The highest-scoring offense in the NFL is quarterbacked not by Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, nor by Tom Brady or Matt Ryan. With four touchdown passes, three scoring runs and just over 1,000 combined passing and rushing yards, it is Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III who is at the helm of the league's most prolific crew.
It is very early, of course, and one can certainly expect Brees and the others to assert themselves in that race. As it is, Washington has scored only one more point than Baltimore and only four more than Atlanta and the New York Giants. Defenses may learn to adjust to the specific tendencies in Griffin's scary run-pass arsenal and the Redskins may face stingier opponents than they have so far in New Orleans (32nd in defense), Cincinnati (29th) and St. Louis (19th).
Ah, but what if it's Griffin who adjusts, or continues to adjust, as the case may be? What if it's the Redskins who figure out, gradually, the best possible use of their rookie's unique talents? Griffin believes he and his teammates have yet to scratch the surface of what they can accomplish together.
"We are leading the league in scoring but we feel like there are so many low things that we can do so much better that will help us put up more points," said the second-overall pick in last April's draft. "We're proud about that but we're not satisfied with it. If you're number one there's obviously no higher you can go, but we feel like we can get a lot better as an offense and as a team, scoring points and winning games."
The aspects of Griffin's play that have most pleased his head coach, Mike Shanahan, have gone beyond what is visible on the scoreboard, where Washington is averaging 33 points per game.
"I think he's doing a great job," said Shanahan. "He's got a good feel for the position. He works extremely hard. He's just got the things that you look for, outside of the obvious things – the work ethic, the leadership skills, the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback."
Shanahan is also concerned with the long-term health of the Redskins' newly-explosive attack, which obviously rests on the continued health of Griffin himself. For that reason, the number of hits has taken in recent weeks, during a two-game Washington losing streak, have been a popular topic of conversation.
"Obviously we've got a game plan to eliminate some of those hits, and I think we can get better at it," said the coach. "And Robert will learn to protect himself more in the National Football League. He's so used to contact that he doesn't shy away from it, but in the National Football League, these guys are the best hitters and it's not the same. So you've got to protect yourself more."
The potentially bad news for the Redskins is that they're about to face a defense that is coming off a punishing performance against another NFC East quarterback, Dallas' Tony Romo. Romo, who was sacked four times in the Cowboys' narrow win over Tampa Bay, praised the physical nature of the Buccaneers' defense after the game.
"They play incredibly hard," said Shanahan. "They're a very physical defense. An excellent front seven. They play very hard and very fast. I'm very impressed with their defense overall."
The Bucs have the same 1-2 record despite scoring only seven fewer points than their opponents. It's even closer for the 1-2 Redskins, who have been outscored by just two points. However, Tampa Bay's defense has held opponents to just over 22 points per game, so it appears that something will have to give Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Griffin knows it will be a challenge to make sure it's the other side that gives.
"A couple things come to mind at first glance when you watch their personnel – they're extremely fast, they're young and they play hard," he said. "Coach [Greg] Schiano's doing a good job of getting those guys to buy into their system and they definitely play hard for him. Whenever you're young and talented and you play hard, you're going to pose a problem for a lot of teams and we know that going in. So we don't really look at the numbers. We throw those numbers out and know that we've got to show up to play, and that it's going to be a physical game."