By Ernie Palladino
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The Giants defense took Alex Smith apart last week in an improbable romp at Candlestick Park.
Now, the question is, can they handle a rookie like Robert Griffin III?
Yeah, we know what you’re going to say. Hey, the Jets just manhandled another rookie, Andrew Luck, for goodness sake. And he’s supposed to be the new Peyton Manning.
The Redskins are just looking for RGIII to make people forget long-gone Jason Campbell. Not exactly a lofty bar there.
Here’s the big difference. Luck is a much different kind of rookie. He throws.
He has 379 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground for the 3-3 Redskins already. That makes other great running quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, and John Elway look like statues.
Culpepper averaged 464 yards per season, topping out at 609 yards in 2002. McNabb? Before Andy Reid reined him in, he was a wild runner, able to take off at any minute. But his career high was only 629 yards in 2000.
Fellow NFC East quarterback Michael Vick actually holds the positional rushing record with 1,039.
With the season not even half-finished, RGIII could challenge that number if he stays healthy and productive.
Clearly, RGIII is a different type of animal. And he becomes the Giants’ biggest problem Sunday.
That defense, then a group which had yet to gain its confidence, had problems with the Cowboys’ Tony Romo in the opener. Despite finding their mojo next to Tony Bennett’s heart last week in San Francisco, one wonders what they’ll do against a quarterback who popped a 76-yard touchdown run that same day against the Vikings.
It was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in 16 years.
He scrambles. He executes the option. He has a whole package of other designed runs.
One has to wonder whether even the Giants’ rejuvenated group can handle him. Having second-year linebacker Jacquian Williams would have been nice, since he’s the fastest defensive player on the team, but he’s out with a knee injury.
“It’s tough,” linebacker Michael Boley said. “With Jacquian’s athleticism, it gave us free range to do some things. It’s definitely going to be missed.”
The range on the other side is frighteningly wide. A step of over-pursuit from Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul or Mathias Kiwanuka, standing up on the line, could lead to utter mayhem.
If you listen to Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, even an extensive study of game tape won’t help. They’re doing different things with Griffin each week.
“We’re just experimenting with what Robert can do, and we’re having fun with it,” Shanahan said. “You get a quarterback like Robert, you see what he’s comfortable with and you try to run your offense accordingly.
“It’s kind of fun to tinker around with a number of things — some things you haven’t done before.”
One thing the Giants do know is that Griffin keys the most potent offense the Redskins have had in years. But if they eliminate him as a ground threat, it will go a long way in neutralizing the Redskins’ entire ground game, which also includes the NFL’s fourth-ranked rusher, rookie running back Alfred Morris.
Corralling what Tuck called “the most exciting new addition to the NFL” is the key, though.
“He’s a game-changer,” Tuck said. “They haven’t had a good game-changer at quarterback in a while. And he is that.”
Think Big Blue will shut RGIII down? Be heard in the comments below!