The preseason rolls on for the Washington Redskins, and on Saturday, they face the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in a game that, for the starters, will likely serve as the final dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Jay Gruden said he plans on playing his first units roughly a half, and depending on snap counts, they could see some action early in the third quarter.
Perhaps even more important, the game will represent the most authentic test and measuring stick for Washington. The team opened the preseason against a New England Patriots team playing without Tom Brady and 10 other starters. The Redskins faced a Cleveland Browns team with great instability at quarterback in their second game.
The Ravens, however, won the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, and have reached the playoffs in six of the last eight seasons. Because of that, this game could provide a greater indication of where Washington stands.
“You’re really going to get a sense of how it’s going to be going into the season,” cornerback David Amerson said. “The Ravens always play hard offensively, defense and special teams. It should be a good challenge for us.”
Here are five story lines to follow in this game:
1. Griffin’s decision-making: It’s always a topic, but the quarterback brought it to the forefront again Monday against the Browns when he subjected himself to unnecessary hits as he tried to scramble for more yardage rather than sliding two separate times, and then did so again when he threw an interception in Cleveland territory. Griffin bristled at the criticism over his recklessness, but some of it came from his own locker room. “He wants to show everybody how tough he is, probably more than he needs to,” said DeAngelo Hall, and Coach Jay Gruden stressed that Griffin must realize how important his health is to the franchise and become more willing to throw the ball away or slide. Griffin pledged to fans he would do a better job in this area; we’ll see if there’s a difference. Griffin also admitted he needs to do a better job of getting the ball out of his hands. On his interception, he waited for DeSean Jackson to come out of his break before throwing the ball. By that time, it was too late and Browns cornerback Joe Haden jumped the route.
2. Hatcher’s debut: Signed to bolster the pass rush, Jason Hatcher has spent the offseason rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery. On Saturday, he will make his long-awaited Redskins debut. He says his quickness, explosiveness and power are back, and that he’s eager to get out on the field. Hatcher’s presence could help Brian Orakpo, who didn’t have an impact game on Monday. They will line up next to each other on the right side. Coaches say Hatcher’s No. 1 job is simple – get after the quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see how Hatcher’s return impacts his stand-in, Jarvis Jenkins, who has had a strong preseason. Jenkins will become a rotational player along the line.
3. Offensive production: In their first two games, Griffin & Co. demonstrated an ability to move the ball, but scoring proved challenging. Missed opportunities in the red zone passing game cost the team touchdowns in both games. Even the bread-and-butter rushing attack didn’t get the job done against Cleveland as four straight carries got stone-walled. Every offensive player asked the one thing they wanted to see this season said, “score points.”
4. Pass coverage: There will be a noticeable change from Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel to Joe Flacco, and the same can be said of the Browns’ receivers and the Ravens’. Flacco knows his offense inside and out, Steve Smith is a “strike up the band kind of guy,” and Torrey Smith is an impact player as well. Washington’s defensive backs look forward to the challenge, however. This represents another opportunity for Amerson (first-year starter after serving as the third corner last year) to measure himself against two talented wideouts. Hall and Amerson have confidence in their own abilities, but say the presence of free safety Ryan Clark gives them even more freedom to be aggressive in coverage. Clark has seen the Ravens often as a division rival while with the Steelers.
5. First cut candidates: The third quarter is important for the players trying to cement their spots as second-stringers. But although you may lose interest by the fourth quarter, it could serve as the most important for those in danger of receiving a phone call during this week’s upcoming round of cuts from 90 to 75 players. Third- and fourth-stringers such as receivers Lee Doss, Rashad Ross, tight end Matt Veldman and linemen Adam Gettis, Kevin Kowalski and Maurice Hurt must play with a sense of urgency. The same goes for defensive linemen Jake McDonough, Jeremy Towns, Frank Kearse and Robert Thomas, and linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough, Gabe Miller and Adrian Robinson, or defensive backs Chase Minnifield, Richard Crawford, Bryan Shepherd, Ross Madison and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith. These players will fight to survive this round of cuts and earn themselves one more audition in the fourth preseason game, which precedes the cut to 53.