Redskins vs. Patriots: Five story lines to monitor

RICHMOND VA, JULY 24: Washington head coach Jay Gruden during day 1 of Washington Redskins training camp in Richmond VA, July 24, 2014. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Thursday night’s preseason opener offers a first look at the Jay Gruden style of play (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

After practicing and practicing for two straight weeks, the Washington Redskins finally will see some game action as they host the New England Patriots for their preseason opener tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.

Here are five story lines to monitor in Preseason Game 1.

1.  Offensive tempo: Robert Griffin III and his fellow starters will not play a lot. But Jay Gruden and Sean McVay will be looking for crisp pace, good timing and smart decision-making in the short time they do play. Griffin admittedly has a hard time throwing the ball away in practices when a play is unraveling, but says he can make quicker decisions during games. Going against two talented, physical defensive backs such as Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, Washington’s passing attack has better success with quick hitter, slant routes, check-downs. There’s nothing riding on this game, but if the offense can move the ball, Gruden will be happy.

2. Defensive aggression: Washington has to do a better job of getting to the quarterback, no matter who it is. (Tom Brady reportedly will not play in tonight’s game, and instead Ryan Mallett will get the start). Jim Haslett is positioning his pass rushers for more success. Can they take advantage? The defensive players also have to pick up receivers in pass coverage more quickly than they did during two days of live-action practice against New England in Richmond. Mallett might not have the precision of Brady, but he looked pretty good in practices.

3. Injury substitutes: The Redskins will not have the services of starters Pierre Garcon, Ryan Clark, Jason Hatcher, and possibly DeSean Jackson. This gives backups a chance to showcase their skills against starting talent. Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Nick Williams could benefit from the absences in the receiving unit. Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins gets to start in place of Hatcher, and Bacarri Rambo will likely start for Clark. It’s a chance for a veteran such as Moss to prove he still has it, and for Robinson and Williams to show that they have what it takes. This also gives the young Jenkins and Rambo the opportunity to show they can translate the lessons of practice over onto the game field.

4. Draft picks’ play: Trent Murphy has seemed to fit right in with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan during practice reps. Now the second-round pick gets to display his versatility at full game speed. Wideout Ryan Grant has probably looked the best of all the offensive rookies; he could also get a shot with the first team as well as plenty of time with his fellow reserves. Receivers coach Ike Hilliard loves Grant’s maturity and execution. He always seems to make plays in practice. How about under the bright lights? Meanwhile, linemen Morgan Moses and Spencer Long have much to prove, as does cornerback Bashaud Breeland, tight end Ted Bolser and kicker Zach Hocker.

5. The Gruden way: We’ve seen a spirited, physical team in practices. What does a Jay Gruden team look like in games? The coach hopes that his team plays like it practices, if not better. He wants order, focus, discipline and professionalism. Can his players deliver in all those areas this early in the preseason? Or, will it take a few more weeks for them to work out the kinks?

Also on The Insider

Redskins differ on benefits of joint practices