By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — It’s the most intriguing game of Wild Card Weekend, with subplots everywhere, but none as important as what should be a scintillating showdown between new-age quarterbacks.
DangeRuss vs. RGIII.
When the red-hot Seahawks take on the equally scorching Redskins on Sunday afternoon in our nation’s capital the world will get to see the most fascinating QB battle in recent memory.
It will feature a pair of rookies who have taken the NFL by storm. One of them has all the on-field and marketing sex appeal of a Joe Namath, while the other has quietly and efficiently captivated the Pacific Northwest despite being largely thought of as “the other guy” in the race for NFL Rookie of the Year.
Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are the most valuable players on their respective teams. The fact that they are rookies playing well beyond their years will only sweeten the pot when the Seahawks and Redskins take the field unopposed on a playoff weekend that often creates high drama. Now, the casual football fan will also get to see what all the hype is about, that which has greatly contributed to one of the NFL’s greatest quarterback draft classes in the last 20 years.
Griffin’s accomplishments speak for themselves — a Pro Bowl pick after throwing for 3,200 yards, with 20 TDs and just 5 interceptions, completing nearly 66 percent of his passes and posting a remarkable 102.4 rating during the regular season. And let’s not forget to mention the other 800-plus yards he amassed on the ground in helping Washington become the NFL’s best running team.
Griffin has been everything head coach Mike Shanahan has hoped for and has completely justified the all-or-nothing pre-draft trade with St. Louis that assured the Redskins the opportunity to select last year’s Heisman Trophy winner with the No. 2 overall pick.
As the NFL has become a pass-driven league, Griffin has taken the scrambling quarterback blueprint nurtured by players such as Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick and expanded on it to become not just a multi-faceted threat, but one that also limits the kind of mistakes that running quarterbacks tend to make.
Yes, Griffin can be reckless, as his 12 fumbles this season indicate, but he’s only lost two of them and if you want to look at the difference between what a guy like him means to an offense, take his seven total turnovers in 2012 and compare them to the 53 committed by Mark Sanchez of the Jets over the last two seasons and you can see why one team is in the playoffs while the other is in total disarray without a clue how to fix anything.
Griffin’s prowess is indisputable, but Wilson’s story may be the more interesting of the two.
The 5-foot-10 signal-caller out of Wisconsin was selected in the third round, 75th overall, and was a controversial choice when named the starter by head coach Pete Carroll, mostly because the Seahawks shelled out a boatload of money to Matt Flynn in the offseason, presumably so he could step in and attempt to solidify a QB situation that had been in shambles since Matt Hasselbeck’s best days in the latter half of the new century’s first decade.
But to Carroll’s credit, he ignored the naysayers and went very early in training camp with a player in Wilson, who, though hardly prototypical as far as the physical attributes of starting quarterbacks go, has been as good as No. 1 selection Andrew Luck and Griffin, but probably won’t get the love from the voters when awards are announced later this winter because he simply hasn’t been as visible to enough people to showcase his game as much as the top two picks in the draft have been. I mean, everywhere you turn it’s Luck this or RGIII that, while Wilson has flourished under mostly minimal exposure comparatively.
But those same voters may end up wanting to rethink how they voted when they finally get to see Wilson play on Sunday.
Wilson threw for 3,118 yards on the strength of near-65 percent completion, with 26 TDs and 10 interceptions, and gained nearly 500 yards on the ground while posting a 100 rating. Wilson’s TD pass total tied Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record and he tied another record with three rushing scores in the first half against Buffalo in Toronto back in Week 15.
Like Griffin, Wilson protects the football, especially in the red zone, where he’s tossed 18 touchdowns without a single interception, a stat that contributed greatly to the Seahawks outscoring their opponents 193-60 during their regular season-ending five-game winning streak.
Despite all of the incredible performances and statistics put up by both Griffin and Wilson, it’s important for fans to enjoy their exploits now and over the next few years, because they each play the type of style that is not conducive to longevity at the NFL level. Like the aforementioned scrambling quarterbacks I spoke of, they, too, could one day see a fierce drop-off in their production because they constantly run the risk of injury while running around out there without a net.
In the end, I think Luck will achieve a higher and more sustainable standard of excellence than both Griffin and Wilson because he’s the pure pocket passer whose owner will surround with high-priced offensive lineman. And while the Redskins and Seahawks also have very good offensive lines, unless both of these quarterbacks become more careful in their approaches to moving the football going forward they could find themselves in a situation like Vick currently is in, or Culpepper before him, still having the arm but no longer the feet that contributed greatly to their massive reputations, contracts and accolades.
Basically, Griffin and Wilson won’t be 22 and 24, respectively, forever, and the sooner they realize that the better off both will be. Griffin is the more pure pocket passer of the two and should transition over time to spending more of his valuable time surrounded by protection. Wilson, due to his height, likely won’t have the same success not doing what he currently does, so the Seahawks need to really think about how to maximize his potential and cut down on his injury risk going forward.
But in the interim, Sunday’s game should live up to the advanced hype. The Redskins have jumped on the back of Griffin, rookie sensation running back Alfred Morris, an opportunistic defense and the brilliance of Shanahan to win seven straight, while the Seahawks have become the team nobody wants to face, even though if they are to get to the Super Bowl they’ll have to do it almost certainly without playing a single game at CenturyLink Field, where they were undefeated in the regular season (they can host the NFC title game, but only against Minnesota). That said, though, the Seahawks did win in Chicago during their season-ending run and do sport a monster running back of their own in Marshawn Lynch and a largely no-name but dynamic defense that ranked No. 4 overall during the regular season.
Enjoy the Wilson-Griffin matchup because it should be something unlike anything we’ve seen before at the position, especially with the stakes as high as they are. The future of the league will be on your television screen.
It’s a new era, indeed, and all that you thought you knew about the quarterback position is about to be challenged, by two guys who seem to make their own rules.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet.
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