The Washington Redskins left Ralph Wilson Stadium outside Buffalo late Thursday night feeling good about their initial performance of the preseason. The players had Friday off, but Coach Mike Shanahan planned to spend much of the day and another chunk of Saturday morning studying the game film.
Immediately after the 7-6 victory — which featured an 80-yard touchdown drive led by Robert Griffin III, and a tout effort from the defense — Shanahan expressed pleasure at the performance. But he was careful not to heap too much praise on his players.
“I’ve got the worst seat in the house,” Shanahan said of his spot on the sideline. “I’ll get a chance to look at that about six, seven hours over the next couple days, look at each position — offense, defense, special teams. That’s when you really get a good feeling of who played well and who didn’t.”
The tape will reveal the positives associated with the scoring drive and defensive stand. But it will also shed light on times when the team struggled. Was Pierre Garcon in bounds on the third-down toss from Griffin that was ruled incomplete? What caused the bad handoff between Griffin and running back Evan Royster that resulted in a lost fumble? Why did Rex Grossman and the second-team offense struggle so mightily? How could the nine penalties committed by Washington have been avoided?
“We were a little sloppy here and there,” Shanahan said. “We’ll have a chance to go back, look at the film and be pretty tough on ourselves and get the chance to evaluate some of our younger players.”
Neither Griffin nor Royster wanted to blame the other for the botched handoff. But neither really blamed himself, either.
“It’s tough,” said Royster, who is auditioning to be the starting running back. “Every now and then when you’re working with a new quarterback, you’ve got to work on some things. I was getting to the hole and thought I was late. I was closing my hand and it hit my bottom hand and just kind of rolled off. It was neither of our faults, just something we have to work on.”
Three holding calls (two on offense, one on defense) and timing issues also will be addressed when the Redskins resume practice Saturday.
But Washington has plenty to build on. Griffin’s transition remains incomplete, but his snapshot performance gives the Redskins cause for optimism. Aware that the going gets tougher during the regular season, when defenses game plan for their opponents, Shanahan said the preparation work — more tough challenges from Washington’s own defense in practice, and the Chicago Bears, the Redskins’ next opponent — will continue.
“It’s a growing experience every game,” the coach said. “. . . You need repetition and I think the hardest thing for any young quarterback is you come in in passing situations, which we’ve worked on quite a bit — second and 15, third and long — it takes a while. You’ve got to have a good supporting cast, and everybody’s got to be on the same page.”
On defense, the starters appeared close to midseason form. They limited the Bills to only two first downs, one on a 26-yard strike to tight end Scott Chandler. The Redskins dodged a bullet when a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Stevie Johnson was negated by an illegal formation call.
But as a whole, the defensive players felt pleased about their performance.
“We’re trying to pick up where we left off. Guys are comfortable in the defense — third year in the system,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Guys were moving around, not really stagnant. Third year in the system is going to be great for us.”
Despite the optimism, Redskins players and coaches know that ultimately, preseason outcomes matter little. Last season, Washington went 3-1 in exhibition games and mustered only a 5-11 record in the regular season. And in the last five preseasons, the Redskins have gone 11-10 only to post a combined 32-48 regular season mark.
Griffin naturally intends to use the preseason as a foundation for the regular season. Rather than dwelling on the franchise’s past shortcomings, the quarterback wants this year’s Redskins to write a story of their own.
“Just because it’s been that way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t go out and finish strong in the future,” he said. “You learn from history, but you also don’t doom yourself because of the past.”