Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 30-7 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills at home on Saturday:
The score line looks very good for the Redskins, as it should after facing undrafted free agent rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel for more than three quarters.
As ILB London Fletcher pointed out, the Redskins defense has some things to clean up from the two series Buffalo QB Kevin Kolb played before he suffered concussion-like symptoms:
A facemask penalty by rookie CB David Amerson on a third-and-12 stop gave the Bills a new set of downs. CB Josh Wilson committed a 34-yard pass interference penalty on his first play of the preseason when he got a little handsy with the receiver behind him on a go-route. Kolb escaped the pocket and scrambled for 8 yards on a third-and-5 when OLB Brandon Jenkins rushed upfield on the left edge and Darryl Tapp, who lined up as a defensive tackle, was double teamed inside. Bills RB C.J. Spiller broke Amerson’s contain on the left edge on a 19-yard run down to the 5-yard line.
Offensively, the Redskins did well with third-string QB Rex Grossman and fourth-stringer Pat White against a Bills defense that left its first string in longer than Washington did. The Redskins’ running back and passing game depth showed.
If Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense is anything like Buffalo’s, the Redskins emerged from the game confident in their ability to stay poised against it in the Monday night opener.
“I thought we did a really good job of subbing and communicating,” ILB London Fletcher said. “So we didn’t have a situation where we were not aligned like we needed to be aligned. That part of it went smoothly.”
DL Kedric Golston called Fletcher the “calming force” against the hurry-up.
“He’s priceless,” Golston said. “London tells us everything. He lines us up. He tells us what to expect. He’s never roused. He’s never [hyperventilating]. So when you have a guy like him, you kind of feed off of his confidence in getting you the calls. That’s’ the main thing—that up tempo is just trying to catch you with everybody not communicating. That’s how big plays happen.”
Golston added conditioning was not a problem against the no-huddle.
“It definitely was a challenge, but with the league going to that—a lot of teams are going to this more up tempo—you have to be prepared for it, as far as your conditioning levels and just understanding the pace of it,” he said. “It’s gonna happen, but at the same token, they have 300-pounders on their side of the ball, as well. So it is what it is.”
Fifth-round rookie RB Chris Thompson showed why Redskins coaches loved his college film: His great initial burst to the hole, his speed and elusiveness in space, and his quick feet/cutback ability. All of that stood out on offense and as a punt returner.
The latter is especially important because of the season-ending knee injury CB/PR Richard Crawford suffered. (More on Crawford in a bit.)
Thompson fumbled again, which will make it tough for coaches to trust him on offense. He absorbed a hit on the elbow, more specifically the funny bone, he said. His arm and hand went numb and he lost control of the ball. But that’s two fumbles in two games. That can’t happen, and he knows that, of course.
Thompson felt calm returning punts despite not having done it in games since high school. That’s critical because he appears to be positioned to replace Crawford as the top punt returner.
“The return that I did have that I guess was maybe 30 yards or so (it actually was 31), a lot of guys were telling me that I was brave to catch it, but I didn’t realize that I was, like, really running up to it. I thought I had maybe stepped up like one step or two. I’m just glad coach put me back there and gave me the opportunity to do it. I believe that I can. It’s just that coach trusting in me …It’s all about trust.”
Losing Crawford is a real shame. He’s an earnest, likeable, hard-working young player. He studied hard in the offseason to improve his comfort level in the defense and was determined to be a more physical corner. Mike Shanahan said Crawford injured his lateral collateral ligament and might have injured his ACL while returning a punt. He’s expected to miss the season.
“You feel bad for Craw,” ILB London Fletcher said. “Craw had an outstanding offseason, really made a lot of plays in the passing game. He was intercepting balls, breaking up a lot of passes in the offseason. He played well in the previous two preseason games. You feel bad for him because he had made such an improvement. He’s a guy who works hard. He studies film. He really worked on his craft and wanted to improve.”
Crawford’s absence should solidify CB Chase Minnifield’s roster spot, and it creates the possibility for another person to fill a sixth cornerback slot, perhaps Jerome Murphy, if the Redskins want the depth on the active roster.
QB Rex Grossman threw with typical bravado. He passed off balance and off his back foot a few times, and he also made some fine reads and accurate throws.
His 7-yard touchdown to WR Pierre Garcon on Washington’s opening drive resulted from a pre-snap read. It was a packaged play—called a run in the huddle and played like a run by nine guys, except Grossman had the option to check to a quick pass on the back side. It’s another brand of option football that is taking hold throughout the league.
When a safety came down to the line of scrimmage before the snap, Grossman knew he had the look he wanted. He opened his front side on the throw to freeze the safety, which opened a passing lane inside.
“I felt like it wasn’t the cleanest look, but I felt like I was going to get an obvious second-window throw,” he said. “I just had to maneuver my arm a little bit to get it around [DE Mario Williams] because normally [the safety] is right where we completed it when he was up at the line. But I knew he was going to either blitz or drop out of leverage. So I faked the run a little bit just to allow Pierre to get over there in the passing lane.”
QB Pat White is proving himself within the zone-read segment of the Redskins offense. He’s a threat running the ball—he was patient behind FB Darrel Young on his touchdown run—and he can manage quick, shorter timing throws to the middle of the field. He’s still too inconsistent, though, on throws down the field and outside the numbers.
Could the Redskins find a desperate team out there that’s thin at quarterback and willing to give up a late-round draft pick for White? That would be a pretty nice payoff at this point. It’s a shame he’s not eligible for the practice squad because he’d benefit mechanically from working longer with this coaching staff.
The Redskins had six linebackers in on some passing situations early in the game. Brian Orakpo and Brandon Jenkins were the right and left outside linebackers, respectively. Outside backers Ryan Kerrigan and Darryl Tapp put their hands in the dirt as defensive tackles. And then ILBs London Fletcher and Perry Riley did their thing.
The idea is to create a fast front with pass-rushing specialists. It also will help keep DL Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen fresher for the base defense. Cofield last week said he doesn’t expect to play much on third downs this season, so let’s expect this LB-heavy front to play often.
“Obviously we wanted our best pass rushers on the field,” . Putting Tapp and Ryan in the inside and letting Brandon Jenkins and Rak rush on he outside definitely creates some problems from a speed standpoint against the offensive linemen, especially if we can get them in some third-and-long situations. I thought that worked out pretty well.”
K Kai Forbath had two touchbacks on five kickoffs. That’s a strong percentage for him. His other three kickoffs were fielded at the 3-yard line, the goal line, and 5 yards deep in the end zone. He also drilled a 53-yard field goal. That’s a solid game.
WR Aldrick Robinson (four catches, 61 yards) got open on a variety of shorter routes, something coaches have emphasized in his development. The more he can threaten defenses on the intermediate stuff, the more opportunities he’ll have to take the top off.
At first glance, rookie TE Jordan Reed had a better game blocking Saturday than he did against Pittsburgh on Monday. He sealed the edge on RB Keiland Williams’ touchdown in the second half.
“I was going straight ahead, cut him off backside and then he kind of tried to get his head inside, so I just pinned him down,” Reed said.
Reed feels himself playing faster and more confidently as he amasses experience.
He lamented being tackled from behind on his 18-yard reception.
“I’ve got to get my legs going,” he said. “I’ll do better.”
ILB Bryan Kehl at the outset of the preseason expressed his determination to finish plays. Last preseason, which ended with him being cut, he regretted dropping potential interceptions and coming up just shy of several sacks. Well, in the last two games, he has a forced fumble and a sack.
“Getting cut was good for me,” he said. “It pissed me off. I’m still pissed off about it. I think in anything in life, if you can have a chip on your shoulder, it usually helps you. That put a big chip on my shoulder. I’m just going to go ahead and leave it there and be a better player because of everything that happened.”