Initial Thoughts: Redskins 16, Steelers 7

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Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 16-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night:

*Disclaimer: Deadline prevented me from watching the second half as closely as I would have liked. I’ll have a more thorough review after I re-watch the game on Saturday.

I wrote a full-length analysis of QB Rex Grossman’s performance for our main website, and I’ll post the link HERE rather than re-hash everything in great detail. But I will say that Grossman as the Redskins’ worst-case scenario still could be an upgrade over Donovan McNabb.

McNabb was better at making plays when the pocket broke down—and goodness knows it breaks down behind this offense line—but Grossman makes up for that, relative to McNabb, with his knowledge of the offense. On Friday, he ran the offense at the desired tempo and located open receivers.

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Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett should be encouraged by how NT Barry Cofield and RDE Stephen Bowen played. Cofield was active in the run defense and anchored at the line more frequently than Ma’ake Kemoeatu did a year ago. Bowen’s sack was a reminder that the defensive line actually can collapse the pocket. There were times last season when that seemed impossible. Bowen’s speed was evident.

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Coach Mike Shanahan has to feel good about how RB Tim Hightower appeared to fit into his outside zone running scheme. Hightower (10 carries, 44 yards, no fumbles) is fast to the edge, and he explodes upfield after planting.

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Hightower and rookie RB Evan Royster were good in pass protection. Neither was afraid to square up against blitzers and initiate contact. Royster ducked his head, lunged and missed a rusher in the second half, but he finished on the positive side of the balance sheet.

Royster doesn’t have the high gear that rookie RB Roy Helu does, but his patience helps him gain chunks of yards at a time. It’s like Shanahan said back on draft day, sometimes you wonder how Royster keeps gaining 4 or 5 yards per carry, but he does. He averaged 4.4 yards on 15 carries Friday.

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LOLB Ryan Kerrigan played like a rookie. We saw some evidence of his superior physical talent and some instances where he was overmatched. On a couple of runs he was blocked entirely out of the play. But later he tackled the running back for a loss on third-and-1, using his speed and instincts to get off the ball faster than the tight end opposite him.

Kerrigan still hasn’t showed the pass-rushing prowess that helped him become a first-round pick. In terms of speed and power, he is behind where Brian Orakpo was as a rookie. Kerrigan spoke Friday night about playing faster once he gets comfortable at his new position, so maybe that’ll come soon. But even in practice, Kerrigan hasn’t impressed. That he missed parts of 14 practices with a bone bruise in his right knee earns him some leeway.

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WR Brandon Banks reminded us that he’s still one of the Redskins’ most explosive playmakers. This team still doesn’t have enough of them, which is why Banks is well-positioned to make the team. On his 19-yard punt return, he drifted upfield to set up his blockers, and then he used his speed to get around the corner. Banks has a unique ability to get to full speed in only a couple of strides. It’s a huge asset in the return game.

Banks’ 58-yard kickoff return was a highlight, but it’s fair to wonder whether he’d always be granted the freedom to take that ball out of the end zone in a regular season game. Still, Banks made two people miss on that return, and the Redskins don’t have a surplus of people who can do that.

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Considering K Shayne Graham’s two missed field goals (29 yards and 49) and how shaky he’s been in practice, I don’t see how the Redskins keep him in the kicking competition. The missed 29-yarder was as bad a kick as you’ll ever see in the NFL. K Graham Gano (3-for-3) is clearly better at this point. Another veteran could push him more than Graham is right now.

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The new kickoff rules are boring. There were six touchbacks on seven kickoffs, including all five of the Redskins’ kickoffs. Gano acknowledged that the Redskins’ strategy eventually might be to hang the ball high and try to cover the kick inside the 20. Preseason games are a good time to experiment with that.

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Rookie WR Aldrick Robinson’s night to forget included two muffed punts. He acknowledged after the game that his decision-making and execution was poor.

“It’s stuff I can clean up with practice,” he said. “It’s the first time out. That’s why we practice all week. It will get better.”

The game appeared too big for Robinson, as Shanahan likes to say. He’ll have no margin for error in the coming weeks.

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