MIKE O'HARA

OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: RGIII says "there's no knee issue"

Posted Sep 19, 2013

Even Griffin's own teammates are saying he is limited by a knee injury, but the second-year quarterback says all is well

Robert Griffin III won't use the brace on his right knee as a crutch for his slow start in Washington's first two games of the season.

Griffin limped away from last season when he was one of the stars of a young crop of quarterbacks who electrified fans with their performances. He isn't up and running at the level many expected in his recovery from a serious knee injury sustained in Washington's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Since training camp opened, the primary focus has been on Griffin and the condition of his knee, but how the Lions deal with the quarterback is only one issue facing them in Sunday's game at FedExField.

Washington's running game and offense could gel at any moment, and the specter of having never beaten Washington on the road continues to hang over the Lions, even though most players on the roster aren't part of the streak and rightfully downplay its impact on their performance.

And as Griffin said in a conference call interview with the Detroit media Wednesday, the season is young, and Washington isn't ready to pack it in with a 0-2 start.

"It's been two games," Griffin said. "It's way too early to have everybody panicking about certain things. We want to win, just like our fans want us to win, just like our media wants us to win. We've got to go do it."

Teammate challenge: Griffin has not been the dynamic passer-runner of a year ago who blitzed defenses with his arm and the speed that made him a world-class hurdler in college.

Griffin has gained only 24 yards on nine runs in losses to the Eagles (33-7) and Packers (38-20). A year ago, he had 20 runs for 124 yards in a 1-1 start.

Wide receiver Pierre Garcon told a Washington radio station that the injury and brace are hampering Griffin.

"Robert obviously can't run as fast as he did last year because of his knee brace and his knee," Garcon told the radio station. "But it's the same offense, to be honest with you. It's nothing different. It hasn't changed at all."

Not so, Griffin said Wednesday.

"There's no knee issue," Griffin said. "I love my receiver. If he wants to, we can race."

Deficits: Washington's offensive strategy in the first two games was affected by its opponents' big leads – 33-7 by the Eagles, 31-0 by the Packers. Washington was playing catch-up, which took away any semblance of balance.

"If you have those few opportunities, you can't run your normal offense," Coach Mike Shanahan said. "You have to run your two-minute offense. We weren't very effective running our normal offense in either game."

Washington had three first downs and ran only 21 plays for 75 yards in the first half against the Eagles. Against the Packers, Washington had five first downs, ran 24 plays and gained 155 yards.

Griffin completed 30 of 49 passes against the Eagles. Washington ran the ball 18 times, with nine runs in each half.

Against the Packers, Griffin threw 20 passes in the second half while Washington ran just seven times.

"You don't really get to go into your game plan, which really does suck because we have some great plays in our game plan," Griffin said. "When you get down so many points, you have to go far away from that. You end up throwing the ball almost every down."

Bad defensive reviews: Former Bears coach Mike Ditka ripped Washington's defense in his regular Monday commentary on ESPN.

"Their defense in Washington doesn't even exist," Ditka said.

According to Pro Football Focus's analysis, Washington has missed 30 tackles, 10 more than any other team.

Two bright spots are the pass rush and middle linebacker London Fletcher's durability. Sunday's game will be Fletcher's 243rd in a row, tying him with Bill Romanowski for the NFL's longest streak since 1970.

Washington has seven sacks, led by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan with three.

Washington ranks 30th or worse in six defensive categories and does not have an interception, which puts the defense in a five-way tie for 28th.

Backup arm: Kirk Cousins has proven his value as the backup to Griffin. Washington took Griffin second overall then surprised everyone – Cousins included – by drafting Cousins in the fourth round.

Cousins threw the winning TD pass in relief of Griffin to beat the Ravens, in Game 14. He threw two passes in that game, completing both.

He started the next week against Cleveland and completed 26 of 37 for 329 yards and two TDs in a 38-21 win. When Griffin went out in the playoff loss to Seattle, Cousins took over and completed three of 10 passes.