By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2010; 12:21 AM
Although an impressive preseason opener stirred excitement among Redskins fans, Coach Mike Shanahan stayed on message.
Washington still is a team in transition despite a meaningless blowout victory last week, Shanahan says, and it seemed he was on to something after the first-team offense performed poorly Saturday night in a 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field.
An announced crowd of 72,944 watched as quarterback Donovan McNabb and the rest of the offensive starters struggled throughout a sloppy first-half performance against the Ravens' top defensive players. The Ravens pounded McNabb as the Redskins' pass protection was far less effective than it was in a 42-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills at FedEx eight days ago.
And in a development potentially even more disturbing to Shanahan than the display on offense, several key players left in the first half because of injuries. Fullback Mike Sellers injured his left knee early in the second quarter and free safety Kareem Moore, the star of training camp, went out with a right knee injury several minutes later. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams bruised his right elbow.
McNabb, who returned to the field after halftime with his ankle wrapped in ice, completed only 11 of 26 passes and had a passer rating of 54.3. The Pro Bowler passed for 206 yards, but threw an interception and the Redskins failed to convert on their final five third-down attempts of the half. The Ravens led at halftime, 13-3.
"I felt great," McNabb said in an on-field interview with Comcast SportsNet during the game. "I had a couple of throws I missed, some miscommunications and some balls that we missed. But the thing about it is, they were opportunity plays. We made some plays throughout this game, we drove the ball and put ourselves in position to score. Now, we just have to capitalize."
The Redskins' first-team defense provided encouragement for the team, playing well again, and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth played in the second half after missing several days of practice because of illness. The negative, however, outweighed the positive for Washington.
Running back Larry Johnson appeared to have an awful outing in his "showcase" game. The starter Saturday in the back rotation (Clinton Portis started against Buffalo), Johnson gained only four yards on eight rushes and was ineffective as a receiver out of the backfield and as a blocker on passing plays. In the second half, the reserves also stumbled, especially in attempting to execute the blocking scheme.
After the game, Shanahan said the Redskins have a lot of work to do on offense.
"It's an evaluation process," he said. "Had a chance to evaluate our first-teamers and second-teamers some of the first half. Thought we did some good things, obviously some things very poorly.
"But at the end of the day, when you take a look at your turnovers and the red zones and . . . you don't score many points, which we didn't tonight. But we had some good. We've got a lot of work to do and it'll get started early next week."
Shanahan declined to provide updates about the injured players. "Concerned, but I don't know right now," Shanahan said. "We'll wait and see and let you know after practice on Monday exactly where we're at. For me to tell you right now where we're at would be a mistake."
The first-team offense moved the ball well on its first drive, which ended with place kicker Graham Gano's short field goal. The Redskins' starters appeared to find their rhythm quickly, and they were particularly effective on third downs.
Washington converted on its first three third downs of the opening possession, as McNabb teamed with receivers for long gains. He connected with wide receiver Santana Moss for 13 yards on the first third down and located tight end Chris Cooley for 15 yards on the second. And then facing third and 10 from Washington's 48-yard line, McNabb completed a deep pass down the middle to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, who'd beaten Baltimore's Dawan Landry, for 45 yards.
McNabb wasn't sharp on deep balls during training camp, but he displayed arm strength and a nice touch on the ball to Armstrong, who had a short touchdown reception in the rout of Buffalo and has impressed in his bid to earn a spot on the opening-day 53-man roster.
But McNabb and the rest of the offensive first-stringers struggled as the game continued. McNabb faced pressure from the edge and through the middle as the offensive line and running backs failed in protection.
Williams, who returned to the field with his right arm in a sling in the second half, clearly lost in his individual battle against premier pass rusher Terrell Suggs. The outside linebacker sacked McNabb once and repeatedly disrupted the Redskins' offense while causing fits for Williams. Johnson, who has never been considered a strong blocker, did not consistently execute his blitz pick-up assignments well.
"I knew their kind of tag is that they will bring pressure," McNabb said. "But you know the thing about it is? This is what we need."
In celebration of their victory, Ravens players doused quarterback coach Jim Zorn with Gatorade after the game. Although the Redskins fired Zorn after he went 12-20 during the 2008-09 seasons, he still remains well liked by some within the organization. Several Redskins players and team employees hugged Zorn as he left the field.