Robert Griffin III still has his eyes set on being an NFL starter again one day, but for now, it’s the team, the team, the team.
Lamar Jackson’s backup is doing whatever he can to help the Ravens defense prepare and still get on the field on gamedays. He's especially useful this week as Baltimore prepares to take on MVP candidate Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
In an age shifting toward more mobile quarterbacks, Baltimore’s defense has to be prepared. Practicing against Jackson this summer helped, but it’s Griffin who provides the weekly tune-ups before the game.
Griffin’s mobility and willingness to dive into the job has helped Baltimore’s defense. He’s a whole lot better than what the Bengals had last week, for example, as they reportedly used Andy Dalton to try to simulate Jackson.
“He’s a stud. ‘RG’ is a stud,” Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. “He tries to actually emulate each quarterback and does a great job doing it. He’s been outstanding for us.”
Griffin said the team’s scouting department gives him very detailed assignments to better simulate the opposing quarterback. One of the tougher assignments, he said, was during Patriots week when he had to be like Tom Brady.
“I physically tried to emulate Tom and run slower for the defense,” Griffin said. “If it’s a week where a guy doesn’t scramble, I can’t scramble. If it’s a broken play and I have to scramble, then I scramble in slow motion. I try to take it seriously and be the best I can be for those guys.
"But you can ask them, I’m not out there just throwing them the ball. That’s not what it’s about. I’m competing against them every single day. It makes them better and makes me better. My job is to go out there and show them the weaknesses in the defense so when they show up on gameday they know how to attack those concepts and understand what offenses are trying to do to them.”
Griffin Was the One Who Came Up With the 'Heisman Package'
While Griffin takes his practice role seriously, he's always looking for opportunities to get on the field.
The “Heisman Package” that featured Jackson and running back Mark Ingram II – all Heisman Trophy winners – lined up in the Ravens backfield was Griffin's idea. Griffin though of it randomly one day during a walk-through practice when chatting with Ingram. They doubted anybody had ever done it before.
According to ESPN, the Ravens were the second team in league history to do so, following the 1988 Los Angeles Raiders, who did it with Bo Jackson, Tim Brown and Marcus Allen.
Jackson carried the ball off the edge for a 3-yard gain, then pitched to Griffin behind him, who picked up another nine yards before getting out of bounds.
“I’m talking to Mark like, ‘I think people forget how dangerous I am in the open field because I haven’t been out there and playing in a few years,’” Griffin said. “I approached G-Ro about it and said, ‘You know on that pitch play right there, you should just put me there.’”
“It was a great idea, and it really came from the players,” Roman said. “That play is certainly in our system, and then we just injected a little variation to it.”
Griffin would rather be under center as the leader of an offense, but he’s happy to be an occasional wrinkle from time to time for now. And who knows what variation the Ravens could put on the play next time. Could Griffin throw it?
“If I have the skillset I do where I can go out and help the team in any kind of way – running the ball, catching the ball, throwing the ball – then I’m willing to do that,” Griffin said. “I’m willing to be ‘Slash’ for this team right now because we’re trying to win the Super Bowl. After that, who knows what happens.”
Greg Roman Pulls Back the Curtain on Extensive Playbook
Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week that the joke around the Ravens’ facility is that there isn’t a play that exists that isn’t in Baltimore’s offensive playbook.
So how many plays is that?
“There’s no telling. I have no idea,” Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. “We try to teach concepts, so one concept could look 100 different ways. We have the capabilities to do quite a bit though. That’s a credit to the players.”
Roman was asked about that and how he goes about selecting which plays he’ll use in games.
He said the Ravens developed their identity during training camp, and then categorized which plays would be their bread and butter, ancillary plays, change-ups, and those in the back pocket. It’s an ongoing process, and Roman is constantly putting new twists on plays he already ran.
When it comes to the team’s fast starts, Roman said there is less of a defined script than a priority of plays. He uses that system to start [ADD] the game and at the start of the second half.
“It definitely does not go in any particular order,” Roman said. “Every once in a while, it will be like, ‘Hey, I want to run these two plays back to back,’ that kind of thing. But very rarely does that happen.”
Wink Martindale Envisions a ‘History Game’ Against Texans
The showdown between Jackson and Watson will take center stage this weekend, and even Martindale is fascinated by what it will mean on a larger scale.
“This is going to be one of those NFL history games of which way the history of this league is going, with both quarterbacks,” Martindale said.
“It’s not just these two quarterbacks, but it’s the new era of quarterback. Going back to Russell Wilson, [Patrick] Mahomes, it seems like we talk more about that. The lazy question is, ‘Does practicing against Lamar help you for this?’ We’re preparing for more mobile quarterbacks this year than the old school stay-in-the-pocket-and-play quarterback from the pocket. So, that’s where I’m talking about the history of the game is changing. It should be a lot of fun.”
So how do the Ravens plan to stop Watson? Of course, Martindale isn’t giving away the game plan, but the Ravens obviously have to keep him from beating them with his legs.
Martindale said the hardest thing about stopping these new-age quarterbacks and their dynamic running is that simulating it in practice is not like it is in games. When you can’t hit your own quarterback in practice, how can you really be prepared?
“When you’re practicing, you see a guy go by and say, ‘I got him.’ In games, they don’t got him,” Martindale said. “So, I think that’s the biggest thing, is just adjusting to the speed of it, of the mobile quarterback. And each one of them has their own thing.”
“You just try to bring your feet to the tackle. I know that in weeks prior, people say, ‘Hey, we’re going to tackle him like a running back.’ For example, I think the Patriots were saying that about Lamar. [It’s] easier said than done, it just really is. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us. It’s going to be an all-out effort game, there’s no doubt about it, for four quarters.”
Ravens Eager to Get Special Teams Standout Back
Veteran safety Brynden Trawick was designated for return from injured reserve Thursday, which meant he was cleared to return to practice. Trawick suffered an elbow injury in Week 2 against the Cardinals and has been sidelined since. He’ll be eligible to return to game action in Week 14 in Buffalo.
“This game means so much to me. Being out and injured is hard but I had to deal with it. It’s one of the things that comes with this sport,” Trawick said. “Just got to do what I’ve been doing my whole career. I’m excited to come back and help contribute to this team.”
The Ravens have plenty of depth at safety, but Baltimore could use Trawick’s expertise on special teams, especially considering the loss of Justin Bethel two weeks ago.
“I just found out that Brynden's back,” Special Teams Coach Chris Horton said. “He'll get to practice, so, obviously, I'm fired up about that because he makes us better. We've taken a hit over the past couple weeks, but just getting some guys back – a player like him and his style – he makes us better.”