Baltimore Ravens

Robert Griffin III pretends to be a new QB every week. With another Ravens win, he could soon be himself.

Maybe the hardest part about stopping Lamar Jackson is preparing to stop him. The Ravens quarterback is a generational athlete, and those don’t grow on trees or end up on NFL practice squads. He can be as hard to imitate as he is to tackle.

The Kansas City Chiefs used an undrafted rookie cornerback who was a Wildcat quarterback in high school. The Houston Texans turned to a seventh-round quarterback who averaged 1.7 yards per carry in college. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team didn’t have anyone. Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks joked that he played the “Madden” video game.


Few players named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, as Jackson is almost certain to be, have been so inimitable. Maybe the closest approximation is in the Ravens’ quarterback room, and Robert Griffin III spends his days on the “look team,” as it’s called, emulating other starting quarterbacks. He wishes they’d play more like he does, like Jackson does.

“I’ve never had to not be mobile in my life playing quarterback,” Griffin said Wednesday. “So I do learn during those weeks, ‘OK, if I wasn’t mobile, I would have to play like this.’ ”


Griffin has played more snaps this season (71) than most backup quarterbacks do over several seasons partly because the Ravens’ QB1 has powered an offense leading the NFL in scoring (33.7 points per game). And partly because their QB2 has imitated everyone from the Patriots’ Tom Brady to the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, this week’s project, so well in practice that little surprises the defense on game day.

The Ravens have recorded a league-best passer rating of 111.6 this season while holding opposing quarterbacks to a mark of 76.5. Only the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins have posted worse passer ratings this season.

And the Ravens have been especially ready for mobile quarterbacks like Griffin, who took the NFL by storm as a dual-threat Washington Redskins rookie in 2012. The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen all have lost to the Ravens in their 10-game winning streak. All also had either their worst or second-worst game of the season against them, too.

“He understands that the game is about giving what we need to get on Sunday, because those looks are so important,” inside linebacker Josh Bynes said of Griffin. “Because then you think about those looks in practice, and you might be like, ‘Dang, it ain’t like this.’ But obviously, it’s not going to be exact. But give us something similar, so we know what we’re going to get going into the game.”

In a span of six weeks this season, Griffin’s mimicry bounced from Brady, among the most statuesque of passers, to Watson and Allen, two quarterbacks who could slip a defender in a phone booth. Like an actor preparing for an audition, he appreciates the nuances of each role.

As the 42-year-old Brady, who clocked a 5.28-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 2000 and last week jokingly challenged Jackson to a race, Griffin said he had to “run in slow motion” during practice. Whenever he felt pressure and looked to flee the pocket, his brain had to override his instincts: “Oh, snap,” he’d remember. “I’m Tom Brady.”

“You can kind of see his body wanting to do one thing, but his mind — [it’s] the fight between the two, where he’s like, ‘No, stay in the pocket,’ ” said rookie quarterback Trace McSorley, who also helps on the look team. “He will kind of exaggerate it a little bit, purposefully show that he’s not running super fast. It’ll get some chuckles in the back.”


“He does get frustrated when he plays more of the nonmobile quarterback” in practice, said coach John Harbaugh, who has praised Griffin and the Ravens’ look team throughout the season. “I think he overacts just a little bit on that to make it clear that he could’ve gotten out of that situation if we’d given him the opportunity to do it.”

Griffin relishes the opportunities to play the part of peers who play more like he does. But just as he cannot pretend to completely embody maybe the NFL’s greatest-ever player — “Tom Brady’s got six rings,” he joked — Griffin knows he also cannot wholly replicate every dual-threat quarterback on the Ravens’ schedule. The 6-foot-2 Watson is Griffin’s height but slippery in the pocket; Allen is “like 7-3” — actually, just 6-5 — but probably faster.

So, as McSorley has learned in his year working alongside him, Griffin gets granular. There is value for the defense in the details.

“How’s he stand on a run play? How’s he stand on a pass play? What does he do with his hands before a pass? What does he do with his hands before a run?” Griffin said. “Those types of things, I try to give the defense that look because it’s important for them on game day. On game day, you want to prime as many keys and tells as you can find to know what the play is going to be.”

With a win Sunday in Cleveland, the Ravens would clinch home-field advantage for the first time in franchise history. Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that while he has considered his quarterback options for the Ravens’ regular-season finale against the Steelers, “no plans have been made.”

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If the Ravens have the AFC’s No. 1 seed, they’ll probably feature Griffin. His last start came in a Week 17 game against the Steelers, too — three years ago. The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year spent the 2017 season out of the NFL, impressed the Ravens enough last summer to make the 53-man roster, then signed a two-year extension in March.


After a 6-for-6 passing performance in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, Griffin’s most indelible moment this year might have been his first-down run in the Ravens’ inaugural “Heisman Package.” Otherwise, his work has been behind the scenes, in practice against the first-team defense, where he tries to "go kick their ass every single day.“

Of course, he’s happy to play like Brady. He’d rather play like himself.


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