Friday, December 14, 2012

Of course The Third will play

Will he or won’t he play Sunday?

One of his teammates doesn’t think so. His father, however, does.

He thinks he will. So do the Browns, who are preparing to face him in his first visit to Cleveland Browns Stadium.

One way or the other, Robert Griffin III will show up at CBS when his Washington Redskins furnish the opposition. Whether it’s in uniform or street clothes remains to be seen.

The Third, the most talked about rookie quarterback in the National Football League despite the presence and success of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, is nursing a sprained right knee, suffered in the club’s victory over Baltimore last Sunday.

He’s got a couple of important things on his side as he recuperates: youth and the ability to heal quickly. Even though the Redskins have not officially announced it, he’ll play. Officially, they say it’ll be a game-day decision.

Washington wide receiver Pierre Garcon said flatly earlier this week that The Third would not play. Robert Griffin II essentially said nonsense, he’s going to play. Does Daddy know something no one else knows?

Washington coach Mike Shanahan has a chance to make the playoffs – the Skins are just a game behind the division-leading New York Giants – and he’s not going to risk putting Kirk Cousins, another rookie, under center against a Cleveland defense that has played well most of the season.

All of which makes The Third’s appearance that much more intriguing. Chances are he will not be as mobile as in the club’s first 13 games. And it’s that mobility that has allowed him to become one of the most dangerous players in the NFL.

He has been directly responsible for 25 of the Skins’ 34 offensive touchdowns, 18 with his arm and seven with his feet. He has compiled 3,650 of the team’s 5,027 yards. That’s 72.6% of the offense. A staggering number, especially for a first-year player.

It’s extremely safe to say that as The Third goes, do so the Redskins, who enter the game 7-6 on the season, splitting their six road adventures.

The fact he is somewhat hobbled, although reports from practice indicate he feels well enough to play, is a bit of a break for the Browns, who do not possess the team speed needed to neutralize him when he is healthy.

But his unerring accuracy – he completes 66.4% of his throws – is what has set him apart from the other rookie quarterbacks. His touchdowns to interceptions ratio, 18-4, gives credence to the notion it didn’t take him long to assimilate to the pros.

But the Redskins are a lot more than The Third. Reminiscent of when he plucked running back Terrell Davis in the sixth round of the NFL college draft in 1995 while running the show in Denver, Shanahan grabbed little known running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round of this year’s draft.

Davis, of course, was the missing piece of the puzzle who helped John Elway win a couple of Super Bowls in Denver. Morris, from little Florida Atlantic, will make the race for rookie of the year interesting. He has rung up 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 13 games and more than justified Shanahan’s faith in playing him over some veterans.

When it comes to throwing the ball, The Third shows absolutely no favoritism. Five of his receivers have caught 24 or more passes. But when he looks to the end zone, his favorite target is Santana Moss with seven scores, followed by Garcon’s four.

The former Mount Union Purple Raider has been slowed this season by a torn toe ligament in his right foot, but his appearance on the field seems to be a lucky charm for the team. The Skins are 6-1 when Garcon is in the lineup.

The Redskins are more than just two hotshot rookies on offense. Although they’ve given up the fourth-most points (329) in the NFC, they are an extremely opportunistic bunch, averaging nearly two turnovers a game. Six of their 40 TDs have been delivered by the defense.

They have picked off opposing quarterbacks 15 times, returning three for touchdowns, recovered 10 fumbles and own a turnover ratio of +11. Given his propensity for throwing into coverage, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had better be extra careful against the Washington secondary.

Most teams nevertheless prefer to pass on that secondary, scoring 27 touchdowns and averaging 289 yards a game. And with the distinct improvement of the Cleveland passing game, that assault figures to continue Sunday.

Running against the Redskins defense will prove more difficult for the Browns, whose ground game has been stuck in neutral for the past few games. Trent Richardson has not shown the burst and quickness he displayed earlier this season, but facing an old Pensacola, Fla., friendly rival in Morris might wake him up.

The Redskins like to funnel the run toward the middle, where linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley have combined for 216 tackles. Outside backers Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson have accounted for 10 of the team’s 23 sacks.

Oddsmakers see this one as the lowest scoring game in the league this week, setting 37 as the over/under. That’s not the way it’ll go.

The Third makes his CBS debut a smashing success with three scores, two through the air to Garcon and Josh Morgan. Weeden matches him with three passing TDs, but Morris is the difference maker with another 100-yard game and two touchdowns while Richardson struggles.

The teams will pass the 37 points by halftime en route to the highest scoring game of the season as the Redskins bring the Browns’ three-game winning streak crashing down. Make it:

Redskins 42, Browns 27

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