NFL Preview - San Francisco (6-4) at Washington (3-7)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The struggles of a pair of dynamic, young signal callers
will be on display inside the Beltway on "Monday Night Football" when the
embattled Robert Griffin III and his Redskins host San Francisco and its
reeling frontman Colin Kaepernick.
RG3 and Kaepernick both burst onto the NFL scene in 2012 with the former
earning Rookie of the Year honors after willing the Redskins to an NFC East
title, and the latter taking his club to the cusp of a Super Bowl title after
replacing Alex Smith midway through the campaign.
Each has the dual-threat ability that is en vogue now in the league but the
sequels to their breakout seasons have been uneven at best.
More than a few around Washington are calling for Griffin's head in the form
of a benching after last Sunday's ugly 24-16 loss at Philadelphia, one in
which RG3 had four net passing yards in the opening half.
Griffin did, however, lead a furious fourth quarter comeback for the Redskins
and finished with 264 yards on 17-of-35 passing with two touchdowns and an
interception. Alfred Morris added 93 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Griffin's lone interception, though, came on Washington's final drive of the
game and was a back-breaker.
The march, which started on Washington's own 4-yard line, was highlighted by
Santana Moss' 28-yard grab on 3rd-and-25 following a facemask penalty on
fellow wideout Pierre Garcon. Griffin eventually led Washington all to way to
the Eagles 18-yard line but, on 3-and-1, he was hurried and tossed a prayer
off his back foot into the waiting arms of Brandon Boykin.
"Well you always have another choice," 'Skins coach Mike Shanahan said of the
tainted toss. "Any time it ends in an interception, you always have another
choice. It was 3rd-and-1, the quarterback's always trying to make a play at
one of the hardest positions in sports to play. And there's going to be many
decisions like that through the years and you grow with them. You'd always
rather have it 4th-and-1 than an interception, we all know that, so you've
got to be able to throw the ball away at the right time.
"But he's trying to make a play."
The 49ers, meanwhile, will be trying to get Kaepernick, who has passed for a
total of 218 yards over his past two contests -- losses to NFC South
heavyweights Carolina and New Orleans -- moving in the right direction again.
During a controversial 23-20 setback at the Saints during Week 11, Kaepernick
threw touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis but amassed only
127 yards passing and was intercepted once as San Francisco fell 3 1/2 games
behind the powerful Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
New Orleans benefited from a questionable personal foul penalty on Niners
linebacker Ahmad Brooks but also limited San Francisco to 196 total yards and
a season-worst 81 on the ground.
Brooks sent Drew Brees to the turf with a punishing hit late in the fourth
quarter, forcing a fumble that fellow linebacker Patrick Willis recovered.
Brooks, though, was flagged for his high tackle, and the extended possession
resulted in Garrett Hartley's game-tying 42-yard field goal with 2:06 on the
"I felt like I hit him with my chest, like I bear-hugged him ... kind of
hard," Brooks said.
The officials were put to the test again when Kaepernick threw the ball away
near his own goal line on the ensuing drive. The quarterback was ruled outside
the tackles, but even though the call went the 49ers' way, they had to punt
with just under two minutes remaining.
Fair-catch interference on Kassim Osgood put the ball on the Saints' own 40-
yard line, and Brees quickly completed 3-of-4 passes for a total 41 yards to
move into field-goal range for the game-winner.
This will mark the 30th meeting between the two clubs with the 49ers leading
the all-time series 18-10-1.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is all about the struggling quarterbacks and their continued accuracy
Both have mediocre passer ratings with Griffin slightly ahead at 83.6 to 81.8.
RG3 has completed 59.7 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 10
interceptions, while Kaepernick is ranked 31st in completion percentage at
56.2 with only 11 touchdown passes.
What's supposed to set these two apart is their running abilities and Griffin
ranks third among QBs with 345 yards on the ground while Kaepernick is right
behind at 335. RG3 has yet to regain his pre-injury explosion, however, and
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh seems spooked to loosen the reins on Kaepernick
because backups Colt McCoy and McLeod Bethel-Thompson can't run the same type
"If you're talking about Robert or if you're talking about a guy like
Kaepernick, everybody comes from different systems and when you go to the
National Football League and you're working with a drop-back passing game and
you haven't done a lot of that," Shanahan said. "It takes some repetition.
Whoever has been in those shoes realizes that it doesn't happen overnight."
Former four-time Redskins All-Pro cornerback Darrell Green evidently expected
it to be happen overnight for RG3 and he was the first to take aim at the
former Heisman Trophy winner on SHOWTIME's "Inside the NFL" before the debacle
in Philadelphia, saying he wasn't sure he was seeing the leadership necessary
"I think that's the problem," the former Redskins star said. "I think it's
super important to have leadership, and I don't think he really is the leader.
I don't know if they have a leader."
After the Eagles setback, Moss seemed to agree with Green, taking issue with
RG3's reluctance to take the blame for a woeful game-ending interception in
the end zone.
"If we're going to win games, we need to win games with our guy (Griffin)
saying, 'At the end of the day, I didn't make a play,' regardless of if it
wasn't him," Moss told WJFK Radio. "As a leader, you understand that if you're
involved in the situation, whether you're the receiver, the quarterback, the
guys making the tackle, whoever -- regardless of the outcome, good or bad, you
have to at some point, stand up and say me or I."
Decision making is also a legitimate concern with Griffin. He was able to
convert the 3rd-and-25 on Washington's potential game-tying drive against the
Eagles, along with two other third downs but he still wasn't all that sharp.
When defensive end Fletcher Cox put on a strong rush as the seconds waned,
instead of putting the football in his pocket for a potential fourth down or
throwing it away, RG3 lofted an ill-conceived pass down the seam which Boykin
Former Washington quarterback and current Redskins Radio Network analyst Sonny
Jurgensen was far more blunt in his assessment of Griffin, saying he should
have been benched in favor of fellow second-year man Kirk Cousins on at least
two different occasions during the broadcast.
"Why not play Cousins?" Jurgensen said during the third quarter, before
clarifying: "It's not pulling the plug, it's getting a change. Make a change.
Can it be any worse? You get four yards passing in a half? I would look at the
other quarterback, see if he can make something happen. It's not the end of
the world. They take out pitchers, don't they?"
For what it's worth Shanahan believes Griffin's lack of an offseason due to
the ACL injury stunted his growth as a player.
"You need reps. You need repetition." the veteran mentor said. "I think the
biggest growth from the first year to the second year is those 10 weeks of
just going back and doing things that you haven't done before. That's what you
miss besides training camp.
"So when you take the first nine, 10 weeks of the season and you take maybe
the first three weeks before we start our first game, he's getting all those
reps right now. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he's going to be,
especially in game-type situations."
Kaepernick isn't facing quite the firestorm RG3 is because he has the far
superior supporting cast and some of his hiccups have been masked.
"I think he's doing a heck of a job," Harbaugh said when asked about
Kaepernick's perceived poor play. "I guess I'd be puzzled to why people would
think that (he is struggling). He's been consistently good. He's been like
that every week he's been backup or a starter."
The 49ers biggest issue is that they have no playmakers outside the numbers
and Kaepernick, despite his prodigious arm strength, has produced just 24 pass
plays of 20-or-more yards, good for 30th in the NFL.
That number and the aforementioned 218 passing yards over the past two games
hardy back up Harbaugh's consistently good narrative.
Help is on the way in the form of receiver Michael Crabtree, who returned to
practice this week for the first time after suffering a torn Achilles back in
May. Crabtree, though, probably won't be activated for Monday's game meaning
Kaepernick will have to finds other ways to get the ball down field for at
least another week.
"We'll see," Harbaugh said of activating Crabtree. "I think he's close."
Griffin's numbers aren't as bad as Kaepernick's but he's taking hits from
all directions as the architect of Washington's dismal 3-7 start.
The 49ers, on the other hand, still have a swagger about them and understand
while Seattle may now be an untenable goal in the regular season, the
postseason is still within reach.
"I think we are (surprised at the struggles) but we still have six more to
go and we can still finish 12-4," Kaepernick said.
The Niners should start that process this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 27, Redskins 21
11/22 13:13:59 ET