Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 24-13 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night:
Dr. James Andrews’ visit to FedEx Field was well-timed, given recent intensified speculation about QB Robert Griffin III’s status in his comeback from right knee ligament surgery. You can read coach Mike Shanahan’s full comments here. Shanahan’s postgame reset was necessary.
That Griffin remains on course to start Week 1 is not surprising. He steadily improved his footwork and lower body mechanics during the last two weeks of practice, and he continues to perform well in agility drills. Most importantly, he has not missed a day of practice due to swelling, soreness or any other type of physical problem. At this point, Griffin’s status is as clear as it can be: if he doesn’t suffer a setback, he’ll take the field three weeks from tonight.
It’s difficult to evaluate QB Kirk Cousins’ night without seeing the entire field on his six dropbacks. He completed 2 of 3 passes, scrambled twice and was sacked. He didn’t appear at first glance to miss open receivers, but I can’t be sure. Maybe Pittsburgh covered well.
Cousins wisely slid on his 7-yard carry in the second quarter. It looked like he wanted WR Pierre Garcon to the deep middle, but he tucked the ball when Garcon was double covered. Cousins even gained a couple of extra yards by setting up TE Fred Davis’ block well.
The deflected pass to the flat is becoming LOLB Ryan Kerrigan’s signature play. He’s very aware of what other players around him are doing when he’s rushing the passer. As he’s getting upfield, he notices when the running back releases and the angle at which he flares. That, in addition to London Fletcher’s pre-snap screen call, helped position him for the 22-yard interception return for a touchdown. Kerrigan said he widened his rush when he saw the running back flare to the right.
FS Bacarri Rambo didn’t make a play in the passing game, and he again badly missed a tackle in space. But he did force Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer to fumble by aggressively coming down in run support and wrapping up.
If the first two games are a good indication, Rambo’s run angles are going to be a major focus during his rookie season. In a best case scenario for the Redskins, the preseason will get him acclimated to the timing and feel required to tackle ball carriers in space.
It wasn’t a good night for a pair of running backs on the roster bubble, rookie Chris Thompson and Keiland Williams.
Thompson, a fifth-round pick, fumbled on his second carry. “I should have had two hands on it when I was in traffic,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to change and make better.” This was Thompson’s first game in about 10 months, so he accepted the rust element in play.
Perhaps more concerning than Thompson’s fumble, though, is the fact his left shoulder popped in and out of the socket on the play. Durability is a major question about him, and it took only two touches for that to surface.
Williams fumbled a pitch that hit him in the hands. He also missed a block against a blitzer on a second-half play that resulted in a sack of QB Pat White. Williams ducked his head and missed. He later injured his knee, although it’s not considered serious. Williams could have complicated the running backs competition because of his ability to contribute on special teams, but it’s getting difficult to see the Redskins keeping him over a ninth offensive lineman.
WR Leonard Hankerson’s one-handed touchdown catch was a fine demonstration of his play-making ability, but his drop earlier in the second quarter stood out more to him.
“I’ve got to have that one,” he said. “You got to catch every pass. That pass was a great ball. Man-to-man coverage again, and it was right on time. I’ve just got to go up and get it and come down and get it. Those are the plays that make you an elite receiver, and I want that one back. I’d rather catch that one than have the touchdown.”
Hankerson’s touchdown resulted from a well-executed double move against man coverage. He sold it by decelerating quickly.
“When I’m standing at the line of scrimmage, I knew it was a touchdown automatic because I saw what defense they was in,” he said. “The only thing I had to do is just go out there and run a good route, which I did, and just catch the football because I knew it was going to be there.”
TE Jordan Reed has significant room for improvement after his first NFL game action. “Dropped the ball and a couple of missed assignments,” he said.
At least he was comfortable with the speed of the game, though. That’s an essential building block. “I thought it was going to be a little faster than what it was,” he said. “Practice was faster than what it was today.”
Credit Reed for assuming responsibility for the interception QB Rex Grossman threw in the third quarter. After Twitter filled with jokes about ‘Bad Rex,’ Reed stepped forward.
“I had a missed assignment right there,” he said. “I was supposed to cross the safety’s face. That was all my fault. Rex was thinking I was going to cross the safety’s face, but I didn’t.”
Rex didn’t mind. He threw accurately and anticipated receivers well, for the most part. He complimented Reed’s athleticism and talent after the game.
At leastrookie CB David Amerson’s intentions were good on Pittsburgh’s 29-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter. When QB Ben Roethlisberger extended the play, Amerson tried to plaster the nearest receiver, as was the Redskins’ game plan.
“I had no idea that there was a guy that ran in my zone behind me,” Amerson said. “It was kind of like, ‘Where’d he come from?’ You just got to be aware. If I would have saw him, I would have definitely played deep to short, but I actually I was focused on that one receiver because I had one threat when the play began. I’ve just got to be more aware.”
Those are the types of plays coaches are thankful for in the preseason. Amerson understands the reasons behind his mistakes, and he’ll be better off because of that. He tackled RB Jonathan Dwyer in space after a reception on Pittsburgh’s third drive, but he later missed a tackle in the flat when he ducked his head.