It's usually easy to tell when an analyst is going off of a box score as opposed to watching a game. I remember reading and listening to several such people panning Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson after he completed just 9 of 23 passes for 122 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in a Week 7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. If you weren't watching the game, and you chose to go off the box score alone, your narrative was clear: A great NFL defense put a promising rookie quarterback in his place.
True to a degree, but what the box score didn't show were the five passes from Wilson that were outright dropped by his receivers, despite being on target. Wilson could have easily had four or five more completions for 100 yards and at least one touchdown had his receivers done their jobs. And the score of that 13-6 game could very well have been different.
However, when it comes to rookie quarterbacks with grievances against their receivers, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins stands apart and alone after a Week 8 debacle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that 27-12 loss, depending on the source of your numbers, RG3's targets dropped anywhere from nine to 12 passes that should have been caught. And as it was with Wilson, you heard a few "experts" telling you that the Steelers had finally given the NFL a blueprint to stop the explosive Griffin. If all you saw was the stat line -- 16 of 34 for 177 yards and a touchdown for a quarterback who had completed more than 70 percent of his passes before -- you might have thought the same thing.
[Week 8 LVPs: Redskins' receivers let RG3 down]
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan did not think the same thing, and made it very clear that his receivers were the source of the trouble.
"It's been a long time since I've had a game like this, relative to that many opportunities that you didn't take advantage of when guys were open. I was disappointed," Shanahan said after the game. "I don't care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hands, you had better catch it or else you won't be in the National Football League for very long."
Griffin, showing a poise and professionalism many veterans fail to exhibit, said that it's all about a process, especially with Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis out of the picture with injuries.
"It's just about execution, and whether you have a drop or a bad play here or there, they have to know that I'm going to come back to them, because these are the guys I have to play with," Griffin said. "If I make a bad pass, the coaches aren't going to stop calling pass plays. I have to go out there and make a good play throwing the ball. I think that's the main thing you tell them, that I'm going to come back to them no matter what happens, and I need them to make plays for me."
We counted nine examples against the Steelers in which Griffin's receivers did not make plays for him. And in many of those cases, the drops were embarrassing. Thanks to our friends at NFL.com, we can review each one and detail just how right on RG3 actually was against a Steelers defense determined to keep him bottled up and in the pocket.
Yes, that's nine times in which RG3's receivers couldn't match up. NINE TIMES.
The First Drop
With 24 seconds left in the first quarter and the ball at the Steelers' 22-yard line, Griffin rolled right and eluded pressure in boot-action. He then threw to receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was wide open near the end zone. A catch would have brought the Redskins to within three points of Pittsburgh, but instead, Hankerson let the ball bounce right off his hands.
The Second Drop
After an 8-yard pass to Santana Moss (more on him later), Griffin started the second quarter with first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 14-yard line. A perfect opportunity to score, unless you throw a slant to Dez Briscoe in the end zone, and Briscoe fumbles the ball before he can catch it. A commendable job of coverage by Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis (who had a really good game overall), but two things are on Briscoe -- he didn't run a clean route, and he still had the ball uncontested in his hands before the drop.
The Third Drop
We can't blame Chris Cooley too much for this one -- after all, the veteran was just re-signed to the Redskins last week after Fred Davis' Achilles injury put him out for the season -- but this should be a pretty easy pitch-and-catch. 5:16 left in the first half, the Redskins at their own 37-yard line, and this happened two plays before Shanahan, perhaps in desperation, called for the Josh Morgan trick pass to Griffin that later had the coach feeling "like a complete dumb[bleep]."
The Fourth Drop
1:50 left in the first half, the Redskins with the ball at their own 23-yard line. Running back Evan Royster fails to bring in a simple swing pass. This was just embarrassing.
The Fifth Drop
And on the very next play, Josh Morgan bumbles a fairly easy one. You can fault Griffin for throwing it a bit high, but still -- that's a pretty simple play. Come back, catch the damned thing, and get upfield. This is where you get the sense that the Redskins receivers had the idea of physical contact with the Steelers' defenders in their heads, which is never a good thing.
The Sixth Drop
You've gotta be kidding me. On the very NEXT play, veteran Santana Moss, usually among the more sure-handed receivers in the NFL, just blew it. Either he was thinking too much about getting upfield, or he heard Will Allen's footsteps. That led to a punt, and the end of the first half for the Redskins. They were down 20-6, and it should have been at least 20-14.
The Seventh Drop
Amazingly, the Redskins managed to get through the entire third quarter without any obvious ball security issues, but the bugaboos started pretty early in the fourth quarter. 12:53 left in the game, and Washington has the ball at the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. Griffin throws to Josh Morgan on a simple little crossing pattern, the timing is there, and Morgan just can't catch it. This is the NFL, guys.
The Eighth Drop
8:57 left in the game, and the Redskins are running out of legitimate opportunities. This is not helped by fullback Darrell Young, who manages perhaps the worst drop of the day. After a pretty impressive bit of scrambling to evade pressure, RG3 couldn't have gotten the ball more in Young's wheelhouse if he'd FedExed it.
The Ninth and Final Drop
Whew -- we're almost done here. 4:17 left in the game, and all the Redskins can hope for at this point is a respectable end to a loss. Hard to do when things like this happen. Santana Moss had defenders in his area, but that's still an eminently catchable ball ... and by this point, Griffin's receivers owed him a little extra effort.
[Slideshow: Week 8 NFL touchdown celebrations]
"Just a bad-weather game," Morgan said of the conditions at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, by way of explanation. "Wet ball, wet gloves. It makes your job 10 times harder. But as a pro, you're expected to make every catch and every throw. I'm not worried about the drops. I know we all have good hands. I know all these fans, everybody out here are expecting us to make every play. But you can't make every play. Robert's not going to make every throw. Alfred's not going to break every run for 100 yards.
"We're all human out there and make mistakes, and we just have to overcome it."
They'd better do it soon. The Redskins are now 3-5, and they can't afford any more performances like this.
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