FOOTBALL IS BACK! It's great to be able to say that. It feels like we've all been counting down the days pretty much since the draft back in April. And while it's not the regular season, preseason is good enough to satisfy the thirst for football for the time being. I tweeted my initial notes during and after the game last night, but I thought I'd write them up here as a reaction thread. Apologies in advance for the Ken Meringolo-esc monologue of notes to come.
Lets start with Robert Griffin III, and get that out of the way. He appeared calm and composed throughout. He was focused and looked the part, if he had any pre-game nerves, he certainly didn't show them. His technique was solid on first glance, and he got the ball out on time. He made calls at the line, and appeared to audible out of one pass play, into a run that did get positive yards. It was a solid start for the rookie, and a really nice platform to build off of. But remember, the defense was very simple in terms of coverages, and it was also a very vanilla offense from the Redskins. I'm eager to see how he handles a varied offense against more complex defenses.
One of the big plus points of the night was Griffin's chemistry with receiver Pierre Garcon. Garcon caught three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He also had a pass ruled out of bounds, but was marginally close to being complete. Staying with Garcon, he and fellow wide receiver Leonard Hankerson both managed to pick up significant yards after the catch. This is something we've discussed a lot throughout the offseason, and something the Redskins had been focusing on. Both ran good routes, cutting cleanly and on time, which should help give Griffin confidence when throwing their way. They also showed a willingness to block in the run game, which is another plus point for those guys.
Perhaps the most surprising thing of the entire night was the performance of the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. They started shaky in the run game, but despite being a mix and match bunch after losing three starters to injury, they kept Griffin clean. The only time I remember him being remotely pressured was on a play-action bootleg. But on those plays, there's always a chance the backside defender takes a risk and guns for the quarterback. Griffin saw the defender early and attempted to dump it off to his tight end Niles Paul, who couldn't quite pull it in. Otherwise, Griffin was untouched, as he said in his post-match press conference.
Trent Williams was a stand out performer of the offensive line. The commentators never said his name once, which is usually a good sign for left tackles. He took on some quality pass rushers and held his own. He did leave the game injured however, but luckily the MRI came back clean. Hopefully he'll be fine.
The other stand out, from my point of view, was rookie guard Adam Gettis. He was tested early, and after an initial adjustment period in the run game, showed solid technique. His positioning was good, he anchored well in pass protection and knew what he was doing in the run game. Once he adds some weight and gets up to 290-300lbs, I think he'll be competing for a starting role.
It's fair to say Niles Paul didn't have his best game. I mentioned that he couldn't pull in the hurried pass from Griffin earlier, but he also had a memorable drop in the two minute drill from Kirk Cousins. The ball was very slightly out in front of him, but he got both hands on the ball, he has to pull those in.
I was taken aback by Kirk Cousins two minute drills, until the interception. He went out there and took command, and he appeared to know what he was doing as well. For a fourth round rookie to be able to control a two minute drill like that, even if it was for a couple snaps, was impressive. Cousins showed off his awareness and composure as the game went into the second half. He knew when to step up in the pocket to avoid a rush, but kept his eyes downfield and progressing through reads. The interception was on him. The throw was slightly late, and therefore behind Joshua Morgan. But for a guy that has probably not seen a lot of snaps, he looked much better than I expect him to be. Even if his shirt was too big, and he was wearing John Beck's old number.
I was also impressed with rookie offensive lineman Tom Compton and Josh LeRibeus. They came in early, and faced some tough competition against a strong and deep Bills defensive line. But they didn't look out of place. LeRibeus in particular looked at home. Compton had some tough battles, and had one bad series in the second half against a third string Bills defense. But he has all the tools and athleticism you look for in a tackle.
If there is a competition between Brandon Banks and Aldrick Robinson, Robinson has the upper hand after this game. The Redskins put Banks at the X receiver position, and called his number plenty of times, desperately trying to find a role for him on the team. But his height is really a problem. He couldn't keep his feet in play on a pass at the sidelines, where a taller receiver probably would have been able to (the throw was a tad late, in all fairness). He got open deep a couple of times, but again his size is a huge problem. Even with the arm and deep accuracy of someone like Griffin at quarterback, deep balls are going to be contested. Banks isn't going to out-jump anyone for a ball, and won't ever win a contested deep pass. Robinson, on the other hand, ran a crisp route on a long third down to move the chains, and almost came up with a one-handed catch on a deep ball by Cousins, despite a pass interference called on the defender.
You can't help but like the hustle and willingness to receive and dish out contact from running back Alfred Morris. But I was disappointed that the Redskins started running a power run game with him in the backfield. I've seen him show good instincts and ability in the zone-scheme in college, and I'd have like to have seen that a bit more often last night.
If Ryan Kerrigan isn't one of your favorite Redskins, then shame on you! He's so intelligent and aware of everything that's going on. He picked up a sack and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage, a pretty nice way to open up the preseason. His pass-rush partner, Brian Orakpo, was interesting to watch. I liked that the Redskins were willing to move him around, but I didn't like him rushing from the middle. There's no room in the middle for him to use his athleticism to beat guys, and he generally ends up bouncing outside onto a tackle anyway, just taking the long way round to get there.
With a lot of scrutiny surrounding the defensive backfield, particularly the safeties, they didn't have all the much to do. Brandon Merriweather came down and played some man as the Bills used a no-huddle spread offense. He wasn't spectacular, but didn't make any huge mistakes. That's more what I'm expecting for the safeties this year; rather than making big plays, just concentrating on not making mistakes. If they can manage that, then the front seven will pick them up and put them on their back, like they did in this game.
Cedric Griffin will have to get better. He allowed his cushion to get eaten up much too quickly. A side note, he has a very odd stance before the snap. I suppose that makes it easy to identify him...
Chris Baker is a big guy. If he's in a direct competition with Chris Neild for the back up nose tackle spot, then he's winning. Neild struggled to occupy blockers in the run, often getting pushed back. Baker was taking on two blockers most of his snaps, even when he played out at defensive end, with Neild at nose tackle. He'd quite often push them back or even beat the two blockers as well. He's much more of a presence in the run game as well. I'm eager to see him against a first string offensive line.
Jarvis Jenkins struggled to get into the game. He didn't show any signs of being affected by the knee injury that kept him out all of last season, but he was getting no push early on. One the Bills drove into the red zone, however, Jenkins jolted into action. He started to take on blockers and get into the backfield. It might take Jenkins a while to shake off the rust and fully trust his knee again. But I expect him to come back strong once he does. The only problem I can see with Jenkins is that he likes to blow up into the backfield, which can leave holes behind him for backs to cut into. Sometimes he needs to just hold his position and occupy blockers, allowing someone else to make the play.
Rookie defensive back Richard Crawford looked comfortable returning punts, picking up yards on all of his returns. He looks an early candidate to be the return man should Banks fail to crack the roster.
That wraps up my notes from last nights game. How are you feeling about last nights game? Did you watch the whole thing or just the first half?