September 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) celebrates a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Washington Redskins defeated the New Orleans Saints 40-32. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
RGIII and Andrew Luck made their regular season NFL debuts on Sunday. One was outstanding, the other looked like a rookie.
Fair or not, the careers of rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will always be linked. A pair of prodigious rookies, the first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft were asked to breathe new life into moribund franchises.
Garcon set himself for a big free agent pay day with a career year in 2011. He recorded new highs with 70 catches and 947 yards, tying his career-best with six touchdowns, and he did it all with whatever bag of flesh the Colts used at quarterback in place of Peyton Manning.
Unlike most of Dan Synder's free agent moves, the $42.5 million over five years for Garcon actually made sense. He was needed to help ease in a rookie quarterback. With the help of Garcon, head coach Mike Shanahan and a few others, RG3's led the Redskins to a 40-32 upset over the Saints in a historic rookie debut.
For those of you who insist on making each game a competition between the two rookies, this was all RGIII.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan summed up the day for his quarterback:
"Robert did an unbelievable job," Shanahan said. "For him to play the way he did in his first game in the National Football League, with the poise that he played [with] and some of the throws that he made, and to execute the offense in this environment."
Griffin's poise and virtually mistake-free effort mostly kept Shanahan's face to its normal Real Housewives orange rather than heart-attack red. The coach isn't giving himself enough credit for a well-managed game plan that kept the training wheels on his rookie quarterback to start the game.
It was pure West Coast for RGIII and the Redskins. His first six passes weren't just short, they went to targets behind the line of scrimmage. It hardly made for exciting football, until Shanny uncorked him on the first play of their second drive.
Lined up in a two-back formation, Griffin threw the ball 20 yards over the middle to Garcon, with a bunched up Saints defense in between them (Steve Spagnuolo's defenses haven't been the same without Jerry Reese drafting the players for him).
SB Nation's Amy K. Nelson explains RGIII's first touchdown here:
According to Pro Football Focus' charting numbers, relayed via Peter King's MMQB column, RGIII was pressured only eight times in 31 dropbacks. Griffin was sacked just once and hit only three times, according to the pressbox stats.
Much of that had to do with Shanahan's conservative game plan, one that leaned heavily on the run and RG3's ability to make quick throws. The plan also used Griffin's own wheels, something that makes life a little easier for rookie quarterbacks by keeping defenses honest. On their second play of the game, the Redskins ran an option, faking the handoff to the running back and sending RGIII around the pile for 12 yards.
Further up Interstate 55, in Chicago, things did not go as smoothly for Andrew Luck. Head coach Chuck Pagano sent his quarterback onto the field, and it was clear where the Colts' offense was coming from in Luck's debut. The problem Luck faced from the start was a pretty thin lineup around him.
Andrew Luck made his mistakes (he turned the ball over four times), but he didn't get much help either. It seemed like the Colts were almost always in third down and long.
Indianapolis' third drive started well enough. Luck connected with tight end Dominique Jones for 8 yards. On second-and-2, Donald Brown was tackled for a 2-yard loss, the perfect introduction for a Colts' running game that offered its rookie quarterback little in the way of results, unlike the offense surrounding the second pick in the draft.
Third-and-4, shotgun formation, Luck has Reggie Wayne waiting patiently and mostly uncovered in the flat on the left side of the field. The Bears send four rushers, who almost instantly overwhelm the Colts' offensive line. Count Luck's time from the snap to the throw in the video below. I don't quite get to two seconds before the pass rushers are on him and he is forced to make a poor throw.
Luck was sacked three times during the game. He was hit five times. Playing behind an offensive line that cannot block well for either the pass or the run is a tall order for any quarterback, even one with a diploma from Stanford and a treasure chest full of talent.
In fairness to the Colts, Luck's struggles cannot be blamed entirely on the team around him. His first of three interceptions, a deep ball to Donnie Avery in the second quarter, was the result of a poorly, weakly thrown ball. The same could be said of a throw to Wayne in the end zone that did not have much authority. As you can see in the GIF below, he forced that throw.
None of this is meant to imply doom for Luck. His game did not live up to the lofty standards set by two years of hype as an NFL prospect, but it was not out of line with a normal introduction to the regular season NFL for a rookie quarterback. Luck's best asset, and one he needs the most with this Colts team, is his resiliency.
RGIII walked into a much better situation for a rookie than Luck. I don't remember a time that you could put sensible free agent spending and Dan Synder's Redskins in the same coherent thought, but things change. Washington brought in Garcon, who the Colts really could have used this season, and other talented players for Griffin to work with this year.
Luck will have better games as the season goes on, and RGIII will experience his low points. Hogs Haven offered up a reminder of that fact:
So, now that the Redskins offense is on film, how will it go from here on out? I'm going to celebrate this win before I think about that. Redskins are 1-0, baby.
Week 1 Winner: RGIII
The Redskins are on the road again for a game against a suddenly notable St. Louis Rams defense. St. Louis picked off Matthew Stafford three times in Week 1, only to lose in the final minute of play. Believe it or not, they should be slightly more challenging than the talent starved Saints defense.
Andrew Luck and the Colts host the Minnesota Vikings in their home opener. Indianapolis' offensive line will have its hands full with Jared Allen, who will be looking for his first sack of the season. Nevertheless, the Vikings offer Luck the chance for a favorable debut in front of fans hungry for a new start.