Robert Griffin III celebrates his first career touchdown pass. Manny Flores/Icon SMI
The Redskins opened the season by going to New Orleans and defying nearly everyone's expectations, including mine. They thumped the Saints -- a team that was supposed to be fired up after being put through the Bounty Gate wringer -- with an artificially narrow margin of victory. Even as the Saints rallied to make the score closer, the Skins' remained firmly in control of the game.
The post-game chatter was mainly about rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who merely had the best rookie opener in league history. Helped by an imaginative gameplan from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Griffin looked every bit a superstar in the making. There were three specific things I particularly liked about his performance last Sunday:
Quick Release: The last first round QB in Washington was Jason Campbell, whose throws went something like this: That guy's open...I should throw...windup...and...there it goes. And by the time all that happens, the receiver is covered or Campbell got hit, or something. With Griffin, it goes like this: Open? FIRE! When he decides to throw, the ball is gone -- with velocity.
Quick Reads: Traditionally, the problem with rookie quarterbacks has not been physical. That is to say, youngsters were more than capable to play in the NFL. The trouble was between the ears. The game happens fast, and young QBs often have trouble reading coverages and recognizing which receiver is likely to be open. Griffin seemed to know before the snap where he wanted to go with the ball, and -- even better -- didn't lock in on his primary receiver. On the long touchdown throw, Pierre Garcon was not the primary target. The play was designed to go to tight end Niles Paul.
Quick Feet: One of Griffin's major selling points coming out of college was his world class speed. The Skins offensive staff made good use of that mobility with designed runs, boot legs and read options. Griffin also used his legs to stretch plays out when receivers were initially covered -- usually not to run, but rather to wait for a receiver to break free downfield.
It'll be interesting to see what happens from here. The Skins showed little of their offense in the preseason, which meant the Saints couldn't study any film and prepare. They were constantly adapting, and by the time they'd figured out a way to stop one offensive concept, the Skins were on to the next.
In theory, life should get tougher for the offense going forward as defensive coordinators are able to study film. However, the Skins still have other concepts planned that they haven't used yet. Plus, with an array of strategies available, defenses have to prepare for all of them. Yes, the Redskins might curtail designed runs for Griffin, but defenses still have to be ready for those plays. And, Washington can always go "conventional" because a) the Shanahan offensive system has proven successful in the NFL, and b) Griffin is an excellent passer.
All that said, there will be hiccups along the way. He's not going to be great every week. The test for Griffin is the same as it is for every player who has a great game: to do it again. Not necessarily to be "great" every game, but to play with consistent excellence. Pro sports is littered with players who had one great game. Great players are the guys who perform well repeatedly.
My feeling is that Griffin is going to end up in that latter group -- the great players who sustain excellence for years. It's gonna be fun to watch.