RGIII, Trent Dilfer, and a whole bunch of red herrings

Patrick McDermott

Trent Dilfer criticized RGIII for not knowing how to play hurt. It showed a fundamental lack of understanding about the Redskins' quarterback's knee injury.

Well that didn't take long. Just mere minutes after the Seahawks beat the Redskins to knock them out of the NFL playoffs, the second-guessing of Robert Griffin III began. Head coach Mike Shanahan wasn't above reproach -- and the reaction has been strong -- but it's baffling to see RGIII take some of the heat.

For starters, players are going to want to play -- injured or not. They're fierce competitors with the utmost confidence in their own abilities. It's no surprise that RGIII lobbied to stay on the field, despite dealing with a knee injury that severely limited his effectiveness. Someone should've saved him from himself, and ultimately that falls on the head coach. But set that aside for now.

More baffling was the criticism lobbed RGIII's way by Trent Dilfer. This is how his rambling diatribe on ESPN began:

"I'm as impressed as anybody on the planet with RGIII, and as big a fan as anybody. But he has come out publicly and said he wants to be great. If you talk to the great quarterbacks in the National Football League -- past and present -- they will all tell you that they continue to learn."

You know where this is going. Dilfer then laid out the argument that it was RGIII's fault for not adjusting and being more accurate because his mobility was severely limited by a balky knee. He cited it as something RGIII needs to learn to be great.

"One of the ways that a great player and a great quarterback grows is learning how to play nicked, Learning how to play in pain. Learning how to play almost injured."

Of course. The old, "playing through pain" argument. RGIII did play through pain and an injury; he played his ass off in fact. Dilfer was already off the mark, but he went down the wrong path shortly thereafter.

"Our job is to play well, regardless of the circumstances. After he got dinged up on the scramble to the right ... he was dramatically more inaccurate than he was before that. For him to be one of the great quarterbacks in this league, he then -- and Coach Shanahan touched on this -- needs to learn how to adjust his game, play within the confines of the pocket, move through his progressions and operate as a passer, and not rely on his athleticism and the playmaking."

This right here is an incredible red herring, and you're going to hear it a lot. RGIII has run the read option quite well this season, rushing for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns. He can get out and make plays in space, and tear apart a defense with his legs as much as he can with his arm. With a knee injury, his mobility is hampered a lot. Anyone that watched the game saw Griffin limping around when he did keep the ball while not even trying to plant and cut up field. The injury clearly held him back.

But throw out the running part. It's quite obvious that a knee injury is going to hamper a runner. What about the passing side of this equation?

RGIII's injury was to his plant leg -- his back leg. This leg is vital to a quarterback, and can severely limit their ability to throw -- much more so than the lead leg. When you hear an analyst talk about "throwing off the back foot" or "throwing flat-footed" this is what they're talking about. If a quarterback doesn't step into a throw and drive, the ball will sail and accuracy will suffer.

With a ligament injury in his back leg, RGIII was unable to plant and drive when making throws. It was blatantly obvious to anyone watching. Those passes that sailed high can all be attributed to the knee injury -- RGIII is typically accurate from the pocket, as well as on the run. He's a very good passer.

Dilfer was criticizing RGIII for not being able to work from the pocket, which is a weak criticism to begin with. RGIII is just as good in the pocket as he is taking off and making plays with his legs. His completion percentage was fourth-best in the NFL this season, behind Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. And in this instance, the knee injury didn't allow RGIII to drive off his back foot. His accuracy suffered as a result, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was basically throwing with his upper-body.

RGIII's injury was as much about how he could throw the ball as how he could run. Obviously he struggled in the running game. But his ability to throw from the pocket after aggravating his knee injury early on was significantly diminished. That has nothing to do with "learning how to play hurt." His body wouldn't allow him to drive off his back foot and make the throws he can typically make in his sleep.

Before criticizing RGIII for not knowing how to play when he's unable to take off and run, realize how much an knee injury to the plant leg affects a quarterback.

A previous edit criticized Dilfer's playing career. Upon further consideration, it's been removed after considering how relevant it was to the argument he was presenting

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