Heading into the 2012 season, there was only one real expectation; Robert Griffin III would be the type of quarterback everyone saw during his time at Baylor that led to his Heisman trophy win. Needless to say, he did exactly that, while helping lead the team to the playoffs and a division title for the first time since the 1999 season.
What might not have been expected is another rookie, sixth round draft pick Alfred Morris, who shined just as bright. Not only did Alfred Morris single handily beat the Dallas Cowboys during the season finale, but he also went on to steal the single season rushing record once held by Clinton Portis (1,516 yards) with a 1,613 yard season performance.
While questions surround the knee of Robert Griffin III heading into the 2013 season, and whether it will hold him back, could a sophomore slump do the same? What about Alfred Morris?
Though both of these game changers did not hit the typical “rookie wall” during 2012, that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to having a decline in production this upcoming season. Defenses will know how to play not just them, but the entire offense, better – not to mention it will be extremely hard, especially for Alfred Morris, to duplicate what he did during his 2012 campaign.
Robert Griffin III showed in 2012 that he struggled at times during the second go-round when facing teams in the NFC East. While it can be argued his second time facing both the Dallas Cowboy and Philadelphia Eagles happened after his injury, his game against the New York Giants did not.
The Redskins did go on to beat the New York Giants, but needless to say Griffin’s 13 completions for 163 yards and one touchdown wasn’t what you would consider impressive, especially when earlier in the season at New York he threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Facing the 28th ranked passing defense in the league for the second time, at home, Griffin ideally should have done better.
Compare that to Alfred Morris, who ran the ball the same amount of times (22) both in New York and at home, finishing with 120 (away) and 124 (home) yards. His games against the Philadelphia Eagles were roughly the same as well, where he ran for 76 yards at home and 91 away. Not a big drop off.
Morris put the team on his back Week 17 when he annihilated the Dallas Cowboys with his 200 yard, three touchdown performance.
Can both Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris stay away from the Sophomore Slump? Probably no, and that’s not exactly due to their level of play, which one should expect to stay the same.
Robert Griffin III is coming off an injury which he must be careful. While he is well ahead of schedule, should he be jumping into things as fast as he is? Especially being this is the second tearing of ligaments in the same knee? That’s one of the big question marks.
Additionally, even if healthy (which appears will be the case), teams have had the chance to study not only his film, but also Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, whom both have similar offensive styles as Griffin.
Cam Newton, who had a spectacular rookie season, setting records that not even Robert Griffin III was able to break, managed to fall into the dreaded Sophomore Slump. Ten weeks into the season last year, Newton amassed ten interceptions, while only throwing for eight touchdowns.
Newton did in fact manage to end his season on a high note, helping a not so good season appear to be better than it was, but even after that spark he still saw a decrease in total yards and touchdowns. His interception ratio however did change.
Alfred Morris’ and Robert Griffin III depend on each other. Without either of the two, the Redskins offense probably doesn’t run as effective as it did.
That said, Alfred Morris’ will have an extremely hard time replicating what he did in 2012. Not because he cannot perform on the big stage, as he’s already proven that, but because rushing for 1,600+ yards back-to-back is needless to say hard to do to, especially when defenses should have a better feel for the offense.
With a full offseason to plan and understand the offense, defensive coordinators should understand how to stop the offense more effectively, ultimately proving whether or not the offense is a gimmick, or whether it can work in the NFL today.
The Redskins will face nine teams in 2013 that have either seen or run the pistol/zone read offense in regular season, while facing four who have seen glimpses of it during preseason.
Mike Shanahan and the Redskins will need to work on changing game plans better than they have in the past, as some teams, especially those in the NFC East and the San Francisco 49ers (who know the offense quite well) will play them much harder this season.