NFL 2012

Andrew Luck Is a Better Running Quarterback Than Robert Griffin III
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Oct. 9 2012 2:40 PM

NFL 2012

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Andrew Luck is a better running quarterback than Robert Griffin III.

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Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts breaks tackles by two Green Bay Packers to get a first down.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

I'm a Redskins fan, Drew, and after Robert Griffin III had his head-containment unit smashed by Sean Weatherspoon, I was rooting for him to stay down. While we're getting to a point where offensive stars no longer play through concussions, we're not at that point yet. See Colt McCoy last year. And just last week, USC's Robert Woods got up, wobbled to the turf like a punchdrunk boxer, and returned to the game one play later.

I'm worried about RG3's long-term health because, right now, he's attempting to prove that hybrid quarterbacking is sustainable. Though he's trying to act like he's invincible, that act doesn't work when, several minutes after being hit, you can't remember the quarter or the score.

In retrospect, I was probably hoping that RG3 would both recognize what happened to him and why it had happened—because he is not Superman and the Michael Vick route is not survivable. Redskins fans don't want RG3 to become that Cam Newton/Vick hybrid quarterback of the future. Rather, they want him to be the John Elway/Steve Young style pocket passer who can also scramble and throw on the move.

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On Sunday, in a matchup between the NFL's quarterback of the present and its (other) quarterback of the future, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck demonstrated two ways to be a mobile quarterback. Rodgers led the Packers in rushing with five carries for 57 yards, while Luck rushed for a touchdown on a three-yard quarterback draw. And on perhaps the biggest play of the game, Luck bulldozed over Packers defenders to convert a third down inside the Green Bay five-yard line with less than a minute to go. On the next play, he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.

The Colts would not have won on Sunday if Luck hadn't sacrificed his body. The question for him and Indianapolis going forward is whether his powerful build mitigates the chance he'll get hurt. Rodgers' scrambles, by contrast, were notable for their risk aversion. This is what his three longest runs looked like: a 15-yard scamper on third-and-5 that ended with a defensive slide; a 12-yard run on first-and-20 that ended with a slide; a 19-yard dash at the end of which he casually skipped out of bounds. He did finally take a hit on third-and-16 in the fourth quarter, but that came while he was running for the sidelines.

Rodgers' contact avoidance is a relatively new phenomenon. Near the end of the 2010 regular season, the Green Bay quarterback got concussed while scrambling down the middle of the field against the Detroit Lions. Before he could dive, he was hit from behind by the Lions' Landon Johnson, causing his head to bounce off the turf.

This was Rodgers's second concussion of the 2010 season, and it forced him to sit out the next week's game. He has since learned, it seems, that it makes more sense for him and the Packers to sacrifice a few yards for his short-term and long-term health. Perhaps RG3 could learn the same lesson by sitting out the Redskins' game this coming Sunday against the Vikings.

In the Packers-Colts game, Rodgers' legs weren't enough, as Andrew Luck outslung him, completing 31-of-55 passes for 362 yards. Luck's four-minute drill on Sunday was Manning-esque, down to his heavy reliance on Reggie Wayne. On NBC's Football Night in America, Peyton's ex-coach Tony Dungy was effusive. "He is going to be a special quarterback," the former Colts coach said. "He's going to lead these guys to a championship."

As recently as January, Dungy had said he would take RG3 with the No. 1 pick because of Griffin III's "extra dimension." That sort of analysis underrates both Luck's own running ability and Griffin's abilities as a passer.

But before we start measuring Luck for rings and consign RG3 to the mobile quarterback trash heap, let's remember that the two men have won the exact same number of NFL games and outdueled the same number of great quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the stats are on Griffin's side. RG3 is first in the league with a 69.1 completion percentage; Luck is 32nd at 54.2 percent. RG3 is second in yards per pass attempt, while Luck is 24th. RG3's quarterback rating is a sterling 101.0, fifth behind Alex Smith, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. Luck's is a sad 77.1, placing him 25th in the league.

The one stat where RG3 loses out to Luck is ESPN's new, analytically advanced Total Quarterback Rating. Total QBR, which measures a quarterback's "clutchness" as well as how he performs relative to the rest of his team, has Luck as the fourth-best quarterback in the league and RG3 ranked 11th. Why does Total QBR love Luck? Though he's in the middle of the pack (and below Griffin) as a passer, ESPN's new-fangled stat says Luck—not RG3 or Cam Newton or Michael Vick—is the league's most effective running quarterback.

For NFL quarterbacks, the "extra dimension" isn't speed. It's the ability to tuck the ball and run without getting hurt. So far, Andrew Luck has shown the ruggedness to survive being hit while rushing the ball, and Robert Griffin III has not. Both rookies are good enough throwers to succeed regardless of how many yards they gain on the ground. Luck might be able to supplement his passing with hard-nosed running, but RG3 can't. The Redskins quarterback has shown the boldness and skill to do dazzling things. If he wants to succeed, like Aaron Rodgers, he has to learn not to do some of them.

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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