Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown compared him to a two-time Super Bowl winner.
“He’s Ben Roethlisberger in a small frame, but faster,” Brown said. “He can throw the ball 60, 65, 70 yards off his back foot. He’s very accurate and the play is never over until he’s on the ground.”
Safety T.J. Ward said there’s no one like him in the NFL.
“He’s one of a kind,” Ward said. “He can run as good as any quarterback, and he can throw as well as any quarterback.”
He is Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III. But he won’t be starting today against the Browns.
The Redskins announced late Saturday night fellow rookie Kirk Cousins will make his first NFL start. Griffin suffered a mild sprain of his right lateral collateral ligament last week. He reportedly didn’t take any first-team repetitions during the practice week, and the Redskins are concerned that playing him too soon could lead to further damage.
“The decision was not my own...” Griffin tweeted. “But I will be there for my team!!! In every way I possibly can.”
Washington coach Mike Shanahan wasn’t expected to announce the starter until this morning, but news leaked Saturday night and the team confirmed it. He succeeded in keeping the Browns guessing for about as long as he could.
“Who plays quarterback will not affect our preparation,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said during the week. “We have to prepare for their offense. It’s extremely important that we not try to look at what things are being said.
“They’ve got two fine quarterbacks, they are different in style in some ways, but their offense is very effective. They have elements of the drop-back passing game, they have elements of option football and, of course, their running game resembles in a lot of ways the off-tackle zone stuff that the Shanahans have always been known for.”
Despite Shurmur’s warnings, many of his players were under the assumption Griffin would play. Especially after Griffin moved well during practice.
Even defensive coordinator Dick Jauron expected Griffin.
“We fully anticipate that he’ll play,” he said Thursday.
Cousins was a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State and finished a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that forced overtime last week against Baltimore. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left and ran a quarterback sneak for the tying 2-point conversion. He didn’t throw a pass in overtime after a long punt return.
Cousins isn’t in the same realm as Griffin. Not many are.
Griffin might be the most polished dual-threat rookie in NFL history.
His 104.2 passer rating shares the league lead with Tom Brady. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions (tied for the league low) with a 66.4 completion percentage (fourth).
He’s just as dangerous when he keeps the ball. His 748 rushing yards are an NFL record for a rookie quarterback. He leads the NFL with a 6.7 average per carry and has six rushing touchdowns.
“Every week in our league we’re playing gifted athletes, now, he just happens to be significantly more gifted than most,” Jauron said.
If the Cleveland coaches are scrambling this morning, it’s because they’re uncertain how different the Washington offense will look without Griffin. Shanahan has made good use of all the skills on display when Griffin won the Heisman Trophy for Baylor.
He adopted the “pistol” formation that is a couple of steps closer to the line than the shotgun and allows the running back to line up behind the quarterback. It keeps the defense honest and provides the opportunity to run the zone-read option normally reserved for college offenses.
Cousins isn’t nearly the same running threat, but the Redskins may continue to use the formation and the option. One of the Browns defenders joked the only difference will be Griffin would’ve run for 40 yards on a play, while Cousins will be caught after 10.
“It’s one of those games that you hate ‘cause they’ve got those funky formations and all the different things going on,” defensive end Juqua Parker said.
Griffin and sixth-round running back Alfred Morris have combined for 1,976 rushing yards, the most by rookie teammates since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Redskins lead the league in rushing with 167.5 yards per game.
“It’s almost like a high school offense,” defensive tackle and former Baylor teammate Phil Taylor said. “Like my high school coach used to say, ‘You gotta hit everything in the backfield.’”
The Browns defense has been much improved over the last several weeks as it’s returned to health. It will need everyone at the top of their game, on the same page and disciplined in reading their keys and sticking to their assignments.
“We like our chances against anybody,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We’re starting to grow and build ourselves as one of the good defenses in the league.”
The Browns began their three-game winning streak against the Steelers when Charlie Batch substituted for Roethlisberger. Now they catch a break by missing one of the most exciting players ever to enter the NFL. He’s also been one of the most efficient and effective.
Griffin has been everything the Redskins hoped when they traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder for the No. 2 pick.
The Browns also coveted Griffin and were in discussions with the Rams. They initially offered both first-round picks this year and one in 2013, but the Rams chose Washington’s deal. Cleveland tried to throw in a second-rounder in 2012, but the Rams said it was too late.
“That’s a big price tag,” running back Trent Richardson said.
With the picks they kept, the Browns took Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. They also held onto next year’s first-rounder.
“That would’ve been a big sacrifice made,” receiver Josh Gordon said. “I think we’re definitely good with the guys that we got here, the Redskins got a good pick. Everything happened the way it should’ve happened, I think.”
The Browns also considered drafting Cousins in April. He visited Berea, and Shurmur talked to his fellow Spartan several times. Cousins has played in two games, completing seven of 11 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 107.0 rating.
“He was one of the most outstanding people you’re going to ever meet in the draft and we liked him quite a bit,” Shurmur said. “The fact he came in and had success did not surprise me.
“He’s a legitimate NFL quarterback.”
Richardson was added to the injury report as probable with an illness. He was a full participant in practice all week and looked fine in the locker room Friday.
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