- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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As much as everybody tries to read meaning into the on-field results of preseason games, the only thing that truly matters to the teams is getting through them healthy. For that reason, the Washington Redskins' 33-31 exhibition loss to the Bears in Chicago on Saturday night was a painful one. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather both left the game in the first quarter with injuries -- Meriweather to his knee, Orakpo to the same pectoral muscle he tore last year. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that both would have MRIs on Sunday, and obviously when you lose two defensive starters you have to be concerned. Inside linebacker London Fletcher also was a late scratch from the starting lineup Saturday, and Shanahan didn't say much about Fletcher when asked postgame.
So it was a troubling night for the Redskins because of what was happening on the trainer's table, not so much because of what was happening on the field. Remember, we absolutely cannot make long-term predictions based on these games. We don't know what we're watching. Some teams game-plan for opponents in preseason, other teams don't. Much of the decisive action comes against third-teamers that won't see the field all year. All we can do is evaluate one night's performance for what it is, and to that end ...
1. Robert Griffin III is still learning. And this is fine, of course. It is to be expected. The hype around the Redskins' rookie quarterback has been intense and exciting, but on occasion it can seem to ignore the important fact that Griffin is a rookie who must learn and get used to the challenges of the NFL game. In the preseason opener last week in Buffalo, the Redskins worked hard to protect Griffin, limiting his throws and his reads to the quickest possible, and he looked very good. He makes smart decisions and displays the kind of poise and leadership you want to see from your franchise quarterback. But the Bears' Cover 2 made things more challenging for Griffin on Saturday, as did Chicago's Julius Peppers-led pass rush, and Griffin looked shakier in Game 2. He was 5-for-8 for 49 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled on one of those sacks. Fred Davis missed a block on the fumble snap, and rookie running back Alfred Morris admitted to reporters after the game that he'd failed to pick up the blitz, but Griffin also needed to protect the ball better while running from the pressure. In general, he looked like a rookie who needs to show more composure against the rush. And again, at this stage in his career, there's nothing wrong with that at all.
2. The secondary looked like a mess. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a field day from the start. He found big Brandon Marshall up the right sideline for 41 yards after Marshall blew past Cedric Griffin. It looked as though cornerback DeAngelo Hall was playing free safety on that play, perhaps as part of this weird plan to convince Hall he can be used the way Green Bay uses Charles Woodson. It didn't work. Later, Marshall caught a 20-yarder on Josh Wilson. This time, Meriweather was providing the safety help but overshot the tackle. Orakpo got hurt in coverage on Devin Hester, and I still can't figure out what he was doing so deep. Alshon Jeffery had a big catch a little bit later on, and it looked like he had linebackers in coverage as well. I understand the safeties are new and they're moving the cornerbacks around a lot, but the Redskins' coverages Saturday did not look cohesive while the first-teamers were on the field. I thought Madieu Williams showed some good things, including an open-field tackle of Earl Bennett.
3. Brandon Banks showed something as a returner, with a 91-yard punt return, and Aldrick Robinson flashed his incredible speed as a receiver, bursting into another gear on his 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Weird thing is, Robinson doesn't show much as a returner and Banks hasn't shown enough as a receiver. If you could combine them, you'd have something. But the Redskins might not be able to keep both.
4. Morris got the start at running back over Evan Royster with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu hurt. Early on, Morris showed why Shanahan likes him. He makes one cut and then gets upfield quickly, which is essential for success in Shanahan's zone-blocking run game. He also has that good forward body lean, which helps him pick up yards after contact. The sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic had 34 yards on 10 carries. Royster was the third-down back even when Morris was in the game, and he had 20 yards on two carries. Tristan Davis had 10 carries late but did little with them and isn't likely to be a factor when this running back mess gets sorted out. Morris is a factor, right now.
5. Kirk Cousins. Yes, he looked great. He was a stunning 18-for-23 for 264 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one to newly converted tight end Niles Paul, the one to Robinson and one to Dezmon Briscoe. The Redskins like Cousins a lot. But no, as anyone who's really paying attention knows, there's no quarterback controversy in Washington and there's not about to be one. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to get Griffin. They did not do that for Cousins. Their plan for Cousins is to develop him as a backup and, ideally, trade him for something of value down the road the way Andy Reid and the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb. Preseason performances like this one can only help with that latter goal. But remember, the performance was against backup defensive players. Cousins never saw Peppers.