Who Should Washington Side With: Jay Gruden or RGIII?

Anybody who’s been following the Redskins this season should be well aware of the palpable tension between Gruden and RGIII. The biggest manifestation of this was during their post-game interviews after a humiliating 27-7 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 16.

The Bucs were a woeful 1-8 coming into that Week 11 game. Griffin did pass for 207 yards and a touchdown, but he was also picked off twice and sacked six times by a suddenly stingy Tampa Bay defense.

Griffin did owe up to his mistakes during his post-game press conference. However, he singled out his teammates toward the end of his media session, per ESPN’s John Keim:

“If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Mannings, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. I need every guy in that locker room and I know they are looking at me saying the same thing.”

However, Gruden took exception. He told Keim on Nov. 19 that Griffin should worry more about himself. Gruden also said it’s his job “to worry about everybody else.”

On top of that criticized Griffin’s performance during his Nov. 16 post-game conference, per Keim: “Robert had some fundamental flaws. His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-stop drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times. So from his basic performance just critiquing Robert it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.”

The rift between head coach and star quarterback is the last thing Washington needs. The Redskins are 3-11 through Week 15 of the 2014 NFL season and are going to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

If Washington is going to salvage its long-term future, it must resolve this issue at the soonest possible time. If it can’t be, then the Redskins should choose between Griffin and Gruden for the long haul.

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3 The Case for Jay Gruden

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Washington Redskins’ biggest issues is chemistry on offense: Their quarterback situation has been unstable—and unpredictable—all season long.

RGIII dislocated his ankle during the Redskins’ 41-10 romp over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2. He missed the next six games. Kirk Cousins filled in for him and went 2-4 as Washington’s starter. During that span, he threw for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions on a 46.8 QBR.

Gruden then yanked him in Week in 8 in favor of Colt McCoy, who came through in a 20-17 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys (299 yards on a 94.3 passer rating). McCoy lost his next two games, with an ugly 24-0 shutout loss at home to the St. Louis Rams—where he threw two picks and zero touchdowns—on Dec. 7 as his lowest point of the season.

The key takeaway here is this: Griffin’s injury was beyond Gruden’s control. Not all of the blame should be on the head coach. However, he never should have called out Griffin like he did in front of a media horde. That’s a big blow to a quarterback’s ego. He should have kept it private between himself and RGIII.

As for the issue of starting either Cousins or McCoy in Griffin’s absence, he just played with the cards that he was dealt. It’s unfortunate he was dealt a bad hand with the inconsistent play of both backups. It’s as simple as that: The Redskins need a good quarterback. Nobody has been up to the task in 2014. Gruden’s brother Jon discussed his brother’s messy situation in a Dec. 11 interview on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike”:

“The Redskins aren’t there yet, and they need to find, A, who their quarterback is, and, B, they need to find a nucleus of players they can win with. And all that combined has made a mess in Washington, and you’re right, unfortunately my brother’s in the middle of it, and I wish him luck.

“The bottom line is whether it’s Griffin or Billy Kilmer or whoever, they better find a quarterback in Washington.”

In the same ESPN interview, Jon Gruden stresses a team won’t survive in the NFL without a competent play caller.

That’s exactly what his brother doesn’t have at this point.

Jay Gruden caught a bad break in his first year at the helm in Washington. In spite of his past success as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, you can only do so much if you have a gimpy quarterback in Griffin and inconsistent backups in Cousins and McCoy. However, Gruden should have done something about his leaky offensive line, which is part of the reason why his quarterback's play in 2014 has been an eyesore. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Washington’s O-line is ranked 31st in the league (46 sacks allowed).

The good news for Gruden is Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen are sparing him the pink slip for now, per The Washington Post’s Mike Jones.

Memo to Gruden: If he chooses to part ways with Griffin, Marcus Mariota should be high on his radar in the 2015 NFL draft.

2 The Case for Robert Griffin III

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Poor Robert Griffin III.

It’s just so hard to fathom he had a great rookie season two years ago: 27 touchdowns and 4,015 all-purpose yards with just five interceptions. He also had a 102.4 passer rating in 15 games during the 2012 NFL season.

Now, instead of being mentioned in the same breath as his fellow 2012 draftee, Andrew Luck, he’s competing with the St. Louis Rams’ Sam Bradford for the NFL’s Most Brittle Quarterback award.

Griffin hasn’t been the same since his injuries. He tore the right collateral ligament on his right knee during a Jan. 2013 playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and as previously mentioned, dislocated his ankle earlier this season.

How about just three touchdowns and three interceptions in seven games during the 2014 NFL season through Dec. 15?

One can only guess how his career trajectory will be from here on out.

For now, ESPN Washington Redskins reporter John Keim says part of the reason why Griffin has been ineffective has been his propensity for holding on to the ball too long. He also needs to make better decisions with the football:

“The knock on Griffin has been that he holds onto the ball too long, which is partly why he’s been sacked so often. Yes, the protection has been an issue at times, as well. And mobile quarterbacks in general hold onto the ball longer, knowing they can make plays with their legs."

“But Gruden clearly wants Griffin to be more decisive with his throws—the first play of the Tampa Bay game is a prime example, when Griffin failed to be decisive on a throw to tight end Jordan Reed, wound up scrambling, and threw a ball that was bobbled and then intercepted.”

Just like Gruden, the mess in Washington shouldn’t just be placed on Griffin. However, Gruden does have a point in bringing up Griffin’s lack of fundamental know-how.

And even if the breaks seem to be going his way, they don’t. Case in point: Griffin scored on an apparent touchdown as time was running down during the first half of the Redskins’ 24-13 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 14. When he dove over the pylon, the officials ruled he fumbled the ball. The touchdown was overturned in favor of a touchback instead.

He did pass for 236 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked seven times. This is attributed to him holding the ball for too long and his porous O-line. Of course, some of the credit also has to go to the Giants defense.

1 The Final Say

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The Jay Gruden-Robert Griffin III situation in Washington has not been as good as expected. The ideal situation would have been a first-year head coach getting his career started on the right foot and a franchise quarterback who’s battled injury issues salvaging his once-promising career.

It turns out this was just a mere fantasy.

As successful was Griffin was during his rookie year under then-head coach Mike Shanahan, his recent spate of injuries have revealed that he has been an average quarterback to date.

As for Gruden, him calling out Griffin several weeks ago was his way of getting his quarterback to shape up. If Griffin is not up to the task, Gruden’s rant could turn out to be a plea to Redskins management to get a new quarterback.

In the end, a head coach and quarterback’s relationship is like marriage: You think you’re going to have it good only to realize there will be compatibility and adjustment issues in the beginning. Tempers will flare. Emotions will run high. But these are all part of the deal.

A newlywed couple may experience turmoil in the beginning, but if they work hard on their relationship, it will eventually flourish. It’s not uncommon to bump into couples who have been married for 50 years or so that began by being at each other's throats.

The same can be said about Gruden and Griffin. They’ve been together for almost a season. Once Griffin is in full health and the O-line gets tweaked next season, things are bound to change for the better.

Regarding the question of who the Redskins should side with, the answer is neither. They should be fair to both parties. Give both of them a season or two to iron things out. Who knows, it could potentially blossom not only into a better relationship but into more postseason appearances for the Washington Redskins as well.

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