The Washington Redskins come away from Saturday night’s 33-31 loss to the Chicago Bears with mixed emotions. The team’s backups have to feel good about how they competed once they got into the game. But the starters showed that they still have work to do on both sides of the ball.
The Redskins on Monday get back to work, preparing for Saturday’s preseason home opener against Indianapolis – a game that will likely see the starters play into the third quarter. But first, here are some observations from Preseason Game No. 2.
1. Griffin’s football instincts – A week after an impressive showing against the Buffalo Bills, Robert Griffin III looked rather rookie-like. Griffin completed five of eight pass attempts for 49 yards and was sacked three times for a loss of 19 yards. The biggest problem Saturday night was that Griffin tried too hard to make things happen. On his first pass attempt, Griffin wasn’t able to locate an open receiver, so he scrambled around and around in the backfield when he should’ve just thrown the ball away. Instead, he took an hard shot from Julius Peppers as he finally let go of the ball. Another time, Griffin took off scrambling and missed a wide-open Santana Moss running across the field. Griffin wound up getting run out of bounds two yards behind the line of scrimmage for a sack. Griffin’s biggest gaffe came on the fumble at his team’s eight-yard line. Griffin had to dodge a safety and slipped, and as he moved to his right, Griffin tried to throw the ball to a receiver but ended up getting the ball jarred from his grasp. Chicago capitalized with a touchdown two plays later. You’ve got to like Griffin’s desire and effort, but he acknowledged after the game that “sometimes you have to know when not to try to make a play.” Those football instincts will take time to sharpen. Griffin has proven himself as a quick learner when it comes to Washington’s offense, but it could take some time for Griffin to hone these instincts regarding knowing how much is too much.
2. Secondary struggles – It was suspected that the secondary could be the weakness of the defense, and the Bears certainly proved this, torching Washington’s starters for 224 first-half yards. Cedric Griffin is competing for the third cornerback job, but he didn’t look good at all against Chicago. We’ve seen guys like Brandon Banks easily get open while being covered by Griffin in practices, and his struggles continued Saturday night. It’ll be interesting to see if Kevin Barnes gets some run with the first team this week. Coaches have talked about liking Barnes better on the outside rather than the nickel where he played last year, but so far, he has backed up the ineffective Griffin. The Redskins did some experimenting with DeAngelo Hall playing some safety, but he appeared out of place, and didn’t close on the ball. Meanwhile, Brandon Meriweather could be sidelined for a while depending on what today’s MRI reveals. Tanard Jackson stepped in at strong safety, but is better suited at free safety. Josh Wilson had the best day of any of the top defensive backs. He had great coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep throw, and eliminated him as an option for Jay Cutler on the play where the quarterback had to tuck the ball and run to pick up the first down. But Wilson came away from the game kicking himself for missing on an interception opportunity.
3. Morris’s audition – Rookie Alfred Morris got off to a fast start with gains of 21 and six yards on his first two touches and displayed a hard running style and ability to pick up yards after contact. But after that, he picked up only seven more yards on eight additional carries. The Redskins will be looking for more consistency from Morris. He said he felt pretty good about the way he started, but said that he knows he has things to work on. He didn’t get many pass protection opportunities as Evan Royster was used in that capacity. But Morris admittedly missed his assignment — picking up blitzing safety Major Wright — on the play that resulted in Griffin’s fumble. Morris saw Wright coming, but then the defensive back pulled up, and Morris left the backfield and went on a pass route and Wright pressured Griffin, who was then caught from behind by Israel Idonije. Morris said, “he got me there,” referring to how the veteran threw him off. Morris knows needs to be more patient rather than falling for tricks defenders will throw at him.
4. Poor protection – Griffin didn’t want to criticize his line, and Trent Williams said he needed to look at the game film to get a better idea of how the line did, but Pierre Garcon had no problem saying that the Redskins didn’t give Griffin the protection that he needed. The Redskins still are still at less than full strength across the line, but they’ve got to do a better job. Rookie Adam Gettis needs to get lower so he can play with better leverage, center Will Montgomery seemed to get pushed into the backfield more times than not. Tyler Polumbus hasn’t shown an ability to quickly react to defenders’ counter moves, and for as much as he has talked about focusing on improving in blocking, Fred Davis hasn’t been very effective.
5. Receiver competition – Things are getting interesting as the young players – Aldrick Robinson, Terrence Austin, Brandon Banks, Dezmon Briscoe and Anthony Armstrong – continue to vie for roster spots. Robinson caught all but one ball thrown his way – finishing with six catches for 104 yards, including a 49-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Austin had a catch for 11 yards and averaged 25.5 yards per kick return. Briscoe’s improved comfort level is evident as he is beginning to make plays (three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown). Banks didn’t line up at receiver Saturday night, but returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Armstrong got on the field for only one play and wasn’t targeted. Banks probably isn’t going to help much as a receiver, but it’s hard to cut a guy that poses a threat like he does. It’s hard to imagine Briscoe making the team if the Redskins keep six receivers, because they already have four other wideouts that don’t play special teams. Robinson, Austin and Armstrong do play special teams. But who of those three do you keep? Will Armstrong (who has lost time with a shoulder injury) work his way back into the picture? The receivers keep saying their goal is to make the decision a hard one for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, and it certainly seems like they’re doing just that.
Odds and ends: Curious over the inactivity by both Fred Davis and Chris Cooley. For a second consecutive game, neither was targeted. Davis’ lack of looks could be because Redskins coaches want Niles Paul to get as much work as possible. Cooley, meanwhile, seems to be facing a bit of uncertainty regarding his future, and he’d like to be able to prove to coaches that he remains an effective player. But so far, he has either been relegated to playing fullback, or even when he does line up at tight end, he doesn’t have his number called. … Kirk Cousins had another strong outing, and said that he has been “pleasantly surprised with [his] understanding of the offense.” Rex Grossman didn’t get any snaps. I know what Cousins did was impressive (completing 78 percent of his passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns), but it still seems hard to imagine that the Redskins would go into the season with a pair of rookies as their first- and second-string quarterbacks. … Lorenzo Alexander did well in place of London Fletcher, recording four tackles and doing well in pass coverage. Shanahan declined to say what exactly “wasn’t feeling very good” on Fletcher. … Brian Orakpo should learn today how significantly injured he is, but he didn’t believe it was serious. I’d still be surprised if he played the rest of the preseason. … Jarvis Jenkins continues to look more comfortable, which is evident by the speed at which he played last night. Jenkins had two tackles and a sack. … Bryan Kehl had another near interception as he battles for a spot as a backup inside linebacker. It’ll be interesting to see if the Redskins take eight or nine linebackers.