August 29, 2014

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 4 Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It may have been a short week for the Washington Redskins, but it certainly was not short on drama.

From a quarterback controversy to a suspension to a “will he or won’t he” scenario that had Coach Jay Gruden playing his starters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Thursday, the Redskins certainly do not look like a team ready for the start of the regular season.

Many are blaming Redskins great Joe Theismann for at least stirring the quarterback controversy pot with his problematic comments to ESPN, but it’s Robert Griffin III’s production — or lack thereof — that ignited the debate in the first place. Let’s be honest, there is no quarterback controversy in Washington, regardless of what Theismann or the thousands of fans calling for a switch behind center are suggesting. It cannot, however, be what Gruden or Griffin envisioned for the offence after three preseason games, the last of which was RG3’s worst outing.

Even with the offense sputtering, Gruden announced on Tuesday that he had no plans of playing his starters against the Bucs, allowing every Redskins fan to exhale. Then begs the question: was Gruden purposely vanilla this preseason, stunting the offence and Griffin’s efficiency or is Griffin and the starting offense as bad as they appear?

We’ll have to wait until Sept. 9 in Houston to find out.

With the first round of cuts in the books, the dreaded and often ugly fourth preseason game will be the last chance for players on the bubble to put some plays on tape. All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players in advance of the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday, Aug. 30.

There will a number of positions up for grabs when the Redskins travel to Tampa Bay on Thursday, Aug. 28.  Kickoff from Raymond James Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet will broadcast the game to a local audience. The game can also be heard on the Redskins Radio Network.

Third Running Back: Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. haven’t set the world on fire this preseason but they’re not going anywhere. They are locks for this squad and should be. The question is, who is going to be No. 3, joining Morris, Helu Jr., and fullback Darryl Young on the Redskins roster?

Rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd have been spotty but impressive, while incumbent Evan Royster has done everything he can to outplay fellow veteran Chris Thompson.

It is no secret that fans and coaches love Thompson, thanks to his world-class speed, but the guy can’t stay on the field. Gruden went as far as suggesting on Tuesday that the second-year pro needed to learn how to play through pain; not exactly what you would call a glowing endorsement. With Andre Roberts handling returns, Thompson is going to need a miracle to make this team, and chances are he’s not going to find one in Tampa.

Royster has been quietly doing what he’s done since the Redskins drafted him in 2011 — make plays. Not gifted with tremendous speed, Royster has good hands and can be a hard runner when he wants to be. He has shown in the past that if he’s given a chance, he can reel off a 100-yard game or two. With both Seastrunk and Redd battling Royster for one, perhaps two spots, this is going to come down to a numbers game for Royster.

Right now, those numbers are not stacked in his favor, and he will most likely join Thompson on the unemployment line. If the Redskins decide to carry four running backs on the roster, look for them stash Redd on the practice squad if he’s not snatched up first.

Safety Valve: Thanks to his second suspension in as many years, safety Brandon Merriweather will miss the first two games of the regular season, baring the outcome of an appeal, once again leaving Washington coaches scrambling to find a square peg to stuff in a round hole.

With Philip Thomas sidelined with a foot injury, Bacarri Rambo and EJ Biggers, neither natural strong safeties, will be called upon to fill the void. This may be a blessing in disguise for Rambo, who DeAngelo Hall called the preseason’s best defender.

After what can only be considered a disastrous rookie campaign that saw Rambo miss more tackles than he made, he lost what could have been a starting free safety gig to veteran Ryan Clark. The Redskins are no doubt hoping Rambo can be that square peg in Merriweather’s absence, but if he’s not, Biggers has made a career of filling in where he’s needed, splitting time between corner and safety for the Skins last season, and is capable of being a stopgap for two games.

Merriweather’s suspension, combined with Thomas’s injury, which requires a trip to Dr. James Anderson in North Carolina, could end up being yet another reason for coaches to find a place on the roster for rookie linebacker-turned-safety, Akeem Davis, who is a tremendous athlete and has impressed many this offseason. It will be fun to see if Davis can continue to make an impact on Thursday and find his way onto the team.

All Hands on Deck: It has been a long time since the Redskins have had too many talented wide receivers, a problem Gruden has no trouble accepting.

We know Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Andre Roberts are 1-2-3 respectively on the depth chart, leaving spots four, five and six up for grabs. For anyone who’s watched a game this preseason, you know Ryan Grant, a 2014 fifth-round pick out of Tulane, has wrapped up one of those remaining spots, meaning veterans Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Nick Williams, and Aldrick Robinson are left fighting for the scraps.

Robinson has been productive this preseason, albeit against second and third stringers, and has, along with Grant, been a favorite of Kirk Cousins. Once a one-trick pony, Robinson has also shown this preseason that he is more than just a burner, flashing good hands and making the tough catches in traffic. Moss has been steady, and has shown he still has some burst, which may be enough to entice Gruden to make him the sixth wideout heading into the regular season. Although coaches love his size, look for the oft-injured Hankerson to join Williams as the odd men out.

Stay Healthy: There’s going to be 22 men cleaning out their lockers on Saturday. Up to 10 can be added to Washington’s practice squad, while the others will be released. Of those, some may find employment with another team.

An injury can change all of that.

Sure coaches will be looking for players to put plays on tape, to impress, to win a job, but what they are really hoping for is an injury-free 60 minutes of football. There will be players on the field Thursday who will end up playing important roles for the 2014 Redskins, whether as a backup or special teams.

With their 22 starters set, the Redskins have one goal: survive Thursday.


Joe Mercer is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A communications specialist with a municipal government north of the border, Joe is an aspiring author with close to 20 years experience in the newspaper business. Starting as a sports reporter covering the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts for a small daily newspaper in Barrie, Ontario, Joe is also a self-taught graphic designer with more than a dozen regional and national newspaper awards to his credit. A Redskins fanatic since the early 80s, Joe has often made the 12-hour journey from his hometown 45 minutes north of Toronto to Washington for both training camp and regular season games. You can follow Joe on Twitter @stylesmcfresh.

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden comments on Brandon Meriweather’s suspension

The Washington Redskins have their final preseason game of 2014 on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Redskins are coming off of a 23-17 road loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday. Washington is 2-1 this preseason and the Buccaneers are 1-2 after beating the Buffalo Bills 27-14 on the road on Saturday.

[Read more...]

Washington Redskins Monday Morning Roundup

Here’s a look at the top stories coming off Washington’s 23-17 preseason loss to Baltimore:

Washington Post, Liz Clarke: Redskins vs. Ravens: Robert Griffin III struggles, Redskins lose, 23-17

“Of the six drives Griffin engineered, two were three-and-outs. One ended with a sack; another with an interception.

Through three preseason games, the first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown.” [Read more...]

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Here are five big takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 23-17 preseason road loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night:

[Read more...]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 3 Preview: Baltimore Ravens

The Washington Redskins will travel north on I-95 on Saturday to take on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium at 7:30 pm for what figures to be the “dress rehearsal” for the 2014 starters.  Apart from the excitement of seeing every day players into the second half, this preseason matchup should provide even more answers for what the 53 man roster should look like for both teams.

We know about the offense and the development of Robert Griffin III, who gave a mixed performance in the win vs. the Cleveland Browns last week.  But there are several other key factors to keep close tabs on while watching the preseason game that everyone hates the least.

Here are the things to keep your eye on in preseason game 3:

Jason Hatcher: One of the Redskins’ biggest offseason acquisitions, Jason Hatcher, will don the burgundy and gold for the first time this preseason in Saturday’s game.  Hatcher has been sidelined through training camp and the first two preseason games due to arthroscopic surgery he had on his right knee in the offseason.  A dynamic pass rusher, Hatcher brings physicality and also helps to create depth along the Redskins’ 3-4 defensive front, which looks to improve upon a meager 2013 performance.

Hatcher doesn’t figure to play long as the Redskins will most likely limit his snaps, but it will be interesting to see how well he bursts off the line after the snap on that repaired knee.  A solid pass rush is essential, especially when facing Joe Flacco who tends to make poor decisions when he feels pressure.  Chris Baker is the other defensive end and Jarvis Jenkins figures to have some significant playing time this season too.  Hatcher certainly adds to the talent that goes along with these names and Saturday’s contest should be a good measuring stick for how this group is going to look in 2014.

Penalties: The hot-button issue in the NFL this preseason has been penalties, especially those pertaining to defensive holding and illegal contact beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage.  Players, coaches, and fans alike are becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of “yellow” on the field so far this year, with penalties in preseason games up 44 percent.

But that is the reality of the modern day NFL.  The NFL makes its money off of high flying offenses and the players that feature them, so it appears the league will continue to make it tougher for defenders to actually defend. At any rate, defenses must adjust or be doomed to suffer.

Sure, the referees could be just setting a precedent and could back off once the regular season begins, but the Redskins need to start making these adjustments now while they have live game action available to them.  Last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Redskins committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, so this has definitely got to be an area that Jay Gruden will look to improve upon this week.

Third Running Back: Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. are going to make this team.  That is a given.  So who will be the third guy?  This has been one of the biggest questions since the preseason began and both Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd impressed against the New England Patriots.  In the Browns game, it was a mixed bag for the offense as a whole, although Seastrunk certainly didn’t do anything to increase doubt in his abilities.

Chris Thompson is a dynamic and gifted running back and Evan Royster seems to have never gotten a true chance to showcase his true talents since being drafted by the team in 2011.  However, these two seem like the odd men out at this point.  Lache Seastrunk is speedy, shifty and Jay Gruden spent a draft pick on him.  It’s hard to fathom that Seastrunk or Redd would make it to the practice squad before another team picks them up, which leaves Washington’s coach with a difficult decision indeed.

Battle of the Beltway!: The Redskins and Ravens (maybe even more-so on the part of Baltimore) have tried since Baltimore re-acquired an NFL franchise to make this matchup a regional rivalry.  The thing is, it may be developing into one.  The last time these teams faced each other was in the 2012 regular season, where Robert Griffin III’s knee was originally injured, arguably setting into motion the events that led to the Seahawks playoff game disaster and the eventual debilitation of Mike Shanahan and Griffin’s relationship.  However, the Redskins won that game in dramatic fashion, and even though the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl that year, it was still a tough pill for them to swallow.

This may never be a huge rivalry, but there certainly is animosity developing between the fan bases of these two teams.  Some fans of the Baltimore Colts adopted the Redskins once Irsay moved the team in the middle of the night, but then quickly bolted back to Baltimore once the Cleveland Browns made the move in the late 90′s.

Redskins fans hold animosity there and it’s clear that while the Ravens control most of Maryland, anything below College Park, into DC, and well into Virginia and North Carolina is Redskins country, which seems to irk even Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. It will be interesting to see just how many Redskins fans make the trip north for this preseason matchup, and just how electric the atmosphere will be for an otherwise less than desirable exhibition before the real action starts in September.

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden discusses team as the Baltimore Ravens game approaches

The Washington Redskins will play their third preseason game this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens, a Beltway battle set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Washington is coming off a close, 24-23 win over the Cleveland Browns on Monday.

The Redskins are looking to continue their run toward a second straight undefeated preseason after wins over the Browns and the New England Patriots. The Ravens are also 2-0 after wins over the San Francisco 49ers and at the Dallas Cowboys.

Washington head coach Jay Gruden was at the podium Thursday at Redskins Park, discussing the development of rookie offensive linemen Spencer Long and Morgan Moses, impending roster cuts and other topics.

[Read more...]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Analysis: Takeaways for the Defense

The Washington Redskins were able to defeat the Cleveland Browns Monday night in a sloppy game that ultimately resulted in a 24-23 victory for Washington. Here are some key takeaways for the Redskins defense:

AREAS OF CONCERN

Penalties: The yellow flags were a problem for the team all night as they accrued 11 penalties for 100 yards as a whole. The defense was responsible for five of them. The worst of which occurred in the second quarter with the Browns facing 3rd-and-18. Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel could not complete a short pass (which was highly unlikely to get a first down even if completed) but Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers was flagged on the play for defensive holding. Only a five-yard infraction, but one that also results in an automatic first down.

As the official announced the call, the Redskins sideline voiced their frustration. There’s no telling what was said but the uproar produced another flag, unsportsmanlike conduct charged to the Redskins bench, immediately following the initial announcement.

While the second penalty can’t be blamed on the defense, the first one absolutely cannot happen especially in a third-and-long situation. Granted, calls like this one have been in vogue this preseason and it’s possible they’ll tone down the frequency of such calls once the regular season arrives, but it prolonged a drive that should’ve been over and in the regular season, the team can’t afford to give opposing teams those kinds of extra opportunities.

[Read more...]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Analysis: Takeaways for the Offense

The Washington Redskins were able to defeat the Cleveland Browns last night in a sloppy game that ultimately resulted in a 24-23 victory for Washington. Here are some key takeaways for the Redskins offense:

AREAS OF CONCERN

Turnovers: The Redskins first team offense Monday Night much resembled the team last year that turned the ball over 33 times (good for 30th worst in the league). On the team’s opening drive, Alfred Morris was not able to catch a pitch to the left from Robert Griffin III resulting in a lost fumble which set the opposition up with great field position.

On the offense’s next possession, on third and long from Cleveland’s 27-yard line, Griffin made a terrible decision under duress, floating the ball towards a very well covered DeSean Jackson along the right sideline. It was easy pickings for Browns cornerback Joe Haden who returned it 37 yards. It was a throw Griffin just can’t make, especially in scoring position.

The team’s backup quarterbacks didn’t fare much better, as Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy both threw interceptions later on. Turnovers were a major reason why the team struggled last year, often putting the defense in bad situations. This area must improve for the Redskins to be successful in the regular season.

RGIII scrambles: After an offseason where there was much talk of Griffin needing to develop as a traditional “pocket passer” to avoid taking so many hits, the quarterback took his fair share of punishment Monday night. On his first scramble, Griffin struggled to slide after bouncing out wide to the right. He came into contact with Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby four yards downfield, and it resulted in an ugly tangling of his legs as he went down awkwardly.

Later on the same drive, Griffin scrambled again, this time to his left. Instead of ducking out of bounds unharmed after a modest eight-to-ten yard gain, he cut upfield eventually colliding with three successive Browns defenders as he got knocked out of bounds. Not exactly what you want to see in a preseason game that means nothing.

If Griffin wants to stay healthy, he’ll need to better avoid contact going forward. For the record, he vowed to the fans after the game that he’d work on his sliding. We’ll see.

Poor run game: The Redskins first team unit wasn’t very good on the ground, with Morris running the ball 11 times for only 29 yards (a 2.6 average yards per carry). The struggles were epitomized early in the second quarter when the team ran the ball four straight times on the goal line and could not score, resulting in a turnover on downs.

The stretch-zone running game will need to be the backbone of this offense as the Redskins install a new passing scheme under first year head coach Jay Gruden, so they can ill-afford nights like tonight on the ground once the regular season hits.

BRIGHT SPOTS

DeSean Jackson: The team’s prized free agent acquisition had a strong showing in his Redskins debut with two catches for 34 yards. On both receptions, Jackson was able to get yards after the catch using every bit of the quickness and elusiveness we’ve seen throughout his career.

In addition, on the Haden interception, Jackson was ultimately the one to run him down from behind to make the tackle. Great hustle and effort, especially in a meaningless preseason game with nothing to prove. Expect him to be a big part of the offense this season, and not just on deep routes.

Moving the ball: Despite the offense’s turnover struggles, the team was actually able to move the ball pretty well through the air, as Griffin went 6-for-8 for 112 yards. A big highlight was a long 49-yard pass from Griffin to receiver Andre Roberts. On this play, Griffin initially looked right and pump faked before bombing the ball down the field left to Roberts who had the Browns’ Haden beat by a step.

The initial pump from Griffin gave him enough time to squeeze the pass into Roberts before the safety could get back over top to make a play on the ball. A beautiful throw and catch. Jackson clearly isn’t the only one who can beat defenders deep. Expect to see Griffin take some shots down the field to Roberts this year as well.

Kicking: After an opening game in which the rookie Zach Hocker appeared to best incumbent Kai Forbath, neither could distance himself Monday Night. Hocker was a perfect 2-for-2 on both his elongated extra point attempts, while Forbath hit the only Redskins field goal attempt of the game, a 26-yarder, as well as an extra point himself.

Both performed pretty well on kickoffs, although Hocker outdrove Forbath on average and even had a touchback on the game’s opening kickoff. Solid nights for both. The decision on who wins the starting job didn’t get any easier.

Other notables: Rookie receiver Ryan Grant had another strong showing catching four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. It appears he’s a lock to make the team at this point.

Fellow receiver Rashad Ross had another strong night, showing off that same speed he showed in the preseason opener. He again had a long kick return, this time for 42 yards, and again had a long catch on a go route down the sideline, hauling in a 43-yard pass from Colt McCoy. He’s still got to be considered a long shot but his showing so far certainly has helped.

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Review: McCoy’s late TD difference-maker in win over Browns

If you watch the NFL preseason at all, you should expect sloppy and disjointed play, penalties and turnovers. But Monday night, before a national audience on ESPN, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns combined to play a spectacularly sloppy, disjointed, penalty-filled preseason game, with Washington ending on top 24-23.

The teams combined for 21 penalties for 154 yards.

In what was billed as a marquee matchup between media darlings Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, the outcome was more affected by bottom of the depth-chart signal callers, as is usual for the second preseason game.

The first quarter, when both teams played with their starter, suffered flag after flag and three turnovers — and no scoring.

On the last play of the first quarter, Griffin hit a streaking Andre Roberts on a fly for 49 yards to put the first team offense into scoring position.

New head coach Jay Gruden stuck with his starters at the start of the second quarter in an effort to put a score on the board. Gruden called for three straight dive plays, challenging his offensive line to win the line of scrimmage and the one yard needed for the touchdown.

But on three straight attempts, the Browns line was up to the task. On fourth-and-one, Gruden called for an off-tackle left with Alfred Morris and the call on the field was ruled a touchdown. After review, however, it was ruled Morris’ hip had hit the ground before he crossed the goal line and the score was disallowed.

In three series, Griffin finished his night 6-for-9 for 112 yards and interception.

On the subsequent possession, the defense was able to hold the Johnny Manziel-led Browns and forced a punt. On the resulting drive, Kirk Cousins was able to move the second unit offense for a first down, but on a play-action pass as the series continued, he overthrew his receiver and it was picked off by T Gipson, who returned it to the Redskins 15-yard line.

Manziel went three-and-out, and Cleveland settled for Billy Cundiff nailing a 29-yard kick for to give the Browns a 3-0 lead.

As time was expiring in the half, Cousins found Santana Moss on a screen on third and long and the veteran   gained 24 yards for the first down. Later, Cousins hit Even Royster on a circle route out of the backfield for 24 yards down to the Browns’ two-yard line, then two plays later he bullied his way into the end zone to make it 7-3 at the half.

Washington outgained Cleveland 241-84 in the first half.

On the first drive of the second half, the Redskins drove down the field on the legs of Silas Redd, then Cousins hit the impressive Ryan Grant on a fade from 15 yards out to make it 14-3.

The Browns got into the endzone early in the fourth quarter. A 16-play, 68 yard drive culminated with Manziel’s middle screen taken by Dion Lewis eight yards for the score.

On the ensuing possession, Jim Leonhard intercepted Colt McCoy’s first pass and took it 21 yards for a touchdown. After the kickoff, McCoy found Rashad Ross on a go route for 43 yards, but the drive stalled and the Redskins had to settle for a Kai Forbath 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 17.

McCoy then led the Redskins on a six-play, 56-yard drive, capped by his 30-yard touchdown pass to Nick Williams to break the tie.

Unfortunately, Browns fourth-string QB Connor Shaw heaved a 45-yard Hail Mary to Emmanuel Ogbuehi as time expired to draw Cleveland within one point, but the two-point conversion attempt failed, and the Redskins walked away with a 24-23 decision, mercifully avoiding overtime.

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins victory over the Browns

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ Monday night 24-23 preseason victory over the Cleveland Browns.

  1. An up-and-down performance from Robert Griffin III. The interception RGIII threw was an ugly one, where he should have thrown the ball away and didn’t plant his back foot and throw with good form. This will be something the third-year pro will surely go back and correct on film. However, the interception wasn’t helped by poor pass protection by both the offensive line and running back (Roy Helu). However, on the second play of the game Griffin did a fantastic job of standing tall in the pocket, progressing through his reads and finding the open man down field. Griffin also threw a pretty ball to Andre Roberts at the end of the first quarter. Griffin’s transition into more of a pocket passer will take time, but he has shown promise on plays like these.
  2. The defensive pass rush may be the biggest strength on the Redskins entire team. Even without Jason Hatcher the front seven has played very well. The pass coverage has to improve though. The Redskins were bailed out by poor passes from the both the Browns quarterbacks, in addition to some drops from the wide receivers.
  3. The running back position is wide open. Roy Helu still has the inside track on the third-down back job, however, he struggled both in pass protection and in catching the ball against the browns. Evan Royster, Helu’s main competitor for playing time, played very well including an impressive catch-and-run on a circle route and a solid run to finish off a two-minute drive with a touchdown.
  4. Ryan Grant is making a push to be the fourth receiver on the Redskins depth chart. After Aldrick Robinson had a solid performance in the first pre-season game, Grant continues to show rare polished routes for a rookie and consistently good play, including a beautiful touchdown strike from Kirk Cousins.
  5. Turnovers need to stop, especially the sloppy avoidable ones. The starting offensive unit played well, and moved the ball well, but when you fumble a ball that is directly in your hands and throw an easy interception you won’t win many games. Turnover margin was one of the biggest reason for the Redskins success in 2012 (+17) and failure in 2013 (-8). The Redskins simply have to take care of the ball better.
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