- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Washington Redskins‘ offense after re-watching their 16-3 preseason victory over the Indianapolis Colts using the TV broadcast:

I maintained throughout training camp my belief that QB Rex Grossman would be the starter on opening day against the Giants, but I’m flip-flopping after watching QB John Beck deftly manage four scoring drives against Indianapolis’ first-string defense Friday.

There are three main reasons for this. First and foremost, Beck threw the ball better than he did in practice over the last two and a half weeks. Much better. His accuracy and timing were inconsistent during training camp, but he was very sharp in the first half Friday.

Heck, a perfect 17-for-17 performance was within reach: His first incompletion could have been a touchdown to TE Mike Sellers if Sellers’ feet didn’t tangle with the defensive back. His second incompletion was tipped by a linebacker, and his third was a throw-away under pressure. He completed everything else.

Beck’s best throw, in my opinion, was the 23-yard completion to WR Donte’ Stallworth on third-and-12 in the second quarter. Beck kept his eyes downfield despite pressure from his left and held onto the ball when the defender slapped his right arm. He stepped up in the pocket — instead of fading from pressure, as Grossman sometimes does — and slid left to find a passing lane. Beck used to have a lower release point in high school, and he went back to the sidearm delivery in finding Stallworth to move the chains.

Two other throws really stood out. On the 19-yarder to WR Jabar Gaffney, his first pass of the game, Beck looked right as he dropped back. Either his progressions went from right to left, or he was intentionally moving the safety away from Gaffney’s path to the post. Either way, Beck came back to the left and delivered a strike that set up a touchdown.

The third throw was an 11-yard slant to WR Terrence Austin on third-and-4. When Beck got under center, Stallworth came in motion from the left sideline into the slot next to Austin. Beck was looking at the Colts‘ cornerbacks and could see they were in man-to-man by how they adjusted to Stallworth’s motion. Expecting Austin to be open on his inside release, Beck hit Austin out of his break with a perfect throw in-stride. First down.

The second reason for my change of heart: For the first time in a game situation, we saw how Beck’s mobility and athleticism give him a significant advantage over Grossman.

On the first play of the Redskins‘ fourth series, Beck turned a bootleg left into a first down by running for 10 yards when the nearest defender dropped into pass coverage. Beck showed he will be able to challenge defenses on the perimeter and exploit them. Grossman’s athleticism won’t command similar respect.

And my third reason: If 2011 is a building year for greater things in 2012, which I believe it is because the Redskins still don’t have enough playmakers or depth, it makes sense to let Beck experience his growing pains and ascend the learning curve before the team is positioned to contend next year. Remember that Beck has played only five NFL games. In that context, he’s still a rookie. His ceiling is higher than Grossman‘s, though, so let him start growing this season.

I don’t mean to overreact to one half of preseason football, but Beck clearly showed what the coaches see in him. Mike Shanahan sometimes refers to the game being too big for players; guys who are talented but can’t carry it over to the game. Well what if Beck is the opposite? What if he’s a gamer? We wouldn’t know because he hasn’t played a real one since 2007. If Friday night is any indication, we’re going to find out starting Sept. 11.

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It wasn’t all rosy for Beck, though. I’ve already discussed his low throw to WR Terrence Austin on third-and-4 from the Indy 12. The location of the pass didn’t give Austin a chance to gain yards after the catch. That was the throw Beck wanted back most.

I’m still looking forward to asking him about his decision-making on first-and-10 from the Colts‘ 18 in the second quarter. Beck didn’t recall the play after the game Friday, but he was scheduled to review game film Saturday.

The Redskins used three wide receivers; two to the left with Austin in the slot. The Colts appeared to be in some type of Tampa-2 defense because one of their two linebackers dropped to cover Austin running down the middle while safeties helped cover the outside receivers. But the linebacker initially was frozen by play-action, and Austin vs. a linebacker is a mismatch anyway.

Beck, however, rolled right and had his eyes on the right sideline where WR Anthony Armstrong was. I don’t think he saw Austin running open to the post, but, again, I’m eager to hear Beck’s review of the play.

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A bit more praise for Beck: He took what Indianapolis’ defense gave him on a swing pass to RB Tim Hightower, an underneath second-and-13 conversion to WR Santana Moss and a 9-yard stop to WR Anthony Armstrong on third-and-8.

After the game, Beck explained how offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan cited his days as Houston’s offensive coordinator in advising him to take what the Colts defense gave him. Shanahan told Beck there was no need to try to make the spectacular play against the Colts, Beck said.

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Take away QB Rex Grossman‘s interception, and he played OK. Ah, but we can’t do that. Grossman admitted he didn’t see weak-side LB Adrian Moten when he threw to TE Derek Schouman. That’s on him. He also overthrew WR Donte’ Stallworth on one of the rare occasions the second-string line gave him time to take a deep drop and survey the field.

He did make several fine throws, though, including a couple intermediate balls over the middle to WR Leonard Hankerson.

I’m not sure it’s fair to compare Grossman’s performance Friday with Beck‘s. We’d have to see how Beck fares behind the second-string offensive line because life is way more difficult for a quarterback under those circumstances.

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Redskins players last season would lament their failure to execute the offense, saying they could see on film the big plays the offensive scheme could create if everyone did their job. Well, RB Tim Hightower’s 58-yard run is a prime example of what the offense is capable of.

Let’s go from left to right up front: TE Logan Paulen chipped DE Dwight Freeney before getting to the second level and blocking MLB Gary Brackett. LT Trent Williams’ footwork was impeccable in blocking Freeney out of the play to the left. LG Kory Lichtensteiger chipped the defensive tackle in front of him before getting to LB Pat Angerer. C Will Montgomery stayed low enough while running to push DT Antonio Johnson back, preventing him from filling the hole. RG Chris Chester ran 12 yards (!) beyond the line of scrimmage to block FS Antoine Bethea. RT Jammal Brown cut the backside defensive end.

The result? “I saw a hole open up that a truck could drive through,” said Hightower, who made SS Melvin Bullitt miss.

For the second straight week, Hightower showed that the outside zone scheme could be a springboard for him. How quickly he squares his shoulders and bursts upfield is impressive. Regarding pass protection, the Colts didn’t test him as much as Pittsburgh did last week.

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RB Roy Helu is looking like a super fit for this running scheme. He admittedly missed some cutback lanes, but his ability to diagnose them should sharpen as he builds game experience. The only other gripe: When he gets behind the defense, he should finish in the end zone. Coach Mike Shanahan has touted him as a home-run hitter; getting caught from behind doesn’t fit that description.

Helu at least appears to have the basics of the scheme down — find the lane, make an explosive cut upfield and shake a defender or two.

Helu’s blitz pickup helped QB John Beck hit WR Santana Moss for a 13-yard catch-and-run down to the Colts‘ 9-yard line on the opening drive.

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Staying in the backfield a bit longer, FB Darrel Young is fun to watch as a lead blocker. You can tell he just loves contact. He sealed the edge on RB Tim Hightower’s 1-yard touchdown plunge. He also has some moves in the open field. After breaking three tackles on a catch against Pittsburgh last week, he broke two more on an 11-yard catch that started Washington’s second drive against Indy.

If Mike Shanahan was unsure whether Young could handle first-string fullback responsibilities, he should have a pretty good idea by now.

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LT Trent Williams was pretty good in the ground game, but he surrendered two sacks. On the first, he let DE Dwight Freeney get into his body on a bull rush.

On the second, he whiffed on his attempt to cut DE John Chick. “It’s supposed to be a quick-hitting play,” Williams said. “He just read it. He just made a good play. It was a mistake on my part. I could have at least got a piece of him.”

Williams got up slowly after getting his “manhood stepped on” in the first quarter, he said. He insisted that didn’t affect him on the sacks.

We know Williams is talented enough to block anyone in the league, but the measure of his progress from his rookie season to his second year will be consistency. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection from anyone, but his position demands it.

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Rookie WR Niles Paul showed some potential as a punt returner working with the second-string special teams unit, averaging almost 10 yards on four returns. His refusal to call for any fair catches despite being in traffic was admirable. You don’t make the team calling for fair catches. He appeared to see lanes well and ultimately prioritized getting upfield instead of running laterally, which he did on his first return.

Paul’s block of an Indy gunner helped spring WR Terrence Austin‘s 29-yard punt return in the first half. I don’t think the Redskins can expect to stash Paul on their practice squad. Some team out there would claim him for its active roster. A Redskins veteran recently said that Paul, a fifth-rounder, has impressed him more as a receiver than third-round WR Leonard Hankerson. He’s worth keeping around, but at whose expense?

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Speaking of Hankerson, he at least gets kudos for responding well to another drop. He finished with three receptions for 46 yards after putting one on the ground. He started to look upfield before securing the throw from QB Rex Grossman, not the first or even the second time that’s happened this summer. He had a short memory, though, and was productive — a silver lining amid a troubling problem catching the ball.

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Finding standouts on the second-string offensive line isn’t easy. Inconsistency is a big reason why these players are backups. T Sean Locklear has an effective punch in pass protection, but he was flagged for holding. Rookie LG Big Mo Hurt gave up a sack when he reached for DL Drake Nevis and got off balance.

C/G Erik Cook was flagged, too, and he was pushed back on a few running plays. Cook can play all three interior line positions, though, and such versatility could put him on the final roster. I’d be interested to see C Donovan Raiola work with the second-string a bit more.

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LS Nick Sundberg was accurate on all eight of his snaps.