Quick hit thoughts on the Redskins:
Robert Griffin III’s absence has helped Kirk Cousins. While Griffin has a full season on which to build, Cousins only had 48 passes and a lot of reps with backups. But a full offseason of work with the starters has put him in a better spot. Cousins completed six of seven passes for 52 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener vs. Tennessee. “I like what I see,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He has a good feel for what we’re doing and he has a good command of the offense. He did an excellent job in the game going through his progressions. There are a lot of times when as the second-team quarterback you don’t get the reps like you want. He’ll get those reps so it’s a big plus for his development.”
Griffin understands the connection a fan wants to have with players. Griffin always manages to pump his helmet, give a wink or point in the direction of fans shouting to him during practice (during a down time). And he signs autographs every day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Griffin is aware of how fans respond to him compared to others. He said, “The only thing I worry about, and I talk to my teammates about it every day, I don’t want them to feel bad because the fans are cheering my name and not theirs. I don’t want them to feel bad because a little kid comes on the field and is supposed to be with them and comes to me. That’s the stuff that makes me feel bad. But as long as they don’t mind, then I don’t mind either. But the second that starts getting on their nerves then we’ll curb that real quick and make sure that all these guys get the appreciation and the attention they deserve.”
Donte Stallworth's hamstring sidelined him for several days already and will keep him out of the second preseason game. But, mostly because of the depth at receiver, Stallworth still has a chance to make the Redskins’ roster. After their first five -- Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson -- the Redskins are thin. The sixth receiver, Dez Briscoe, had a rough preseason debut and is no lock. No young receiver has emerged and veteran Devery Henderson hasn’t stood out in camp. So Stallworth, if he can stay healthy, has a shot because he can block (a key component for an outside zone team) and play special teams. If you’re going to be one of the last wideouts on the roster you’d best do both. Of course, this assumes the Redskins keep six wideouts.
Because the Redskins will keep four tight ends and, it appears, three quarterbacks, they’ll have interesting choices at other positions. They could go with four backs, including fullback Darrel Young, and stash one of their two rookie backs – Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison – on the practice squad. Or, if Thompson can’t get healthy, on injured reserve. But a big debate could be along the line. Do they keep eight or nine? They kept nine last year but eight in the previous two seasons. How important is it to them to keep a veteran backup? Because there’s a chance, if they kept eight, all three would be young and unproven: tackle Tom Compton and guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. The vet backup tackle in 2010 was Stephon Heyer; in ’11 it was Sean Locklear and last season it was Jordan Black. If one is kept this year it likely would be Tony Pashos. But he’s still feeling the effects of not only a year’s absence in 2012, but also from developing bad habits while playing with torn tendons in his ankle in 2011.
The Redskins have focused hard on the draft in this regime and there’s a good chance that 20 of their last 28 picks will make the final roster (with one, Keenan Robinson, on injured reserve). And seven draft choices in this regime are projected starters. Building through the draft (and having a franchise quarterback) will give them a chance to buck their history of the past two decades. They haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. Many factors go into this, but an inability to grow and develop their own talent is high on the list. Only two of their first six picks from the 2010 draft remain -- but those two are left tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Perry Riley. Only two starters remain from the previous regime’s drafts: Brian Orakpo and tight end Fred Davis.
The Redskins have not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. They’ve only made the postseason four times since then, including last season. Their win total in seasons following a playoff berth: 8, 5, 8. This is a different team, with more stability -- and better players for that matter -- at key positions. Still, it’s been a long time since they’ve had sustained success. Now you understand why there’s so much love for Griffin -- and anxiety over his knee. Another factor will be turnovers. The Redskins were plus-17 in turnover differential last season. A big reason was Griffin’s ability to avoid killer mistakes. He did not throw an interception in the red zone last season.
The Eagles could threaten the 1,100-play barrier on offense under coach Chip Kelly. Not that this is a guarantee for team success as no team has won a title since 1981 while cracking that mark. And there are still doubts about whether or not the Eagles have the right quarterback to run this attack. The Redskins, incidentally, ran 994 plays on offense and were fourth in points and fifth in yards. Just remember: quality, not quantity. "You want wins, and you want points, and you don't necessarily need more plays to do that -- you just need good ones," said Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold. “It will always be more about how you do it rather than how fast. You can have 50-play games where you were really good and 75-play games when it was a struggle."
I agree with ESPN analyst, and former NFL general manager Bill Polian on this thought: “For people who really like Xs and Os, for football junkies like [Ron Jaworski] and myself and others at ESPN, this NFL season is going to be one of the most interesting in a long time… the idea of how people are going to defense the option is interesting and exciting, and how the new parts of the spread offense and the up tempo offense come into the National Football League and how they function and how people defend against them will be interesting.”
It’s understandable that a team would be sloppier in the first preseason game, but 11 penalties is still way too many. The Redskins committed 116 penalties (16 more than the opposition) in 2012 so this was a bad way to begin. They were flagged for at least seven penalties nine times last year, though only once in the final six regular-season games. You can blame some of it on the replacement refs, but the Redskins averaged 8.4 penalties in the seven weeks after the real refs returned. They need to play more disciplined.