Breaking Burgundy goes one-on-one with Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit, the NFL analyst who ranked Robert Griffin III among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. In part one, Benoit offered specifics on RGIII's struggles and why he would slot him third on the Redskins' QB depth chart behind Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins. In part two, we discuss the validity of the read-option, Benoit's call for Week 1 starter, the evolution of a sack and his take on Cousins becoming a NFL starter.
Breaking Burgundy: Earlier you mentioned those read-option looks run by Griffin. Has the league as a whole figured out the read-option enough to make it more difficult for guys like Griffin and Colin Kaepernick or does the scheme still work, but RGIII's limitations are preventing him from executing?
Andy Benoit: I don't know if it's that black and white to answer that one way or another. The read-option is always going to be viable because of the way it leverages the defense and forces the defense to make one of its 11 pieces account for the quarterback when traditionally they don't have to do that. Viable, yes, but it's a matter of how you use it. Defenses were less accustomed to figuring out which of those 11 pieces would account for the QB. Now they've come up with a plan and they change the plan each week just like you do for any other tactic in football.
If there is a QB entering the NFL you think can be a great read-option runner, you take that into account when deciding whether to draft him or not. I think the perception for RG3 was we might get to a place where we can start drafting guys because of that, where you would put the read-option at the top of the résumé. That's not true. That is by no means the way it is (now). At some critical point in every NFL game, probably 8-9 times, you're going to have to make a progression read from the pocket of some sort. If you can do that, you can play. If you can't, you're not going to play.
BB: You stated an opinion on the Redskins' QB depth chart with Colt McCoy first followed by Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III. When we get to Week 1 and you look at where the Redskins are as a team, would you actually start McCoy or go with one of the other two considering the perceived upside potential?
AB: Hmmm, that's a good question. I haven't seen these guys in the offseason. They're at a place in their career - meaning Cousins and RGIII - where this past offseason was critical for them. They're working with Matt Cavanaugh, a QB coach which is something they didn't have a year ago. They've had more of a chance to work on the basics. I don't know where they are in terms of the basics. Now where they were last year and if we say everyone stays the same, no one improves or gets worse, then I would go with McCoy because I think the rest of this offense is built to be very effective right now. They've got a deep threat in DeSean Jackson, an explosive receiver. I think Jordan Reed is a superstar in the making. They have (new offensive line coach) Bill Callahan overseeing the whole running game with one of the best running backs (Alfred Morris) in the league. It's an offense that has no holes except at the most important position.
BB: One stat that stood out last season involved specific sacks allowed by the offensive line. Essentially, Griffin was sacked at a record pace while the totals were rather modest with Cousins or McCoy under center. Is this another example of where Griffin, in terms of pocket awareness, perhaps held the offense back?
AB: People don't often realize that sacks are a product of something other than offensive line play. In Washington's case, that's the quarterback not knowing where to go with the football or not moving comfortably, soundly within the pocket. Something Cousins and Griffin both do that screws up pass protection is they cover too much ground when they move within the pocket. For one, you're not prepared to throw in a split-second when you're in the process of covering a lot of ground. It's not like Tom Brady where he is sliding and slipping around a little bit. Two, it changes what your pass blockers are doing because they are blocking people to one place and you end up being in another so everyone gets on the wrong page. That was evident in a lot of Washington's sacks last year. Also more evident was just receivers being open within the timing of the play and the ball just not being thrown to them.
BB: Let's shift the focus to Kirk Cousins. If we put together a highlight package of these quarterbacks from last season, Cousins is the one I can make look like one of the best options in the league. Pocket passer. Throws a good deep ball even into tight windows. Of course, a highlight package doesn't include turnovers, of which he had many. You also noted he needs lots to go right for him to be successful. Do you think he can be an NFL starter? Also, do you think that always being the clear backup in Washington has limited him when playing in that he's always looking over his shoulder?
AB: Yeah and I think there is a reason for that. Look at it this way. There are 32 NFL teams and each probably have 10 people on the staff who know 10 times more about quarterbacking then someone like you or myself knows. All 32 teams had a chance to draft Kirk Cousins coming out of college and they passed on him for several rounds. Over the last two years if we're to believe reports - and I do believe them-, the other 31 teams have had a chance to trade for him and probably get him at a pretty decent value considering the cost of a starting quarterback right now. The trade nibbles have not even been there or moved the needle at all. That tells you something.
There are people who know about Kirk Cousins, who have evaluated him critically, who know the people who know him real well and they just haven't expressed any interest. Kirk Cousins is a backup NFL quarterback. There is nothing wrong with that. He can have a nice career, play 10-12 years and maybe become a coach or something. That's fine, but he's not an NFL starting quarterback. If he were, somebody would have given him a chance long ago by now.Part 3: Most valuable Redskins and 2015 outlook