Redskins-Ravens Film Review: Offense

Quarterback Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins hands off to Dante Barnes in preseason football at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD, Thursday, August 25, 2011. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Quarterback Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins hands off to Dante Barnes in preseason football at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD, Thursday, August 25, 2011. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)

ANALYSIS/OPINION

My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Washington Redskins‘ offense after re-watching their 34-31 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens using the TV broadcast:

Through three preseason games, neither Rex Grossman nor John Beckhas separated himself in the quarterback battle. Each has engineered scoring drives. Each has been accurate when afforded space and time to throw. Each has exploited auspicious matchups and coverages. Each has misfired on a few passes that should have been completed.

Coach Mike Shanahan says he is comfortable with either option, and his confidence is justified. No matter who is under center Sept. 11 against the Giants, I think it’s fair to say that Grossman and Beck have earned a level of respect among fans and media that did not exist at the start of training camp. The Redskins are better at quarterback right now than they were at this time last year with Donovan McNabb.

I’m sticking with Beck as my prediction for opening day starter. I’d be moderately surprised if Grossman is the guy. To me, two elements give the tiebreaker to Beck: 1) his mobility/speed, and 2) his relative inexperience means there’s a steeper production curve as the season progresses and his experience builds.

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QB Rex Grossman kept the competition interesting against Baltimore. Perhaps his greatest success was protecting the ball against a troublesome Ravens pass rush. Turnovers have always been a knock on him, and he rebounded from throwing a pick against Indianapolis’ reserves last week.

In reviewing the Colts game, coach Mike Shanahan complimented QB John Beck for not making broken plays worse with poor decisions. Grossman matched that on Thursday. On the play he was sacked, the blocking breakdown (TE Fred Davis was involved) was so egregious that he didn’t even have time to throw into trouble. The optimist would credit Grossman for not fumbling.

Grossman was sharp behind the first-string offensive line for the second time this preseason. When the line created a sound pocket, he stepped into his throws and successfully attacked the middle of the field. He connected with WRs Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney on the touchdown drive. He recognized a blitz from his left and hit WR Santana Moss, the hot receiver, for a 13-yard gain.

On the 24-yard touchdown to Moss, Grossman saw Ravens rookie CB Jimmy Smith blow the coverage by following Gaffney to the flat. His throw outside the numbers wasn’t as accurate as his passes to the middle of the field, but it was close enough for Moss to pivot and catch on his inside shoulder.

Grossman wasn’t perfect, of course. He overthrew Moss underneath on a third down. He also bounced a throw to Gaffney over the middle.

Grossman said after the game: “I just feel good about what I’ve done” in the competition. He should.

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I’m not sure whether offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan opened the playbook up more for QB John Beck, but it seemed like it. Beck took more shots downfield than QB Rex Grossman did. His first throw, a 33-yard completion to WR Anthony Armstrong, had the necessary touch. If Armstrong didn’t have to drift to the sideline to catch it, he might have scored. Then again, the throw to Armstrong’s outside shoulder ensured there would be no interception.

Beck clearly feels comfortable with WR Terrence Austin. No surprise there; they worked together on the scout team all last season. Beck threw to Austin on third-and-6 from Washington’s 7-yard line even though no one covered WR Donté Stallworth underneath. Austin had a cornerback on his back, but Beck’s throw was perfect and they got the first down. What’s more, Beck stood firm in the pocket as bodies fell at his feet.

He led Austin perfectly three plays later, allowing Austin to gain 20 yards after the catch.

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QB John Beck‘s worst throw was the one he bounced to WR Santana Moss on third-and-4. From the left slot, Moss released inside the cornerback. It should have been an easy pitch and catch. Instead, Beck short-armed the throw as pressure came up the middle. That miss was what Beck harped on after the game.

He wasn’t fazed by the interception he threw on a long ball to WR Donté Stallworth down the left sideline. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told him to take a shot before the Redskins‘ drive began, and Beck recognized one-on-one coverage between Stallworth and Baltimore CB Lardarius Webb. Stallworth and Beck agreed that in the future, Stallworth should take a pass interference penalty to break up the interception. The play began at the Redskins‘ 7-yard line, so a penalty would have cost them only a few yards.

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In case you forgot, WR Santana Moss reminded us how well he can adjust to an off-target throw. Rex Grossman‘s throw to him in the back right corner of the end zone was too far inside, but Moss wheeled around and caught it, making it look easy. With two quarterbacks yet to prove they can consistently be accurate, Moss‘ ability to bail them out likely will come in handy this season.

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RB Tim Hightower showed a burst of speed on his 37-yard touchdown run that I hadn’t seen before. Ravens SS Tom Zbikowski had the angle as Hightower cut back to the left sideline, but Hightower put it in a higher gear and won the race to the pylon.

After averaging a fumble per day for a week after he started practicing with the team, Hightower has secured the ball in all three preseason games. I suspect we’ll see offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan emphasize the run more once the regular season starts. Not only will it take pressure off the quarterback, but the ground attack has been a tremendous weapon through three preseason games. No need to make John Beck or Rex Grossman win games for you. Let Hightower carry the load.

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The athleticism of the Redskins‘ first-string offensive line is a major reason why the running game has excelled. LT Trent Williams ran five yards to block ILB Ray Lewis out of the play on RB Tim Hightower’s 37-yard touchdown. On Hightower’s 10-yard run on Washington’s second series, C Will Montgomery pivoted and hooked Lewis to seal the hole.

Then again, Redskins linemen are inconsistent in one-on-one matchups. Ravens DE Cory Redding blew by RG Chris Chester on a stretch play and helped stop Hightower for a 4-yard loss. Lewis later withstood LG Kory Lichtensteiger’s cut-block attempt on a run he stopped for a 2-yard gain.

No line is ever going to perfect. The Redskins just have to be sure they’re winning more matchups than they’re losing. It’ll be interesting to finally see the unit play a full game and whether it’s able to outlast a defensive front that has to run sideline to sideline for four quarters.

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I’ve got to add this about RB Tim Hightower’s 37-yard touchdown: LG Kory Lichtensteiger’s cut block took out DE Cory Redding AND NT Terrence Cody. The Steiger might be the Redskins‘ best cut-blocker. WR Terrence Austin got a piece of SS Tom Zbikowski, too. Another example of what the offense can accomplish when everyone executes their assignment.

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The Redskins‘ fifth series was a lousy one for TE Fred Davis. On second down, Baltimore OLB Jarret Johnson drove him behind the line of scrimmage and set the edge, holding RB Tim Hightower to no gain. On the next play, third-and-10, Davis focused on the blitzing inside linebacker and didn’t recognize the blitzing slot cornerback was a greater threat. Hightower couldn’t slide over in time to clean up the mess and prevent the sack. After blocking exceptionally well against Pittsburgh in the preseason opener, Davis hasn’t been consistent.

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WR Terrence Austin’s feet and patience are two reasons he’ll be on the final roster next Saturday. He juked out CB Lardarius Webb with a quick outside jab step, freeing himself inside for a 28-yard catch-and-run.

On his 13-yard touchdown, he caught QB John Beck‘s screen pass and hesitated just long enough to suck Webb toward him and set up RT Sean Locklear’s block.

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Mike Sellers’ return to fullback in the second half could have been better. He was unconvincing as a lead blocker on the two plays I noted. On a 4-yard run by RB Roy Helu, Sellers was too high and a bit off-balance when he took on LB Jameel McClain in the hole. On another run left, he didn’t block anyone.

That said, I still think Sellers makes the 53-man roster. He’s insurance at both the fullback and tight end positions.

***

Offensive line depth is a huge problem. Players just aren’t consistent enough with their technique. For example, swing tackle Sean Locklear, who’s known for his quality pass blocking, gave up a sack to DE Pernell McPhee because he was slow on his initial punch. McPhee got into Locklear’s body and easily went around him.

Players such as guards Artis Hicks and Big Mo Hurt and T Willie Smith haven’t been sharp enough. The negative plays outnumber the good.

The Redskins might be able to cover for one second-stringer who’s forced to play during the regular season, but it could get really ugly if two ever have to play at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins fill the bottom of their final offensive line depth chart with a player or two who’s cut from another team.

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I’m struggling to see rookie fifth-round WR Niles Paul on the final 53-man roster at this point. He hasn’t flashed enough as a receiver through three preseason games; only one reception for 16 yards.

Paul is a capable blocker and can contribute on special teams — although his lack of awareness on a punt he failed to down inside the 10 didn’t help his cause. I believe the Redskins will try to stash him on the practice squad, and if he gets claimed by another team, they can draft someone similar next year.

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Man, I would have loved to have heard what P Sav Rocca said to LT Trent Williams as Rocca restrained him during a scuffle after an extra-point attempt. I love Rocca’s Aussie accent to begin with, and I can only imagine how he sounded trying to calm the big fellow down.

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