After appearing in just five games in his inaugural, and possibly only, season with the Cleveland Browns, Robert Griffin III was as colorful as always in the locker room on the last Monday of the season.
"I'm not an idiot,'' Griffin told cleveland.com. "I know a lot of people were writing me off as a player, as a quarterback, saying I couldn't do it. And to go out and show that I can, I think that proves a lot of people wrong.''
Griffin's 2016 statline looked like this: 886 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 59 percent completion percentage. His 6.03 yards per completion were the lowest of his career. He completed 36 percent of his passes when under pressure, albeit in a small sample size.
There's a harsh truth buried amongst those numbers, and it's that there's nothing about them that can be used as evidence for RG3's "I can" theory. There's even less of it when you blow the dust off the tape.
It's been well documented that when Griffin had one of the most prolific rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history (3,200 yards passing, 20 TDs, 5 INTs; 815 yards rushing, 7 TDs), it was due in large part to an offensive system that was tailored by Washington's then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan than mimicked what Griffin did in college at Baylor.
The above is a formation that the Washington Redskins used frequently with Griffin during his rookie season. Griffin lined up in the pistol, with running back Alfred Morris behind him and a fullback lined up directly to Griffin's left or right, depending on the play. From here, Griffin had a myriad of options:
He could hand the ball off or toss the ball outside to Morris.
He could run the read option with Morris, and either hand it off or take the ball himself and run, like he did above. The fullback lined up on Griffin's right on this play, providing extra blocking for Griffin up ahead.
Finally, Griffin could execute a play fake to Morris and throw a quick slant or wide receiver screen, like he does to Pierre Garcon above.
Defenses were stymied. Morris had a whale of a season, rushing for 1,316 yards and 13 touchdowns in Shannahan's zone blocking scheme, and combined with RG3's running ability, the read option, especially out of the aforementioned formation, became absolutely devastating. It also made traditional play action a huge weapon for Griffin, as he consistently found his receivers running wide open down the field after faking it to Morris. Many of his 20 touchdowns that season simply came from Griffin hitting receivers that were either totally uncovered or had enough space to make a play.
In simpler terms, Griffin wasn't asked to do more than he could. His improvisation and running ability turned broken plays or instances when Griffin simply held the ball for too long into big gains, and Griffin's cannon of an arm made it easy for him to take a couple of deep shots per game. Other than that, all Griffin was required to do was throw a lot of quick, predetermined routes. It was when he was forced to dropback, survey a defense and truly act as a pocket passer than his weaknesses and inaccuracies were on full display.
The next season, defenses adjusted, and with offseason knee surgery robbing Griffin of some of his top-end speed, he was required more frequently to become the pocket passer that he's never thrived at being. His time in Cleveland has been reminder of that.
Griffin's subpar field vision and poor pocket presence were some of his biggest flaws in his brief time under center this season. In the 2016 finale against Pittsburgh, Griffin left a totally clean pocket for no good reason, scrambling off to his left and throwing a questionable pass back across his body to Isaiah Crowell. You can see what the pocket looked like just as Griffin started to run in the screenshot below.
The play resulted in a first down, but it should've been a touchdown. Andrew Hawkins, working from the slot, had beat his man across the middle and was running wide open with his hand in the air. If Griffin had stayed in the pocket and finished going through his progressions, this play results in six points.
This was a problem the previous week against San Diego, too, as pointed out by cleveland.com's Dan Labbe. Griffin bolts from a perfectly good pocket for a short gain, once again missing Hawkins settling into a big hole in the Chargers' zone coverage over the middle.
Another flaw of Griffin's that continued to hound him throughout his career is his tendency to hold on to the football for much too long, attempting to make something out of nothing every chance he gets. He did this his rookie season, too, but salvaged it by taking off and running and making defenders look silly. In Cleveland, his hesitation has led to sacks or routes being compromised, like this deep ball below aimed for Corey Coleman.
There's no real reason for the hesitation and hitch here from RG3. He waited so long to throw the ball that Coleman had to stop running and come back to where the ball would end up, instead of being given a chance to run past the cornerback and haul in the ball on the run. This is essentially a jump ball.
Now here's Griffin from his rookie year. Look familiar?
Griffin was able to successfully escape the pocket and sprint around the corner for a sizable gain. That's not something he's able to do as well anymore, while his skills in the pocket have not developed as one would hope after five years in the league.
The inaccuracies from the pocket remain, too. In the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, with the Browns driving, Griffin had Coleman running a simple slant over the middle. He's beat his man, and is wide open for an easy first down. But Griffin throws it flat-footed, aiming the ball instead of throwing it, and it ends up behind Coleman, bouncing off his hand and ending up as an interception.
But perhaps the worst quality that's remained with Griffin is his inability to avoid the big hit. He got injured in his first game of the 2016 season when he tried to snag a few extra yards instead of going out of bounds a few seconds earlier. Then he came back and decided he still wanted to take hits like this:
This isn't meant to drag RG3 down any further than he already has been. It's simply to point out that the things Griffin has already struggled with, the things that have stalled his career since his incredible rookie season, haven't been worked out, and probably never will.
RG3 remains tantalizing. Any quarterback with his arm talent and ability to turn broken plays into spectacular ones is going to hold someone's attention. But even under a fairly small sample size this season, Griffin appears to be the exact same player he's always been. And that doesn't bode for his future as an NFL quarterback.