- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011


What do I think of the Redskins’ 16-7 win over the Steelers on Friday night in their preseason opener at FedEx Field? Oh, there are 11 things I could say:

1. The Redskins (452-186 edge in yards, no turnovers, just three penalties) played like a team that wants to get off to a fast start this season, and you can understand why. Their schedule is backloaded — Jets, Patriots, at Giants, Vikings (with returning Donovan McNabb), at Eagles are their last five games — so they need to rack up some victories in September and October and get a little momentum. If they don’t, it could be another long year.

2. It’s great watching the young legs of Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu fight for yardage. Sure beats watching the old legs of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker fight for yardage, as was the case last year.

3. Clearly, the NFL’s competition committee blew it on the new kickoff rule. With the ball being teed up on the 35 now instead of the 30, you’re not going to see nearly as many runbacks — a pity. The Redskins-Steelers game was a veritable touchback-fest. Brandon Banks did have one 58-yard return, but he took a heck of a risk running it out from six yards deep in the end zone.

4. That said, Banks might be even more effective as a punt returner if he doesn’t have to beat himself up as much running back kicks. As we all know, he’s not a big guy, and there are many more hard knocks on kickoffs.

5. Speaking of which, Graham Gano’s ability to boot the ball into the stands — and eliminate any possibility of a return — gives him a big edge over veteran Shayne Graham, who doesn’t have nearly as strong a leg. Graham didn’t do himself any favors, either, by missing field goal tries from 29 and 49 yards (while Gano was good from 32, 34 and 45). It’s hard to see this competition lasting a whole lot longer.

6. And that should concern Redskins fans — at least a little — because Gano missed 11 of 35 field goal attempts last season. That’s way too many (considering the club lost five games by a field goal or less). Sometimes, a kicker just needs a little more seasoning, and perhaps Gano will make a great leap forward this year. But what if, when the real games begin, he reverts to his 2010 form? Does Mike Shanahan have a Plan B, or is he going to be trying out kickers all season?

7. Is it just me, or does Hightower look like a mini Steven Jackson? I’m not just talking about the braids sticking out of his helmet or the No. 39 jersey. His quickness and acceleration are also reminiscent of the Rams’ workhorse.

8. Jabar Gaffney is a really nice No. 3 receiver. But if he’s your No. 2 receiver — as he is in Shanahan’s offense — then you’ve got wideout issues. I say this because only two NFL receivers last season caught 60 or more passes and scored two or fewer touchdowns: Gaffney and the Seahawks’ Mike Williams. (Both had 65 catches and two TDs.) Ideally, a No. 2 receiver should break the plane of the goal line a little more often than that.

9. The Redskins certainly aren’t ducking any punches in this preseason. Steelers, Colts, Ravens, Bucs — that’s a pretty demanding slate of games (three 2010 playoff teams and one 10-6 non-playoff team). They can only hope their health holds out, especially if Shanny continues to leave his starters in longer than the opposition does.

10. Twice on third down early in the game, Grossman threw underneath to Santana Moss and failed to pick up the necessary yardage. Sorry, but I’m just not a big fan of that play. It exposes your best — and smallest — starting receiver to potentially big hits by linebackers. If you’re going to run a wideout under the ‘backers, run somebody more sizable like Gaffney or Donte Stallworth. The Redskins need to get 16 games out of Moss this season (and every season).

11. I fail to see much qualitative difference between the first preseason game in 2010 and the first in 2011. Maybe they should call off the offseason next year, too.

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