Justin K. Aller
The Baylor star, who comes to Cowboys Stadium on Thursday, has been incredibly impressive in his rookie season.
The Cowboys enter their Turkey day tussle with the Washington Redskins with plenty of concerns, notably their offensive line. This week, the 'Boys welcome another potential headache in the form of the NFL's newest, shiniest game breaker -- Robert Griffin III.
After months of being inundated with "RG3" refrains during Griffin's senior year at Baylor and the lead up to the NFL draft, Griffin and the moniker have, for the most part, taken a back seat to rookie sensation Andrew Luck and his 6-4 Colts. But make no mistake, the hype machine has run on wins and playoff probability, not performance.
A look at the stats of the two rookie phenoms shows Griffin has put up about 800 fewer yards than Luck, with the two having each thrown 12 touchdown passes. But a look at the efficiency and rushing numbers tell a vastly different story. Griffin has outpaced luck in quarterback rating by nearly 24 points, is on pace to become a 1,000 rusher, and earned the designation of captain along the way -- all while working with a makeshift receiving corps (leading receiver Santana Moss has 374 yards on the season).
On the flip side of the coin, Griffin has had the luxury of growing into an NFL offense at a smooth pace under head coach Mike Shannahan with the league's 5th leading rusher in his backfield. Then there's also the issue of his longevity after the vicious hit he took against the Atlanta Falcons in week 5, and the losses.
The long-term health concerns are understandable given the concussion in Week 5 and the ACL he tore in college when paired with his style of play. However, Griffin has made a concerted effort to avoid the big hit in recent weeks and has shown a maturity to adjust his style of play even further from that of the scrambler he was in college.
For all the big plays, that has been the most impressive part about Griffin as a quarterback. When he began his career at Baylor, he was eager to run as soon as pressure arrived. But as his career progressed, so too did he as a passer. His game matured, and he showed an ability unique among running quarterbacks -- a complete overhaul to his game.
While Luck is lauded for his intellect and ability to pick up the Colts' offense, Griffin's evolution as a quarterback has been even more impressive. Paired with his Olympic-level athletic gifts, it shows he has greater long-term potential. If you're looking for evidence, look no further than their performances last week.
Luck put up big numbers through the air, but added a trio of interceptions against the league's 30th ranked pass defense. Griffin, on the other hand, was nearly perfect against a talented if flawed Eagles defense with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie starting on the corners. He went 14/15 for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns for a perfect quarterback rating, all while adding over 80 yards on the ground.
Against the Eagles, Griffin showed what he looks like at his best -- a balanced quarterback who can be a gifted and prudent passer in the pocket while retaining his game breaking running ability. The challenge for the Cowboys on Thursday will be to contain Griffin with pressure off the edge and changing up coverages. If they don't, Tony Romo will have to air the ball out 40-50 times again to keep up -- and game falls on the shoulders of the banged up offensive line.
He may not be asked to win the game for the 'Skins, but he has shown that ability to bury the 'Boys if they don't have a good game plan ready for him. Here's hoping the short week hurts Griffin's prep more than Rex Ryan's unit's.