If you follow me on Twitter you can tell that I was pretty surprised that Mike Shanahan left Robert Griffin III in the game against the Seahawks on Sunday. He started out by leading two scoring drives, but he clearly aggravated his knee and was noticeably limping after he did. Not only that, but he was clearly not 100% before he aggravated his knee and it was obvious any time he tried to use his normally elite mobility. But after he aggravated his knee (the same knee he tore his ACL in when he was at Baylor) there was no question in my mind- RGIII needed to come out of the game.
I can understand wanting to keep him in until halftime, but at halftime if I am Mike Shanahan I would have benched RGIII and put Kirk Cousins in the game. I’m sure some will claim that hindsight is 20/20, but I was calling for this to happen in real time on Twitter, go read my timeline. I’m not saying that Cousins would have led the Redskins to a glorious victory, but I think he gave them a better chance to win than a clearly hurt RGIII.
I understand this was a huge game for Washington and really for the entire city of DC. And honestly, Shanahan would have likely caught flak either way no matter what he did. If he pulls RGIII and he loses he’s a moron, but if he keeps him in, loses, and it results in his franchise QB doing serious damage to his knee then he’s an even bigger moron. I don’t expect Shanahan to bend to the will of the fans and the media (and he shouldn’t) but that is just another reason why he shouldn’t have been afraid to take RGIII out. This team is building for the next decade, not just for this one wild card game. You have to be able to see long term, and while advancing in the playoffs is awfully important this is the exact situation you drafted Kirk Cousins for: your star quarterback is hurt, he can’t run effectively so the zone read is a glorified hand-off, and he can’t drive off of his plant leg because of the pain from his injury leading to inaccurate throws (and an interception by Earl Thomas). Put Cousins in. He knows the offense, he isn’t as mobile as RGIII but he can run the zone read and make plenty of the same throws that RGIII can make. He’s not the same, but if he was as good as RGIII he would have gone much earlier in the draft. He is a capable back-up, and this is why you drafted him- PLAY HIM!
But Shanahan didn’t play him, and there are going to be people defending his decision to not do so. One of those people is Mark Schlereth. Another is Skip Bayless. I don’t know about you, but those aren’t the kind of people I want backing up my decision making. In fact, I’d prefer the opposite. Regardless of who agrees or disagrees with Shanahan though, he left his QB in after the half instead of playing his capable rookie back-up. As the head coach, that is his decision. Some are already saying “Well I’m sure RGIII wanted to stay in the game, I agree that Shanny should have left him in if he wanted to be in.” That is irrelevant. Very rarely will an athlete, hurt or not hurt, ask to come out of a game. Everyone can remember what happened when Jay Cutler came out of the game right? He was torn apart in the media and even some players criticized him (here’s looking at you Maurice Jones-Drew). Was it fair? Maybe, maybe not, but my point is that in one of the rare instances where a player requested to be removed from the game he was torn apart for it. I personally believe that RGIII is a much better leader and honestly a more likeable person than Cutler is, and it’s not a surprise that he would want to stay in the game. And I won’t be surprised when he defends Shanahan’s decision to leave him in the game- it’s almost certainly what he wanted. He wanted to lead his team to a playoff win and he wanted to do it whether he was playing on one leg or two. I respect that, and it was alright for the first half despite the fact that he was noticeably less accurate after he was injured. However, the head coach is responsible for telling RGIII that even though he wants to play, it’s not worth the long term risk of injury, especially given how much less effectively he has been running the offense. That is why he gets paid a small fortune every year; to make tough decisions that while possibly unpopular are better for the team even if the players involved are vehemently opposed to his decision. I think Shanahan understands that, but inexplicably he still left Griffin in and we all saw the result- he got hurt.
I really hope that RGIII didn’t do any structural damage to his knee. He tore that same ACL when he was at Baylor and doing damage like that to it again would likely be very problematic. It sure looked like he did something to it though, it buckled when he planted it after that bad snap and he crumpled to the ground. He did walk off under his own power, but I have seen plenty of players with serious knee injuries walk off under their own power only to find out they did structural damage to it. It may seem encouraging, but it doesn’t guarantee he didn’t do any serious damage. We will have to wait for the result of that MRI, but regardless of what happened to his knee I believe that he should have been taken out. He couldn’t throw accurately, he was throwing with awful footwork and mechanics because he couldn’t drive off of his plant leg, and the one time he kept the ball on the zone read he literally limped for 9 yards and went out of bounds. He should have been taken out of the game.
Honestly, I am in disbelief that RGIII even played as long as he did and I have a ton of admiration for Coach Shanahan. In fact, I’m about to buy his book. But RGIII could barely jog back to the huddle. He couldn’t drive off of his plant leg. He couldn’t throw with his normal velocity or accuracy. He couldn’t run the ball effectively. He couldn’t even roll out on a bootleg. James Andrews, a man who seems to perform more surgeries on serious knee injuries than anyone ever has or will, said he was worried about RGIII playing today. They decided to play him anyway, but there were a number of times where Shanahan should have, in my opinion, asserted himself as the Head Coach of this team and taken him out. In the heat of the moment you can’t expect an athlete, especially an athlete as talented and tough as RGIII, to willingly take himself out. A leader like that will lie, cheat, beg and steal to keep himself from being taken out. RGIII did that tonight and now he got hurt. He was very professional after the game as we expected him to be, but that doesn’t make Shanahan’s decision the correct one. Here’s hoping he didn’t do any structural damage, but even if he didn’t that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have come out of the game. It would only mean that he is lucky.