Steelers vs. Redskins presents a perfect storm
Robert Griffin III celebrates with happy Redskins fans at FedEx Field after a 76-yard touchdown run against Minnesota Oct. 14 == the longest scoring run by an NFL quarterback since Kordell Stewart went 80 yards in 1996.
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Temperatures that hovered near 80 degrees two days ago are expected to plummet into the mid-40s. A chilling rain is forecast for most of the day. It might be the perfect setting for the arrival of Robert Griffin III.
After all, he has taken the National Football League by storm.
Opposing players can't stop him on the field and can't stop talking about him off the field. He is a freakish combination of speed and skill, intelligence and composure, a rare breed of quarterback who is more accurate than Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning and faster than Mike Wallace.
In an election year, he is the hottest topic in the nation's capital, a likeable, marketable commodity who seems almost too good to be true.
It would not be a misuse of hyperbole to call Griffin, quite simply, the most dynamic and electrifying player to come into the league in a long time, maybe since O.J. Simpson. But, then again, wasn't everyone saying much the same thing just a year ago about Cam Newton?
"He's a special kid," CBS analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "He has a quarterback skill set in a very athletic body."
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Maybe Bruce Springsteen isn't the biggest rock star to come to town this weekend.
Maybe it's the rookie quarterback with the Madison Avenue nickname and jaw-dropping skill set who already is the most talked-about athlete in professional sports.
Just seven games into his first NFL season, the phenomenon that is Robert Griffin III -- RG3, as he is commonly known -- has created a palpable buzz among opposing players that is generally reserved for longtime icons or living legends. His arrival today at Heinz Field, when the Washington Redskins (3-4) meet the Steelers (3-3) in a 1 p.m. game, has created such a stir that the demand for a ticket is as great as any game against the Baltimore Ravens or New England Patriots.
"I think he's very rare," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who faces the challenge of trying to stop Griffin with a defense that ranks No. 2 overall and No. 2 against the pass in the NFL. "He's probably as good as anyone I've seen with the combination of running and passing."
Griffin has been a sensation since his first game with the Redskins Sept. 9 when he threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and had a passer rating of 139.9 in a 40-32 road victory against the New Orleans Saints. One of the touchdowns was an 88-yarder to Pierre Garcon -- the longest pass play for the Redskins since 1987.
The performance made Griffin the first player in NFL history to throw for 300 yards, two touchdowns with no interceptions in his NFL debut.
"We had him miked for that game, and he not only throws it to Pierre Garcon [for a touchdown], he went to the sideline and he was walking through every thing that happened in perfect detail," said ESPN analyst and former Steelers running back Merril Hoge. "And I was like, Oh my gosh, his first game, to be able to do that, speaks volumes as to why we see his athletic ability on display. It's because he has high intellect."
Two weeks ago, he rushed for 138 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown in a 38-26 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. Last week, he looked as though he had rallied the Redskins to a victory against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants with a touchdown throw that was sweeter than southern tea with 1:32 remaining, only to watch the league's lowest-ranked secondary incredibly give up a 77-yard touchdown pass just 19 seconds later.
He finished with 258 yards passing, another 89 yards rushing and showed off both incredible talents in one highlight-film play in which he scrambled and danced for nine seconds to extend a fourth-and-10 play that resulted in a 19-yard completion. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was caught on television, shaking his head in disbelief on the sideline.
"You know what, that kid was amazing," Fewell said the other day. "I just had to shake my head. He ran around, it seems like forever, and then he threw a laser beam right into the tight end's chest. I don't see that very often from quarterbacks, normal quarterbacks."
Indeed, Griffin does not seem normal. He was a 400-meter high-hurdle champion at Baylor, in addition to being the Heisman Trophy winner last year. But he is not just fast. He is incredibly gifted as a passing quarterback, witness that he leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion rate and an 8.47 average yards per attempt. He has thrown only three interceptions. No quarterback in the league, not Rodgers in Green Bay, Peyton Manning in Denver, even Matt Ryan in Atlanta, is having a bigger impact on his team than Griffin.
"Even though you can see the physical skills of people and you can project how someone fits in your system, until you actually work with somebody, you don't know for sure," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who has tailored his offense with an option attack to suit Griffin's immense talents. "I've been very pleased with the way he goes about his business. He's a very detailed guy, a very smart guy and he works extremely hard to be the best at what he does. You take that with his skill set, you feel pretty fortunate."
Griffin's arrival comes just one season after the league was dazzled by the size, speed and performance of Carolina's Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft who also was a Heisman Trophy winner.
All Newton did was break Peyton Manning's single-season, rookie passing record with 4,051 yards and become the first quarterback in league history to finish with at least 4,000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing. But, unlike Griffin, whose precision and ability to avoid mistakes has been astounding, Newton also threw 17 interceptions.
While Newton was putting up bigger yardage numbers as a passer after seven games (2,103 yards to 1,601), Griffin has more rushing yards (468 to 266) and a much-higher completion rate (an NFL-best 70.4 to 60.3). And Griffin continues to amaze, even though he lost his two leading receivers, tight end Fred Davis (Achilles) and wide receiver Garcon (foot tendon), to injury. If Griffin maintains his pace, he will finish with 3,659 yards passing and 1,069 yards rushing. The latter would break Michael Vick's single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,039).
"Robert Griffin can throw every single route you can throw on the football field," said former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who passed for 13,328 yards and rushed for 2,874 during his NFL career. "Cam Newton, he takes the thing a little too personal, almost selfishly. He's being too emotional about it instead of allowing the game to teach him and allowing the talent around him to be as good as he is.
"Michael Vick is fast -- he's a bomb ready to explode. But it's so undisciplined and wild and sporadic. RG3 is more intelligent about his speed and how fast he is and his running capability."
Griffin's performance has been so astounding he is overshadowing the No. 1 pick in the draft, Andrew Luck, who has led the Indianapolis Colts to the same number of wins and is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to have three wins and 1,500 yards passing after six games.
Rookie of the year? Heck, Griffin might be the league's Most Valuable Player.
His presence and the exhausting attention a defense must pay to him has allowed another rookie, running back Alfred Morris, to lead the NFC in rushing with 658 yards.
"That's the one thing we have to guard against," said LeBeau, who is 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks since becoming defensive coordinator. "You can't get mesmerized by the stuff he might do and let them have the basic play that gives [Morris] more room to go in there."
Take Griffin away, and the Redskins might be winless.
"He's doing it by himself," said injured Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. "Man, that's just not something that happens in the NFL. But he's doing it ... and taking the league by storm."
Other rookie quarterbacks in history have posted better passing-yard totals than Griffin. Aside from Newton in '11, Manning threw for a then-record 3,739 yards and broke Charlie Conerly's 50-year-old rookie record with 26 touchdown passes n '98. Dan Marino threw for 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Miami Dolphins in '83. Ryan had 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons in '08.
Then, there was Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 66.4 percent of his passes, threw 17 touchdowns and became the first quarterback -- rookie or otherwise -- to post a perfect 13-0 record in the regular season in '04. He led the Steelers to the AFC title game as a rookie and, one year later, became the youngest quarterback (23) to win a Super Bowl.
Conceivably, Griffin could finish the season with more than 4,800 combined yards, running and passing -- numbers that have never been posted by a rookie quarterback.
"I'm really impressed with, No. 1, how accurate he is," Cowher said. "And he has a little bit of Ben in him -- he can escape and still see the field. That fourth-and-10 play was as good a play as I've seen from a rookie. That's the thing that makes Ben so good -- he can scramble and still see the field. And the other thing is, I like his demeanor.
"So much of that position is being able to be in the moment and not get reflective, not ponder. You have to stay in the moment, be aware, when to take a chance, when to not take a chance. Those are all the things that entail that position. This guy has the ability to understand that."
First Published October 28, 2012 12:00 am