I'm mindful of playing into the silly-season stupidity here and making a big deal of this, because it's surely empty bluster: Robert Griffin III is not about to lose his starting job to Kirk Cousins. But the growing criticism of Griffin's quarterback play is most certainly a real thing, and some of it's even coming from inside the house.
Griffin has been...not good in this preseason. But it's preseason. Lots of good players play poorly or listlessly. But this isn't a normal situation. Griffin was hyped to the moon in Washington, and more than lived up to it in his rookie year—only to suffer a disappointing sophomore season where he struggled to regain his form after knee surgery. Meanwhile, the team and fans have been championing backup Kirk Cousins based mostly on optimism and limited looks. So it was important for some—not necessarily Griffin himself—that Griffin show some flash this preseason. He hasn't, and during Saturday's game, Joe Theismann called him out on the team's in-house broadcast network. As transcribed by D.C. Sports Bog:
"Let's stop beating around the bush. Kirk Cousins has played much better at the quarterback position than Robert Griffin III has. Now, Robert is learning to work out of a pocket. He doesn't look as smooth or as comfortable throwing the football. I mean, your eyes will tell you everything you need to know.
"It's going to be a decision that Jay Gruden is going to have to make. Right now, Robert Griffin III is his quarterback. Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn't be a competition. Kirk Cousins would be the man..."
There's been more criticism from other outlets with varying independence. A CSN Washington analyst said Griffin "didn't look like he had ever played quarterback in his life," and that Cousins "gives them a better chance to beat Houston in week one." On ESPN, Herm Edwards said Cousins is "the best player right now playing quarterback," and last month Ron Jaworski listed Griffin just the 21st best QB in the league and the worst in the division.
Much of that can be chalked up to talking for talking's sake; quarterback controversies are good business for everyone. But Theismann's pointed comments are something different, because they're coming in his capacity as an analyst for the in-house organ. Theismann's not independent enough to go rogue criticizing the franchise player, nor is he smart enough to do it without prodding. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I wouldn't disbelieve that Theismann was acting a mouthpiece for someone above—though I'm much more likely to believe that the intent is to give Griffin a kick in the ass, or even just to pump up Cousins's trade value.
(That last possibility is especially fascinating. Washington is clearly on-board with Griffin for the future, and clearly wants to get a decent haul for Cousins from some desperate team [St. Louis?]. The same thing's happening in New England with Ryan Mallett. But talking up Ryan Mallett doesn't threaten to put pressure on Tom Brady or give him an inferiority complex. If Washington is indeed pumping Cousins's tires, it risks doing so at the expense of its franchise guy, who hasn't yet proven he can handle a grumpy fanbase.)
Update: On Dan Patrick's show this morning, Theismann backtracked a bit from his statements on Saturday.
Griffin, for his part, knows the job is his and is saying all the right things.
"You can't worry about what doubters or what anybody on the outside says," he said. "Everybody in this locker room is all we got and it's all we need. So what anybody says outside of [the locker room] doesn't matter to us, doesn't affect us, doesn't affect us, doesn't affect our approach to the game, doesn't affect us out on the practice field or the game field."
Griffin added: "We're the ones who have to go play. So you just block all that stuff out and move forward."
Griffin might play a series or two in Washington's final preseason game on Thursday. It doesn't really matter. He's the starter and Cousins isn't a serious threat. But quarterback controversies aren't always logical things. Fan and media sentiment plays a massive role. If Griffin leads the team to regular success, he'll be fine. If he doesn't? Sometimes the criticisms become as concrete a factor as the stats.