Observation deck: Redskins-Bills
August, 9, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
Well, if you tuned in to the Washington Redskins' preseason opener because you wanted to get excited about Robert Griffin III, congratulations. You had a fun night. Playing the first three offensive series of the Redskins' 7-6 exhibition victory over the Buffalo Bills, Griffin looked poised, sharp and confident running the Redskins' offense. They didn't try anything too new or exciting, which was no surprise given how important it is for them to protect him and the fact that three of their starting offensive linemen were hurt and missed the game. But Griffin's throws were on target, his decision-making was smooth and nothing about the stage or the moment seemed to overwhelm him.
"It felt extremely good," Griffin said in an in-game interview with the Redskins' radio network. "Coach did a good job calling plays, got me in rhythm and helped get the offense in rhythm on that third drive."
That drive featured three big throws to new Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, including the screen pass that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown. He said in that same radio interview that he was hoping to keep the ball and try to run it in, but that he spotted a linebacker coming up to the line and remembered that the most important thing for him to do in this game was play safe.
The young man is going to be fun, and while it's important not to make conclusions or predictions based on preseason performance, Redskins fans who were looking forward to seeing their guy in game action certainly enjoyed watching him Thursday night.
Here's some other stuff I noticed in the Redskins' preseason opener:
1. Trent Williams made the most impressive play of the game. The Redskins' mercurial left tackle got downfield quickly and blocked two defenders at once on the Garcon touchdown catch. Williams is fast, athletic and as talented as any left tackle in the league, and the sense in Redskins camp is that he's more focused and motivated than he's been in his first two seasons. He looked tremendous on that play and is capable of dominating at the point of attack and at the second level. Williams injured his foot on the extra point, but Mike Shanahan said after the game that X-rays were negative. It would be bad for Washington if Williams were seriously injured. He is by far the best thing the Redskins' offensive line has going for it.
2. Garcon is a very big receiver who plays big. He went over the middle to catch the ball, didn't shy away from contact and looked more than willing to use his frame to help him add yards after the catch. I believe he will be Griffin's go-to receiver and, assuming health all the way around, is almost a sure thing to lead the team in catches this year.
3. Evan Royster can't afford to fumble. I think Royster had moved ahead of Roy Helu in the race to be the starting running back in Tim Hightower's absence. But he couldn't hold on to the ball as Griffin handed it to him, and that's the kind of thing the Redskins can't and won't abide. I still don't see what all the fuss is about with Helu, who's fine in space but doesn't break tackles. But whatever separation there may be between the two in the coaches' eyes will be easily negated if Royster can't hold on to the ball.
4. Ryan Kerrigan is a very good player. We know he can get after the passer, but in this game I thought he showed improvements in pass coverage and other key areas. He stayed home and batted down a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass at one point, and he was his usual disruptive self when he did get into the backfield.
5. The Redskins' coverages are a team effort. There are major questions at cornerback and safety, and they showed up, especially when Buffalo's Stevie Johnson was in the game. But you can see that the Redskins believe it's important their cornerbacks not be isolated. They're always getting help from a linebacker underneath or a safety over the top. Washington's hope is to make up for the lack of quality in the secondary with quantity and teamwork.
6. They have lots of defensive line depth. The performances of guys like Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker and Chris Neild -- especially at the goal line -- showed why the Redskins consider the defensive line a strength of their team. They should be stout against the run and able to create pressure with their defensive front, which also should take some pressure off the secondary.
It wasn't all roses. Niles Paul dropped a couple of passes. Rex Grossman looked shaky as the backup quarterback. And I don't think I even saw Santana Moss once. But all in all, lots of positives from the Redskins' first preseason game. And for a team looking to improve and feel good about itself, that can matter.