CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 25: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cam Newton
It's funny, back in the spring, after the Redskins had mortgaged the farm to move up in the draft to take Robert Griffin III, Mike Shanahan would've been ecstatic to hear that his quarterback of the future would play as well as the 2011 rookie of the year, Carolina's Cam Newton.
Turns out, it only took two months for RGIII to surpass Newton as a bona fide NFL quarterback. But much like Andrew Luck (for completely different reasons), Newton and Griffin will be inextricably linked throughout their career: They're option QBs with unparalleled athleticism and rocket arms, Heisman Trophy winners that can take over games, and, oh right, they're black. So in this post-racial world, the two will invariably be compared.
This isn't something that consumes Griffin.
“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,” RGIII said Wednesday via the Washington Post.
Griffin, who always seems to know exactly what to say to the media (something that Newton is nowhere close to mastering), conceded that “We do run similar schemes. There’s a lot of similarities," but added: "I’d rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers, or a guy like that: someone who’s won Super Bowls. You want to go out there and win, and that’s our biggest goal. It’s not about me versus Cam Newton, it’s about us getting the win, and getting to 4-5 going into the bye week.”
And that's another difference: The Panthers are currently 1-6 in no small part because Newton, who was the NFL's biggest surprise a year ago, has looked overmatched and out of sorts in 2012. Griffin, meanwhile, is fifth in the league in completion percentage and first in quarterback rushing yards (476 yards, 6.8 YPC, 6 TDs) ahead of -- you guessed -- Newton (310 yards, 6.1 YPC, 3 TDs). The game doesn't seem to big for RGIII, which, of course, made Newton's rookie season so remarkable. So what changed and what can the Redskins do to avoid a similar fate?
“Teams do handle us differently (now),” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday via the Post. “As people get to study more and more of what Washington’s doing, it’ll make it tougher on them.”
For example, Rivera continued, "You’ll see a little more of what people call the soft zones, where they’ll just say, ‘We’ll keep everything in front of us, keep our vision on the quarterback that way, when he scrambles, he can’t hurt us.’ Second, they’re playing a little more soft, so they can take away those deep digs.”
Also not helping Newton: the absence of a defense. This point should resonate with the Redskins, who currently don't have much of a defense, either. But there's also reason to believe that Griffin won't suffer the same misfortune that now plagues Newton.
Yes, Washington runs the read-option that RGIII perfected at Baylor, but they also run some West Coast concepts found in more traditional NFL offenses. And that balance helps keep defenses honest.
“Teams are going to try to shut down what you put on tape,” Griffin said. “But I think the … coaches have done a good job of mixing up our schemes, mixing up our formations, making sure we’re not running the same things, and just disguising our looks really well. I pride myself, coach prides himself and players pride themselves on being able to execute really well regardless of what the defense is doing.”
Luckily, the 'Skins are facing one of the league's worst defenses so the chances for points will be there. And if there's to be any talk of a late-season playoff push, Washington has to win this weekend.