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Luck's ahead of RG3 now, but both special QBs face similar uphill climbs

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RG3 showcases his skills but the talented rookie still has plenty of work to do. (AP)  
RG3 showcases his skills but the talented rookie still has plenty of work to do. (AP)  

LANDOVER, MD -- For one afternoon, with no other game being played in the NFL at the time and all eyes upon them, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III lived up to the hype. The rookie quarterbacks, destined to be forever linked and compared as the first and second picks of the 2012 draft, each looked the part on this exhibition stage, getting better as the game went on and eliciting ooohs and ahhs from fans and scouts alike during this matinee at Fed Ex Field.

It didn't exactly make for aerial theatrics, but both youngsters produced more than enough eye-popping plays and generally were smooth, composed and showed what any organization would want to see from the much-ballyhooed third preseason game, the supposed dress rehearsal for the regular season. The outing also reaffirmed some of the deficiencies of these rebuilding clubs -- lest we forget why they ended up with the top two picks in the draft -- particularly for the Colts, who had major issues on defense and across the offensive line in Washington's 30-17 victory.

Of course, no sweeping conclusions can be drawn, because, again, these were two of the worst NFL teams in 2011 getting together hoping not to get anyone hurt and utilizing largely milquetoast game plans and schemes. It can be difficult to compare two lesser outfits against one another, but there is no doubt that the comparisons between their quarterbacks will rage on. They are very different in their approach, and Luck is without a doubt more plug-in-and-play pro ready, but they shined in their respective ways and left positive impressions with the preseason winding down.

They also took in stride comparisons, the fact that T-shirts were being sold here to "commemorate" this relatively meaningless event.

"If it's making money for someone, good for them," Luck said. "But I don’t buy into it. ... Football is the ultimate team game."

Griffin said: "It does come with the territory. It's not something you can just push aside. ... It's going to be there our entire career."

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Luck played through the first series of the second half. He finished 14 of 23 for 151 yards and a touchdown, and what a beauty of a throw that was -- clearly the highlight of the day. Luck took a bit of a beating behind that suspect offensive line -- and the Redskins don't lack for pass rushers -- yet never wilted, flinched or complained while standing tall against the pressure. Luck also received no aid from the running game (he departed as the Colts' co-leader with 8 rushing yards as he made way for Chandler Harnish).

"We've got to keep him clean," said Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who admitted he was searching for positives to take from this game, Luck aside. "We have to do a better job with our protections."

Griffin, who like most of Washington's offensive starters is not expected to participate in the preseason finale, also played into the third quarter, finishing 11 of 17 for 74 yards with a touchdown and a 94 QB rating. He took three deep shots -- each ball traveling 50 yards or more in the air and each slightly overthrown -- including his first attempt of the game.

"We were right there, just a hair away," coach Mike Shanahan said of the bombs.

The Heisman Trophy winner [Griffin always will have Luck beat in that regard] made alert plays using his speed to roll out, expanded the pocket when he had to, and his ball placement improved as well, putting it where only his receiver could get it in key sequences.

"I think we had a good performance overall as an offense," Griffin said.

It's become clear this preseason that Griffin has a deep affinity for receiver Pierre Garcon, the former Colt, and this was a definite improvement over last week's game in Chicago. "The great thing about it is how [Griffin] responded," said linebacker London Fletcher, Washington's veteran leader.

Scouts who have watched both quarterbacks extensively believe comparing the two can be futile. Again, they are at very different stages -- Luck ran a true pro offense for an NFL head coach at Stanford while Griffin ran a limited scheme based on colors with few adjustments, changes to protections schemes, etc., required of a quarterback. They will be asked to do different things, they will run vastly contrasting offenses ... and yet still they surely will face routine questions about the other as they begin to compile regular-season box scores.

I spoke to several scouts who have watched these two closely, on film and from the pressbox, and all of them believe Luck is better equipped for immediate statistical success, is further progressed in terms of reading a defense and making changes at the line of scrimmage. But they also agree there is plenty of reason to believe both will thrive at this level. They also believe, particularly in the case of Griffin, that what we've seen in the preseason is not the way the Redskins will operate schematically when the games count.

Like Luck, Griffin heated up in the second quarter. He extended Washington's first scoring drive on third and 3, feeling the blitz, sliding out to his right and flicking the ball high and away from the defensive back, where only Josh Morgan could haul it in for an 11-yard gain. His biggest gain also came on that drive, with inside pressure mounting Griffin kept his cool and managed to rip the ball over the middle to Garcon despite not being able to fully step into his throw. He also was buoyed by the run game on that drive, with Saturday's starting back, Alfred Morris, ending the march with a touchdown plunge and running 14 times for 107 yards in all (in Shanahan's revolving door backfield, Morris, a sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, has to be a candidate for Week 1 carries).

"I never thought that I would be getting this many carries, or this much action, so soon," Morris said.

Griffin handled a high snap around the goal line and dumped off to Santana Moss for a touchdown on the next drive. He misfired on a few passes, as would be expected, and also benefitted from the Colts' poor cornerback play (an area they might address via trade, a pursuit owner Jim Irsay seems intent on live tweeting). Pagano, usually super-aggressive, also helped Griffin a bit by going very basic.

"Griffin hasn't really seen a complicated blitz scheme yet," one scout pointed out.

Andrew Luck looks poised, but his offensive line does him no favors Saturday. (AP)  
Andrew Luck looks poised, but his offensive line does him no favors Saturday. (AP)  
When asked to nitpick Griffin, scouts pointed out he struggles when teams roll their safeties, and in general is still holding the ball a bit too long ("But he will outgrow that, it's not a real concern," said one scout who has bird-dogged him). The scout pointed out that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has used only four personnel sets all preseason ("That could be to keep it simple for him, but I think that will change in the regular season," the scout said), and Shanahan has showed much more of a run-first tendency this month than usual.

He's running more multiple-back sets and five-step drops ("If they run five- and seven-step drops behind that line, that's how you get the kid killed"), but that could well change come September. The Redskins have been accumulating film of a young Steve McNair with the Titans, sources said, and that is likely the template for Griffin, with spread formations, some empty backfields and quick zone reads, capitalizing on Griffin's athleticism. They could incorporate elements of the Pistol as well.

And even the approach to rollouts and scrambles is likely to change. In the preseason receivers have retreated to help block but soon they may begin sprinting downfield, bringing defenders with them, simultaneously creating more running room for Griffin and giving him the chance to air out that big arm to make plays downfield, with more of a short, tempo attack coming when in the pocket.

With Luck there are far fewer questions about his immediate transition. Being under center is nothing new. He seems like he has been doing this for years.

"It's stupid what this kid can do already," one scout said.

Big issues, however, could loom on the offensive line (that's another pivotal spot that could be addressed in trade; general manager Ryan Grigson is a former offensive lineman and couldn't have liked what he saw in terms of protection), in the run game and on defense. The poor defensive performance was made even more troublesome with starting corner Jerraud Powers (knee) and valuable defensive lineman Brandon McKinney (knee) both due for MRIs on Saturday.

So it's asking a lot for Luck to lift this 2-14 franchise immediately, and judging from this contest it could be an uphill climb.

Luck was swarmed by linebackers and ends from the onset, faced horrible field position and was routinely in second- or third-and-long situations. Still, he kept making plays, with the Colts going 6 of 9 on third-down conversions in the first half largely because of the quarterback. Unlike the Colts' defense, the Redskins took a regular-season approach, blitzed heavily and aimed to attack Luck.

"We did some different things from a coverage standpoint, as opposed to being vanilla," Fletcher said. "But he's going to be a good quarterback. ... You can see why he was the No. 1 overall draft pick."

Luck was happy to get the blitzing indoctrination now, in the preseason,

"I think that will be a good learning experience for me."

It's not as if he struggled, though, and the Colts' first touchdown was all Luck.

On third and 7 from the Washington 31, Luck sensed pressure up the middle, shuffled his feet to find a passing lane and avoid the onslaught, then found receiver T.Y Hilton down the right sideline, placing the ball perfectly for him to corral in the corner of the end zone, just beyond safety Madieu Williams.

"Madieu told me he doesn't think that will happen again," Griffin said, truly showing his inexperience for the first time all day. Nah, this will be a fate many a defensive back will be exposed to when Luck starts chucking it around on Sundays.

Some of the assembled scouts couldn't help but comment on the perfection of the sequence, and in the back of the pressbox Grigson shot a knowing look at some of his assembled staff.

This was special. And it's only just begun.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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