The Washington Redskins had their best outing of the preseason on Saturday night, defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 30-17, to improve to 2-1.
As veterans London Fletcher and Santana Moss noted, it’s the preseason, so excitement on the part of the players and fans should be tempered. But the Redskins believe that they are headed in the right direction.
The starters are done for the preseason, and Wednesday’s finale will feature players fighting for jobs.
Here are five observations from preseason Game 3.
1. Improved offensive line play – It’s important to note that the Indianapolis Colts’ defense is not of the caliber of the Chicago Bears. But the line did do better this week than it did last week. One factor was the return of right guard Chris Chester. There were some early miscues – one that resulted in Griffin taking his hardest hit of the preseason.
On that play, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman came through between left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Maurice Hurt untouched and drilled Griffin as he let go of the ball. It’s hard to know which assignments were called, but Williams had his man one-on-one, and Hurt, center Will Montgomery and Chester teamed up to block two guys, and right tackle Tyler Polumbus had his guy off the edge blocked. You’d think that Hurt probably should have picked up Freeman instead of trying to help Montgomery. That was the second free runner the Redskins allowed, and there was one more after that late in the first quarter.
From that point on, the line did a better job. Chester said that the group made adjustments and made sure it did a better job on their combo-block calls, and Williams said recognition improved, enabling the linemen to better pick up the blitz. The Redskins allowed only four hits on the quarterback all game.
Another sign of the progress of the line came in the run game. Unlike the last two preseason games, where the Redskins have had a couple of nice early runs, and then struggled to produce on the ground, Washington excelled throughout the game. The linemen created lanes for Alfred Morris and Tim Hightower to average 7.6 and 5.6 yards per carry.
Again, the Colts are a rebuilding team, and their players are still learning the 3-4 scheme. But the execution was indeed better on the Redskins’ part.
2.) Running back competition – Have the Redskins found their starter in Morris? Possibly. The rookie runs hard and has a low center of gravity. He’s always driving forward and has a knack for spinning, twisting or falling forward rather than just taking what’s there and being stopped for little to no gain after contact.
Tim Hightower may not be fully back to his old self – even now that he’s back playing in games, this year likely will feature an on-going journey back – but he too was very effective against the Colts. A combination of the two could certainly get the job done for Washington.
What about Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr.? You’ve got to be healthy. Royster doesn’t think his tweaked knee is serious. Helu’s situation isn’t so promising. I still think Royster can be effective in this offense. He runs with his eyes and slips through lanes to pick up chucks of real estate. But it’s also hard to go away from the hot hand, which could be Morris. After it seemed that the Redskins might have to go with a starter-by-default type of decision, Shanahan suddenly appears to have options.
3.) Secondary struggles – The secondary didn’t have as bad an outing as it did against Chicago, but there were some miscues as the Colts’ quarterbacks passed for 298 yards and a touchdown.
The most costly error came on the Colts’ lone first-half score. On the third-and-6 31-yard touchdown pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton, Madieu Williams had lined up opposite Hilton and Donnie Avery, who were in a bunch formation of sorts, and Josh Wilson was to Williams’ left and a few yards further upfield. Williams was shaded more to the inside than outside, and Avery chipped him as he tried to get to the outside to pick up Hilton. Wilson then picked up Avery. Williams vs. Hilton is probably a bit of a mismatch as is, but that tiny snag by Avery on Williams enabled Hilton to get a step on Williams, and Luck perfectly dropped the ball into his wideout’s hands in the end zone.
Redskins defensive players wished they had that play back, but overall weren’t overly concerned with that and other less damaging snafus. They said after the game that they were doing some experimenting with some things they normally wouldn’t do. That’s the benefit of the preseason. The hope inside the locker room is that they come away from these three preseason test drives with a clear understanding of their capabilities, and that they play more soundly in the regular season.
A positive in the secondary was the play of Tanard Jackson, who continues to make strides with increased playing time. He started at strong safety and delivered a blow in the end zone to break up a would-be touchdown pass at the end of the first half.
4.) Depth at linebacker – Of all the positions on the defense, the Redskins have to feel the best about their linebacking corps. Even without Brian Orakpo, they were able to harass Andrew Luck at a good rate.
The Redskins’ starters recorded 10 quarterback hits, and sacked him twice. Brian Orakpo has beaten the drum for his backup Rob Jackson, saying there is no dropoff between the two. Jackson on Saturday did a good job of generating pressure. Chris Wilson – battling for a roster spot – also did well in his time with the starters. Even once the starters left the game, Lorenzo Alexander, Bryan Kehl, Keenan Robinson and Markus White all made plays.
It will be interesting to see how many linebackers the Redskins keep. Is it the four starters four backups? Five? Alexander is set, and it appears that Jackson is as well. Then who? Wilson, White, Kehl and Robinson have all made plays this preseason. It’s a good problem to have.
5.) Improvement from Griffin – In his most extensive action of the preseason, Robert Griffin III was much more effective. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. He also had a five-yard scamper for a first down.
One thing that Redskins coaches love about Griffin the student is how when he makes mistakes, and they go over the problem area, he processes the information and then goes out and corrects it on the field the next time, rarely making the same mistake twice. Griffin did a better job of getting rid of the ball quickly. Another positive was how he responded to pressure when he got hit early in the game. Griffin shook off the licks and remained confident.
One of Griffin’s best plays was his touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Griffin had to jump to snag an errant shotgun snap and quickly rolled to his right and hit Moss in stride in the front of the end zone. Griffin needed to have better accuracy on his deep ball, Saturday. He didn’t take any deep shots down the field in the first two preseason games, but went long three times against the Colts. Pierre Garcon got slowed slightly on the first play of the game, but possibly could have made that catch on a pass that traveled 60 yards in the air. Griffin needed to have put his next deep throw on the inside of Garcon, who had his man beat but saw the ball sail over his head.
On his final long attempt, Griffin’s miss didn’t appear to be his fault entirely. The quarterback could have possibly put better arc on his throw to Leonard Hankerson to help the wideout have a chance to get under the throw a little better. But at the same time, it appeared that Hankerson slowed down on the route, and thus didn’t make what could have been his first big play of the preseason.
Griffin felt good about his performance and growth shown in the preseason, however. “If we’re going to finish with this performance,” Griffin said of the preseason, “this was a good way to finish it.”
Odds and ends – Backup nose tackle Chris Baker left the game with an ankle injury, but said afterwards that he is fine. Baker has had a strong preseason, and appears to be poised to make this team, but he said he doesn’t feel safe and wants another shot to prove himself Wednesday. …
Brandon Banks emerged from Saturday’s game with more competition as Moss and Niles Paul both did well in the return game. The Redskins still haven’t gotten a look at Aldrick Robinson or Anthony Armstrong in the return game. Banks hasn’t gotten any more looks at wideout. …
Armstrong had his first catch of the preseason, and played on special teams, but still seems to have some catching up to do. Dezmon Briscoe continues to make a strong impression. He hasn’t played on special teams in games, but said he would like a chance to do so. Four wideouts are already locks to make the team. Those final two spots remain up in the air. Briscoe – with his second touchdown of the preseason – made the biggest statement of any of the young receivers on Saturday. …
Another game without any field goal attempts for Washington. Both Graham Gano and Neil Rackers showed strong legs on kickoffs. Wednesday marks their last in-game auditions before Friday’s final roster cuts.