- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Washington Redskins are 2-0. No team’s offense in the entire NFL has averaged more yards per game, and no team’s defense has allowed fewer. Is this a dream? Is it fantasy land?

Nah, just the 2011 preseason. That’s not stopping Redskins players from enjoying it, though.

They realize they’re not making any headway in the NFC East standings during August, but they believe playing well in wins over Pittsburgh and Indianapolis will help them reach their goals.

“Obviously, we all know it’s the preseason,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We know the Colts are really not as good without Peyton Manning, but it’s still building points. You always want to win around here and create a winning atmosphere and always have a good showing.

“You don’t want to go out there and lay a dud and then people are really talking bad about you. So I’d rather be good and win in the preseason any day over losing.”

Exactly what the Redskins‘ strong preseason start means is uncertain. Teams experiment with different lineups during exhibition games, and injured players err on the side of caution in deciding whether to play.

Teams also game plan differently than they do for regular-season games, and some teams prepare more for their opponent than others.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, a former Redskin, believes Washington cared more about the outcome of Washington’s 16-7 victory Aug. 12 than his team.

“We were playing a preseason game them the Super Bowl,” he wrote on his Twitter account last week.

One Redskins first-stringer said Washington used approximately 60 percent of its offensive playbook against Pittsburgh, a bit more than a normal preseason game.

Then again, all NFL teams are playing catch-up because offseason programs were canceled and players who signed free agent contracts after the lockout couldn’t practice until a week into training camp.

Most of the Redskins‘ first-stringers played the first half of both games. On the other side, Pittsburgh took its defensive starters out after 20 plays, while the Colts staggered how they took starters out of the game, beginning in the second quarter. And Indianapolis did not have All-Pro quarterback Manning, who is recovering from a neck injury.

“I think everybody is adjusting to what happened with the lockout,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think every team is a little bit different. You have to look at your positions and make some decisions relative to your rookies and the evaluation process, so a lot of things go into the mix with playing time and exactly who you’re trying to evaluate.”

Despite some murky context, some stats indicate the Redskins are much improved.

Their first-string offense gained 119 yards on 20 plays against Pittsburgh’s starters. Tim Hightower’s 58-yard run was against Indianapolis’ first string, and the Redskins finished Friday’s first half with 277 yards on 41 plays (6.8 yards per play).

“To see how our team has come together so early pretty quickly, it says a lot to the coaching staff and the job they’re able to do,” Hightower said.

Individual play also reflects progress in several areas.

The Redskins‘ reshuffled offensive line is executing its run-blocking assignments more consistently. New nose tackle Barry Cofield has made a positive impression anchoring against the run and pressuring the quarterback up the middle.

Cofield, a five-year veteran, measured his emotions after the Redskins held backup quarterback Curtis Painter and the Colts to one first down and 41 yards in the first half Friday.

“You’re not going to jump for joy and think you’ve got it all figured out because you’re stopping the Colts without Peyton, but to hold them to as few yards as we did is what we expect to do,” he said. “We’re missing a bunch of [injured] starters on defense, too. Take it for what it’s worth.”



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