LANDOVER, Md. — The blockbuster quarterback competition between Rex Grossman and John Beck has made the Washington Redskins a national punch line this summer. That’s understandable. Grossman couldn’t turn his 2006 Super Bowl appearance into any sort of staying power in Chicago, and Beck is competing with an intern’s résumé.
So go ahead laugh all you want. No one could blame you. But while you’re rolling on the floor, know this: Grossman isn’t going to make you wish Donovan McNabb were still in town.
And considering he’s the known quantity in this battle, the Redskins aren’t going to be any worse at quarterback in 2011 than they were in Mike Shanahan’s 6-10 debut campaign.
Grossman was better than mediocre during his two quarters of work in Friday night’s preseason opener, a 16-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, the bar is that low. That’s just how it is until someone comes along and raises it.
While Beck was sidelined with a groin strain, Grossman seized the night by completing 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. That should at least give the doomsdayers something to ponder when considering the Redskins’ chances of improving — yes, improving — upon last season’s win total.
“We got into a rhythm and pretty much played consistent throughout the first half,” Grossman said.
“I felt about as comfortable as I’ve ever felt in this offense tonight. Everything kind of slowed down for me a little bit and for whatever reason, it just felt really comfortable for me.”
We know that Grossman isn’t as accurate as Drew Brees. We know he doesn’t make decisions like Peyton Manning. He doesn’t have a rifle like Jay Cutler. He can’t make plays when the pocket breaks down like Michael Vick.
He’s strictly a system quarterback, but that’s OK. Grossman reminded us Friday that he can be effective in this scheme of misdirection.
Most importantly, he knows the offense. That alone puts him ahead of McNabb.
“I think that he was efficient because we’ve all been in the offense for a year and he’s been in the offense for two years now,” receiver Anthony Armstrong said. “We had that camaraderie. We were going to battle with each other last year, and he comes in and you know what he has to offer and he knows what we can do. You don’t have to do too much work to get back on the same page.”
Against Pittsburgh, Grossman consistently got the offense to the line of scrimmage with at least 15 seconds left on the play clock. There was no confusion in the huddle like there was deep into last season, only the upbeat tempo that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan craves.
Grossman also consistently put his receivers in position to gain yards after the catch — a product of accuracy and sound decision making.
In leading the Redskins’ 89 yards on their first drive, he converted second-and-4 by rolling out on a play-action bootleg and hitting tight end Fred Davis in stride. He checked down to running back Tim Hightower in the flat, leading Hightower perfectly for an 8-yard gain.
Grossman later felt the blitz on another bootleg and quickly got rid of the ball to fullback Darrel Young, who broke tackles for a 16-yard gain.
And when the Steelers pulled their starting defense after the first drive, Grossman was a level above the reserves, as you’d expect from a starting quarterback. He hit a wide open Terrence Austin in stride on an intermediate cross, allowing Austin to gain 38 yards.
On fourth-and-1, his throw on Anthony Armstrong’s outside hip was away from the defender. Armstrong slid to catch it and move the chains.
“I thought [Rex] played well, managed the game well,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I was pleased with the way he managed that two-minute offense right there at the end of the half. Still like to get in the end zone a few more times, but overall, pleased with the effort.”
It would’ve been a perfect night had Grossman not tempted fate with a throw into traffic in the red zone. Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote could have intercepted it and run it back for a touchdown. That’s the Rex we all know, and he’s inevitably going to show up most weeks.
But Grossman can run this offense at least as well as McNabb did, and probably better. If Beck can beat that, fine. Let Beck run the show if he can prove it in the remaining preseason games.
Grossman, though, represents a worst-case scenario the Redskins can live with. And considering the first-string defensive personnel on Friday appeared to fit the 3-4 scheme way better than last year’s bunch, a higher win total in 2011 isn’t out of the question.