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Redskins Beat Titans, 22-21: Instant Observations

Dan Ciarrocchi gives his initial Redskins thoughts and observations after the team defeated the Tennessee Titans in the 2013 preseason opener.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins displayed some encouraging and not-so-encouraging moments after defeating the Tennessee Titans during Week 1 of preseason. Here are my initial observations:

  • No one expected Mike and Kyle Shanahan to delve deeply into their playbook during a preseason game, but it's apparent they wanted quarterback Kirk Cousins to work frequently with playaction. That's not a huge surprise from one of the run-heavier teams in the NFL. In addition to Cousins' beautiful execution on his touchdown pass to Fred Davis on a bootleg playaction, another play that stood out was Cousins' incomplete pass to Logan Paulsen earlier in the first quarter. A would-be three-yard play doesn't sound particularly impressive, but with a collapsing pocket, Cousins never panicked, progressed through his reads and delivered an accurate throw to Paulsen in the flat. To see Cousins go through his progressions and find the right read with limited time is encouraging.
  • Jim Haslett may have been a little more transparent than his counterparts on offense, giving an interesting glimpse of what may be to come this season. Brian Orakpo and Brandon Jenkins lined up on the outside and had Ryan Kerrigan line up as a three-tech on third down. The result? Kerrigan bullied touted rookie Chance Warmack into the backfield and picked up a sack. Welcome to the NFL, Chance.
  • Another "welcome to the NFL" moment came shortly after when Chris Johnson bolted through the Redskins defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. What will stick out is Bacarri Rambo getting introduced to having his ankles broken at the NFL level, but Brain Orakpo didn't contain the edge and instead chased after quarterback Jake Locker. When Johnson has a head of steam, he's still as tough a runner to take down as anybody in the league. Not an excuse for Rambo to have missed a tackle, but it's worth mentioning that he was hung out to dry.
  • Shonn Greene also looked spry in the first half, and that's not a good thing when he looks that way against your defense. To be fair though, Greene showed burst that just hasn't been apparent in recent seasons with the Jets. He beat Perry Riley to the sideline on his first carry of the game and went almost untouched on his 19-yard touchdown run thanks to a key block by backup tight end Taylor Thompson. Thompson completely devoured safety DeJon Gomes who was playing at the line of scrimmage in run support. That positioning didn't help a bit.
  • And while we're on the subject of running backs, Roy Helu looks ready for action. One of his more impressive runs of the game came on an improvisation when blocking broke down on a toss play to the left hash-mark. Helu instead cut back and got close to a first-down on an eight-yard run. He looks quick, healthy and ready to take a stranglehold on the team's third-down back role.
  • David Amerson almost made himself an immediate fan favorite on his very first target. With Kenny Britt running a post, Amerson mirrored his receiver and turned his head at the precise moment to make a play on the ball. His hands were positioned to pluck the ball out of the air, but the ball tipped off of his hands and then bounced off Britt's chest. One of the knocks on Amerson coming out of college is that his eyes often got lost in the backfield. Didn't happen on that play.
  • More on rookie pass rusher Brandon Jenkins- he flashed some quickness, which is huge considering he sat out his senior year at Florida State with a foot injury. On third-and-two, he utilized a nice speed rush to force Locker to throw quickly. Wide receiver Kendall Wright was wide open and dropped the pass to give the Redskins defense a breather.
  • Brian Orakpo recorded his first sack in game action since September 16, 2012. He beat tackle Michael Roos around the edge at about a 35-degree angle to take Locker down. He showed tremendous balance and explosion and appears not only healthy, but he also seemed to have added some more elements of versatility to his arsenal of moves.
  • Rob Jackson continues to be alert in coverage. He batted down a third-down pass attempt by Locker and diagnosed a route to the flat which he was in position to defend. It was reminiscent of his division-clinching interception of Tony Romo in Week 17's NFC East title game. His absence will be missed in passing downs during the team's first four games.
  • A common gripe addressed to Leonard Hankerson is that he hasn't been the goal-line presence the Redksins anticipated he would be when they used a third-round selection on the big-bodied receiver. If he wants to put those concerns to rest, he made a good start with his red-zone touchdown at the end of the first half. Hankerson caught a screen from Grossman at the Titans 11-yard line and exploded into the end zone, showing a long-awaited burst. Great way to end the half.
  • Chase Minnifield's game may not have been flashy, but upon initial observations, he never seemed to wander far off from the man lined across from him. He was beaten on a fluid comeback route by Nate Washington, but Minnifield made solid tackles and nice breaks on the ball throughout the night. I had him projected to make the team's final 53 at the beginning of camp and he hasn't done anything to sway my prediction. Yet.
  • The Titans carried the ball 13 times for 103 yards in the first half. That's an average of 7.92 yards per carry against the team's first and second string defenses. If you take Johnson's 58-yard touchdown out of the equation, it's a much more manageable 3.75 yards per carry. Still, that number seems to grossly overstate the Redskins run defense's first-half effectiveness.
  • On a play that just had vintage Rex Grossman written all over it, wide receiver Lance Lewis made a nice adjustment coming back to a pass Grossman threw off his back foot and to the opposite side of the field. Lewis caught it five yards outside the goal line and bowled over defenders to score a touchdown. Unfortunately it was called back due to an illegal formation, but Lewis continues to show signs of life in his second year in Redskins camp. He also made a very nice catch in traffic on third down late in the game.
  • Donte Stallworth looked like a man among boys versus the Titans second and third string defensive backs. He was getting open with ease, making Rex Grossman's night look much better than it actually was. Unfortunately, Stallworth left the game with a hamstring injury, which he's been dealing with throughout camp. That could be a dagger to his roster chances if it lingers.
  • Jarvis Jenkins will miss four games due to a suspension and no one knows how long Adam Carriker will be gone. Who will step up on the defensive line? Well, Ryan Kerrigan playing the five-tech on a few passing downs may be an intriguing coping mechanism, but that's not a permanent solution. Phillip Merling made a nice play in the third quarter, batting a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass after Chris Baker collapsed the pocket. Merling's roster spot is far from a guarantee, but he didn't make a bad impression on Thursday night.
  • Titans third-string quarterback Rusty Smith led a 14-play, 94-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter.
  • Quarterback Pat White nicely executed a few couple read-option plays, but what stood out to me early on was his inaccuracy, which had been scrutinized so far in camp. It showed up when his second throw from scrimmage sailed high over Logan Paulsen's head, but the tight end snagged it out of the air one-handed. In his fourth season, Paulsen continues to set a high standard for undrafted free agents everywhere.
  • White improved, though. After the offense was well-rested after Smith's long drive, White made a couple short completions to Niles Paul and Nick Williams, and followed those with a 17-yard run off of the read option. He noticed the defensive end to his right play the hand-off and White scampered downfield untouched through the area the end vacated. Made it look easy.
  • Later in the drive, White rolled right, threw across his body (he's a lefty) and found Lewis once again right on the end zone's doorstep. It looked as though Lewis turned the ball over right outside the goal line, but it was a moot point as a roughing the passer penalty was enforced. Preseason Almost-Touchdowns for Lewis Count: 2.
  • I loved White's touchdown run. The center of the field was nearly vacated, but the difference between a good gain and a touchdown was patience in the pocket. White pump faked to the right, which made linebacker Kadarron Anderson stumble and open up the running lane even more. Easy score.