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The RGIII Lesson: An NFL Editorial
When I talk about an RGIII lesson, I do not mean to cast any aspersions on the young man, either as a human being or an NFL quarterback. This is not a commentary on his skills. I am not "hatin' on" him in any way. But that experience should provide us with food for thought about how and how not to build a team---whatever field you are in, as a matter of fact.
There is no need to go over the details of how the Redskins drafted him. That story is well known. We all understand that the organization, somehow, distorted their own talent and drafting process in a major way, in order to get their hands on this Baylor Heisman Trophy winner. Washington traded away six good players to the St. Lois Rams in order to get Robert Griffin III.
I am not jumping on the bandwagon, saying that this was a big mistake. I think the move---the Redskins's distortion of their own selection process---would have been a mistake even if the move had paid out Andrew Luck-like dividends. This is true because this kind of move sends all the wrong messages to the rest of the team, namely: "You guys are just the rest of the team. Make way for Our Savior." And so on and so forth.
As you know, the young man, Mr. Griffin III, was involved in a number of controversies, which amounted to people making charges about his supposed outsized ego, his paying more attention to "his brand," rather than his game. If those well known stories are, in any way, true then it is no wonder, what with the Savior projections put on Griffin manifest in the very way they drafted him.
A team is a team, something special in which the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Nobody seems to understand this better than The All Mighty New England Patriots.
Speaking of the Patriots, let us ask ourselves this question: Why do the Patriots remain the gold standard for consistent excellence in the National Football League? How have remained the Best of the Best, year in and year out for a decade and a half, under the Bill Belichik and Tom Brady era?
I know what you're thinking: What are you talking about? The Patriots, of course, have the ace quarterback Tom Brady, one of the best there ever was. He makes all the difference!
Here's the thing about that: Don't forget, Tom Brady was not The Great, The Magnificent, "Tom Terrific," when he was first drafted into the National Football League. Not only had Tom Brady not been drafted as a "savior," but he was drafted way down in the draft. In fact, if you're familiar with Brady's story, you know that he very nearly went undrafted---a fate worse than death that was actually endured and overcome by Dallas QB Tony Romo.
Tom Brady did not cut an especially impressive physical specimen or athlete at his "combine," and all that. But he was taken by the Patriots and given a chance because somebody saw the diamond-in-the-rough, as it were. He was brought along the old fashioned way: relatively slowly, learning the position from the bench at first.
Before I close out this editorial, there is one small matter I want to talk about quickly.
Here's the thing: I believe that analysts and commentators tend to give up far too quickly on young quarterbacks in the NFL; Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith come to mind.
Question: Why are Tom Brady and The All Mighty New England Patriots great? Why are Geno Smith and the New York Jets not?
You have Tom Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion and future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, who had NOT been highly touted when he came into the National Football League.
Tom Brady has always had difference makers on offense, special players that other teams have had to "game plan" for; and as they did this, space was opened up for other players to get into a position to make big plays and have big games. In fact, commentators have pointed to this time and time again. They speak with wonder at Bill Belichik's ability to take "unknowns" and plug them into the offense and make "household names" out of them.
Rob Gronkowski (tight end): He is Tom Brady's go-to guy, his security blanket, and whatever label you want to use. He is big, strong, fast, and sure-handed. What does everybody say about this player? He's too fast to be covered by a linebacker and too big to be covered by a safety. This is a guy teams have to game plan for, albeit usually to little or no avail; they have to try. And as they try, as they make special provision for this man, space is opened up for others to make plays.
If you devote yourself to stopping Gronkowski, space is opened up for wide receiver Julian Edelman to make big plays (though you could argue that he is a primary target as well). This opens up room for Danny Amendola to make a play or two (though he did not turn out to be the Wes Welker replacement that everybody had hoped; if anything Edelman stepped into those shoes).
The All Mighty New England Patriots are not really a running team, but they can run the ball when they feel like it. They got a bulldozer of a back in LeGarrette Blount, who has to be a cause for concern for opposing defenses.
Now, this is the case with any good-great team in the National Football League. It is important for the quarterback to have what are called "weapons," difference makers on offense. These are players that must be specifically game planned for; and as teams make special provision to stop or contain them, they, perhaps inadvertently, open up space for other overlooked offensive players to make crucial plays. This gives a football team "balance."
Take the current incarnation of the Dallas Cowboys, for example. Why have they has such a fantastic regular season?
1. The vastly upgraded offensive line.
2. Tony Romo and three very special players that you have to game plan for: Wide Receiver Dez Bryant; Running Back DeMarco Murray; and the man well known as Tony Romo's security blanket, future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten.
3. When you spend so much of your energy in trying to stop or contain them, space is opened up for the Cole Beasley's and Terrance Williams of the world to make big plays. And so on and so forth.
4. You put opposing teams into a position of having to "pick your poison," so to speak. Would you prefer to be shot, stabbed, or strangled?
Question: The New York Jets. Can you tell me the name of a single difference-maker on the offensive side of the ball for this team---just one skill-position player that other teams in the National Football League have to do something special for in order to try to stop or contain?
Go ahead, take all the time you need.
Time's up. You can't do it, can you? The reason you cannot do it is because there is no difference maker on offense.
1. The Jets can't run the ball.
a. Other teams do not "fear the run," therefore they do not have to overcommit to defending against it.
b. Which means that the pass is always well defended.
c. Which is why Jets receivers have so much trouble getting open. If you recall the few games the team won this season, you may remember how Geno Smith could be seen celebrating like he won a free trip to Disney World, the few times they completed a big pass play. Go back and watch the highlights.
Note the whole thing flows into a vicious circle...
2. The Jets can't throw the ball downfield.
a. Other teams do not fear the passing game, therefore they do not have to overcommit to defending against it.
b. Which means that the run is always well defended.
c. Which is why Jets running backs have such trouble breaking free for chunk yardage.
3. As a result of this state of affairs, the New York Jets football team is not even a "one-dimensional" team, able to hang their hat upon one thing or another. It is this state of affairs, too, that has some commentators speaking of the Jets's "lack of an identity."
Here's the thing: Mark Sanchez is showing what he can do with difference makers around him on the offensive side of the ball. Running backs Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy are guys other teams have to game plan for; and Sanchez had not had that in some time, if ever. And so on and so forth. Every quarterback needs at least one.
When Geno Smith has had good games, he has shown that there is nothing wrong with his skills.
Defense-minded teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, and Carolina Panthers, the St. Lois Rams, Buffalo Bills, and others, do it a little differently. They feature ferocious defense, the run game, and a quarterback who can make opportunistic plays, more or less.
You know what, I'll leave it there.
Thank you so much for reading.