The Sunday game between the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers features the first matchup of two Heisman-winning quarterbacks with one as a rookie and the other as a second-year player. In 2011, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was the NFL's shiny new toy as he set several rookie records at the position. But as the Panthers' offense has become one-dimensional, Newton has been dissected in everything from his throwing motion to his body language to his press conferences.
Now, it's the new Heisman rookie that's taken the league by storm, and that's Robert Griffin III of the Redskins. The owner of a completion rate over 70 percent until his receivers proved utterly incapable of catching the ball in last Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Griffin has sparked many of the same superlatives Newton received a year ago. Many defenses facing him talk about how they've never seen the challenge Griffin presents -- the Baylor alum brings it in every possible way. From his pocket presence to his mobility to his arm strength and accuracy, RG3 appears to have all the elements of a future star.
Of course, when two mobile and dynamic quarterbacks who happen to be black face off, comparisons are inevitable. All of a sudden, RG3 is the new Cam, despite the profound differences in their overall playing styles. Griffin understands that it's the nature of the business, no matter how silly it is, but he has his sights set higher.
"It's something that the media's definitely going to play into with both of us being similar-style quarterback with different qualities to each other, but it's not my job to try to compare us," Griffin said on Wednesday. "I'll let you guys continue to do that. It's like I tell people many, many times: I won't be playing him, I'll be playing his defense. So, have fun with the comparisons. We do run similar schemes. There's a lot of similarities. But, I'd rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers, or a guy like that: someone who's won Super Bowls."
It's not a slight to Newton, or anyone else -- it's just an indicator of how high Griffin has his sights set. And that's where they should be. As impressive as Newton's been, the lack of a consistent run game in Carolina's option offense has defenses able to tie up Newton's first read and force him to go through his progressions. Newton's made a lot of progress, but that's still a weak point in his game. Meanwhile, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has incorporated Griffin's acumen and athleticism into an offense that mixes option plays with pure pocket throwing and up to three backs in the backfield on any given play.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was more concerned about stopping RG3 than comparing the quarterbacks, but the question was inevitable.
"First of all, I see the athleticism that they both possess, and they both have very strong arms," Rivera said. "Both of them are tremendous competitors and want to win. There's something about the two of them, that when they're on the football field, they're dynamic. I think that's where all the comparisons lie. I do think you see guys that have special athletic ability, they're fun to watch. The thing about Robert Griffin that's different than our guy is he's more of a North-South runner because he's got such great speed. He hits top speed really fast and gets going."
However, the real story behind Griffin's rookie season is his growth as a quarterback. Yes, a quarterback, not a fast guy who runs around and throws the ball once in a while. Even Shanahan has been surprised by the level to which his rookie signal-caller has taken things.
"If you told me that the midway point of the season, that Robert would be the most successful quarterback in the NFL for yards per play, first, second, third down, I'd literally say you're crazy," Shanahan said. "For a guy to have the ability to do that and still have limited turnovers, it's pretty impressive. Now, Robert would be the first one to tell you, 'It's a bunch of guys working together, it's not just him.' So, a lot goes into it, but I'm very proud of what he has done, and I pray he will still get better."
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three sacks last Sunday against the Chicago Bears, found it difficult to put Griffin in a neat little box while watching tape and preparing for the challenge.
"He's fast," Hardy said. "I personally haven't played anyone like him. I can't recall right now."
Perhaps the best comparison to RG3 is RG3 himself. When it comes to first-year quarterbacks of any stripe, few have made more of an impact.
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