard hookup with DeSean Jackson on Washington's first offensive series was the best pass he's made this preseason, and he did hit Andre Roberts on a 49-yard bomb at the conclusion of the first quarter.
But he dropped back 13 times and threw eight passes. "A couple good throws" just isn't good enough for Griffin, who is simply going to have to carry this team at an All-Pro level in order to live up to expectations in this city.
And although we're admittedly nitpicking, an argument can be made that he actually underthrew Roberts on what should have been a touchdown on that 49-yarder. Look at how the receiver is forced to pull up a bit...
I guess the theme here is that Griffin hasn't turned the corner he so desperately needs to turn. And as Mike Jones of the The Washington Post notes, he and backup Kirk Cousins have been lacking something both in games and practices thus far this summer.
Still, Cousins got it together in the second half, leading a scoring drive that was capped with a beautiful touchdown strike to rookie receiver Ryan Grant. Despite the fact he was going up against second- and third-stringers, that performance won't do anything to quell buzz that a quarterback controversy could be on the horizon in D.C.
And if that buzz continues to exist, it'll only increase the chances that we'll have yet another distraction surrounding Griffin and the Redskins. Considering that similar distractions sank the ship Shanahan was steering, that's dangerous.
I know it's early, and I know the sample size remains small, and I know this is a brand-new system. But in order to squash those potential distractions and enter the Gruden era on the right foot, the 'Skins truly need their most coveted player to find his groove before the clock hits midnight on the 2014 preseason.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.
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