- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016

ATLANTA — As the Washington Redskins prepared for their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, there was excitement about finally facing a live opponent, and more importantly, the opportunity to evaluate the areas that are difficult to gauge in training camp practices.

One of those areas was the rushing game, which the Redskins struggled to find consistency with during the 2015 season. It was a short outing for the starters, but overall the Redskins were challenged to compliment the offense with an effective running game in Thursday’s 23-17 loss to the Falcons. Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and rookie Keith Marshall, considered the Redskins‘ top three running backs, carried the ball eight times for a total of zero yards.

“The first half, it was not very good,” coach Jay Gruden said of the running game. “We’re going to stick with it, just got to fix it. Got to get our line coming off better. Got to get off to the right people. Atlanta played a very good defense. They loaded up the box and did a nice job stopping us. But no excuse, we’ve got to run the ball better.”

Robert Kelley, an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, was the lone bright spot, rushing for 40 yards and a touchdown in the second half against the Falcons‘ reserves. Washington finished with 79 total rushing yards on 29 carries.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was sharp in his brief outing, completing all five of his passes for 39 yards. The Redskins‘ first drive of the game stalled when right tackle Morgan Moses was called for holding, which wiped out Jones’ 11-yard run on first and 10 from Washington’s 35-yard line. After a completion to DeSean Jackson, Cousins hit running back Chris Thompson on third-and-9 for seven-yard gain, which forced the Redskin to punt.

The defense was stout in its first two possessions, limiting the Falcons to consecutive three-and-out drives. Cornerback Josh Norman played just three snaps on the opening drives, but most of the defensive starters came out of the game at the end of the first quarter. Once they did, the Redskins‘ depth struggled, particularly in the secondary.

With the score tied, 3-3, second-year cornerback Quinton Dunbar got lost in coverage as Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub connected with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard pass. Running back Brandon Wilds finished the drive two plays later with a touchdown to give the Falcons a 10-3 lead.

The Falcons took a 13-3 lead before halftime and opened the third quarter with J.D. McKissic’s 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown made it 20-3. Washington’s special teams play had been sharp until that point. Tress Way averaged 53.7 yards per punt and his first of the game pinned the Falcons inside their own 5-yard line. During the kickoff return, McKissic easily worked his way through the middle of the Redskins‘ coverage. Safety Deshazor Everett was also offsides on the kick.

Rookie quarterback Nate Sudfeld got the most playing time under center and relieved Colt McCoy on the Redskins‘ first possession of the second half. McCoy completed seven of his 11 passes for 53 yards. McCoy’s best throw of the game came in the first quarter when he placed it perfectly in the end zone for Vernon Davis, but the veteran tight end wasn’t able to secure the catch.

Sudfeld finished the game 10 for 15 with 89 yards and a touchdown pass. He led the Redskins down the field for their only two touchdowns in the third quarter, including Kelley’s one-yard run and a six-yard completion to tight end Marcel Jensen on the ensuing drive.

Left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder did not play in the game.

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