Chalk one up for Rex Grossman.
Getting the first crack at the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback job, the ninth-year pro came out and directed his team’s offense with efficiency in a 16-7 preseason-opening victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field Friday night.
Washington’s starter for the final three games of the 2010 season, Grossman completed 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown; his quarterback rating was 109.0.
The performance came in front of a crowd announced at 68,320.
With quarterback John Beck sidelined by a groin injury, Grossman wasted little time making his case to the coaches to be the starter. His team was backed up at its one-yard line on its first play.
But Grossman connected with Santana Moss for a 16-yard gain and completed his next three passes. With rushing gains of 6, 16 and 11 yards by running back Tim Hightower sprinkled into the 11-play drive, Washington moved to the Pittsburgh 10-yard line.
But the drive stalled after a screen pass to Hightower hit the turf and a short pass to Moss failed to get a first down. The drive ended with Shayne Graham missing a 29-yard field goal wide left. Two possessions later, Grossman orchestrated his best drive of the night.
Methodically moving the ball downfield while spreading the ball to four receivers, Grossman completed five of his six passes. The last was an eight-yard touchdown pass to Moss to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes 54 seconds left in the first half.
Grossman managed to pull off the pass despite having to reach to snag an errant shotgun snap from center Will Montgomery.
“I felt about as comfortable as I ever have in this offense. For whatever reason, it really slowed down for me,” Grossman said. “Being able to start the last three games of last season really helped me this year know how I am going to react and help me critique myself and improve upon the things that I did well, too.”
“Tempo” has been a buzzword of Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. On Friday night, Grossman and the offense operated at a crisp pace. The coaches prefer that their quarterback get the unit to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball before the defense has time to figure out what the offense is trying to run.
Most of Grossman’s passes were quick hitters; his 19 completions yielded an average of 10.9 yards. (His longest completion was for 38 yards to Terrence Austin.) Only once did Grossman have to burn a timeout to prevent the playclock from expiring.
Washington got the ball at its own 14-yard line with 1:41 left in the first half, and Grossman was 6-for-6 as the Redskins moved into scoring position at the Pittsburgh 31 with five seconds left. But another missed field goal by Graham cost the team the opportunity to take a lead into the locker room at halftime.
“I thought Rex had a good game,” Mike Shanahan said. “He managed the game well. I was pleased with the way he managed the two-minute offense at the end of the [first] half. You would’ve liked to have put the ball in the end zone a couple more times, but I was pleased with the effort.”
Washington’s starting offense played the first half. It outgained the Steelers 258-129. The Redskins tallied 15 first downs to the Steelers’ nine.
Third-down execution, however, could have been better. The Redskins converted only two of six third-down attempts. One miss came on what would have been a 26-yard strike from Grossman to tight end Fred Davis. Davis caught the ball down the center of the field, but dropped it as he turned upfield and was sandwiched by defenders Ryan Mundy and Lawrence Timmons at the 10-yard line.
Overall, though, the quarterback competition was one-sided, thanks in part to the groin injury that hampered Beck all week. Beck suffered the injury during last Saturday’s practice when he scrambled to avoid a blitz.
Beck initially said the injury wasn’t serious, and that he expected to return in a day or two. But he remained unable to sprint to his left or right without experiencing pain.
Shanahan said after the game that Beck might have been able to play had it been a regular season game, but he didn’t want to risk further damage by playing in a preseason game.
Asked if Beck might start in Indianpolis next week, Shanahan said hopefully so. “I’d like to get him healthy and give him an opportunity to play in Indy, yeah,” he said.
Wide receiver was a position that lacked depth last season, but the Redskins appear to have improved their prospects this season. Moss (seven catches, 64 yards and a touchdown), Jabar Gaffney (five catches, 38 yards) and Anthony Armstrong (three catches, 32 yards) all made significant contributions with the first unit.
Another key position battle is at running back, where last year’s leading rusher, Ryan Torain, sat out with a broken hand. Hightower made a strong statement, rushing for 44 yards on 10 carries.