- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Redskins’ offense after rewatching the TV broadcast of Washington’s 16-7 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

QB Rex Grossman made the biggest impression on me at the stadium Friday with how efficiently he operated the offense, but RB Tim Hightower‘s performance was the most resounding offensive element upon review. After seeing him for two quarters, it’s clear he has the tools to be highly productive in coach Mike Shanahan’s outside zone scheme. If Hightower consistently plays as he did Friday, the Redskins’ trade for him is an absolute steal.

Hightower was fast to the edge, properly diagnosed cutback lanes, pressed them effectively and exploded upfield. He was physical in finishing his runs and protected the ball. He also made a few tacklers miss on occasion. Ryan Torain is the only other back who has done anything remotely similar in a Redskins’ uniform in Shanahan’s scheme. It helped that the offensive line’s run blocking was much improved from last season, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Hightower was excellent in pass protection, too. I noted four quality pass blocks, including a blitz pick-up on the 4th-and-1 pass that Grossman converted early in the second quarter. Hightower recognized blitzers, squared them up and initiated contact. At the risk of overreacting to one half of a preseason football game for which there was minimal game planning, I’m sold.

Redskins wide receiver Donte Stallworth (19) tries to haul in a pass while Steelers safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (42) defends him, during the first half of a preseason game between the Washington Redskins and the Pittsburgh Steelers, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)
Redskins wide receiver Donte Stallworth (19) tries to haul in a pass ... more >

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Back to Rex. His timing and rhythm are what stood out. He repeatedly dropped back, planted his feet and got rid of the ball on time. It was fluid and smooth. That comes with knowing the offense and being comfortable with your receivers.

Grossman’s efficiency limited the Steelers‘ pass rush because they often didn’t have sufficient time to get to the quarterback. Note that Washington never threw any deep passes from a straight dropback. Anything long came on rollouts. Grossman’s sharp timing also helped cover for offensive line mistakes. Even when linemen were beaten, he consistently got the ball out before it led to further damage.

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One thing I noticed about Grossmanthat has carried over from last season: He doesn’t seem comfortable stepping up in the pocket when pressured. He likes to drift away from pressure and the line of scrimmage, which sometimes leads to throws off his back foot or otherwise off-balance passes. Even on the touchdown pass to WR Santana Moss, Grossman sensed heat after catching the low shotgun snap. He threw it over the middle while falling away. Moss was wide open, so it didn’t make a difference, but that can lead to interceptions. Keep an eye out for that.

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It’s important to keep this in perspective, but the first-string offensive line was so much better run blocking than what we saw last season. I’m speaking generally because every player stumbled on a few plays.

Their collective cut blocking is miles ahead of where it was at this point a year ago. That’s very important because it’s a key element of this running scheme, and it takes timing and precision to execute. RT Jammal Brown cut down his man on the backside of Hightower‘s 16-yard run around the left edge in the first quarter. LG Kory Lichtensteiger cut NT Casey Hampton to help spring Hightower’s 11-yard run on the next play.

A couple of early runs reminded me of last season’s Tampa Bay game, when the offensive line was perfectly in sync. Take Hightower’s 6-yard run on 2nd-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 14 (against the Steelers‘ second-string defense):

The offensive line moved left off the snap. LT Trent Williams got to a linebacker several yards from the line of scrimmage. TE Fred Davis turned a linebacker out on the left edge, creating a lane. C Will Montgomery blocked an inside linebacker in the defensive backfield. Newly-signed RG Chris Chester cut down a lineman who was pursuing from the back side. Brown pushed his lineman to the ground despite running laterally and not being in a position to generate much power.

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