INDIANAPOLIS — John Beck finally got his shot Friday night, and showed Washington Redskins’ coaches that he too is capable of running the offense efficiently, as the team’s quarterback competition continues.
Making his preseason debut Friday night as the Redskins took on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, Beck directed a scoring drive on the first possession of the game, and completed 14 of 17 passes for 140 yards in the first half of a 16-3 victory.
“I felt pretty good about it,” Beck said. “I’m antsy to see the tape and see what I can improve on because I knew there were things I could tweak.”
Beck, who is battling for his first starting opportunity since his rookie year in 2007, got the start a week after a groin injury forced him to watch as Rex Grossman took all of the first-team snaps in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh. Grossman operated the offense at a crisp pace, but in the days leading up to his opportunity, Beck said he felt no pressure to match his rival.
“Just put the ball in the end zone,” Beck said when asked what goals he had for the Colts game.
He didn’t record a touchdown pass. With his team on the Colts’ 20-yard line during the opening drive of the game, Beck completed a strike to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney down the middle of the field. But Gaffney was stopped at the 1, and three plays later, running back Tim Hightower rumbled in.
But Beck didn’t make any glaring errors, either. He paced the team through drives of 80, 45, 74 and 84 yards. Like Grossman the week before, Beck set the tone for an uptempo attack. He spread the ball around, connecting with 10 pass-catchers (Terrence Austin’s three catches for 23 yards led the way), but he didn’t test the Colts’ defense deep, instead remaining content to hit receivers for short, quick gains that averaged 10 yards per completion.
“That’s the name of the game in Coach Shanahan’s offense: Be smart, be accurate and don’t force anything, and kind of use your legs a little bit,” said Beck, who had two rushes for 17 yards.
Beck did find himself under more pressure than Grossman saw the week before. After not giving up a sack against Pittsburgh, the Redskins’ offensive line allowed Indianapolis to get to Beck three times.
“John did a good job. I felt we moved the ball,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “There’s always room for improvement in all areas. I’ll have to take a look at the film to give you a good evaluation of everybody. But overall, I liked the way our guys played and the effort they played with.”
Grossman, meanwhile, played the entire third quarter and two drives in the fourth, but lacked the effectiveness he displayed a week earlier. The quarterback completed seven of 12 passes for 88 yards and threw an interception.
“It was all right. I had the one bad play, which I would’ve had back,” Grossman said. “For the most part, we did all right. Production, we didn’t score any points, but there’s some new faces, a couple mistakes here or there that killed us. We made some big plays but we didn’t capitalize on them for some points.”
Generating more points currently is Washington’s biggest problem on offense. The Redskins certainly can move the ball. In the two halves that the starters have played, Washington’s offense has generated 536 yards (324 through the air and 212 rushing). But the production fizzles once the team reaches the red zone.
Friday night, in four trips inside the red zone, Washington reached the 1-yard line, the 15, the 12 and 13, but came away with only one touchdown as third-and-goal runs or passes repeatedly came up short.
“There were a few plays where the defense did pretty good, and there was another play where if I threw a better ball to [Austin], then that play goes further up the sideline,” Beck said. “That’s one that I knew I could’ve tweaked. Right now, we’re doing a decent job of moving the ball, but we have to be able to finish.”
The only positive was that place kicker Graham Gano went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts as he fights to keep his job. The Redskins on Thursday signed free agent Clint Stitser to compete with Gano, but Stitser didn’t attempt a field goal.
Meanwhile, the Redskins’ starting defense turned in another strong performance. Led by linebackers Brian Orakpo, who recorded three tackles — one for a loss — and Rocky McIntosh (three tackles), Washington limited Indianapolis to 41 yards of offense and only one first down in the first half. The Colts were without Peyton Manning and top wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, so it wasn’t the perennial playoff-caliber Colts offense. But the Redskins still considered the outing a positive.
“Defensively we were on and off the field with a lot of three-and-outs, a lot of pressure on the quarterback, stopped the run for the most part,” said Keyaron Fox, who started at inside linebacker in place of the injured London Fletcher. “Those are all the things you want to see out of your starting defense regardless of who’s out there playing. You aim to pitch a shutout, and that’s what we did.”
Backup linebacker Edgar Jones suffered a concussion after he was blocked in the back, into oncoming punt returner Joe Lefeged, during the third quarter. Jones lost his helmet on the play and remained on the ground for several minutes before he was slowly helped off the field.
The Redskins will face the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium.