NFL Nation: jordan bernstine

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 40, Saints 32

September, 9, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts from the Washington Redskins' stunning 40-32 season-opening victory over the Saints in the Superdome.

What it means: A complete statement game from the Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who authored a debut for the ages in one of the toughest places in the entire league for a visiting quarterback to play. The Redskins' offensive game plan was designed to maximize Griffin's strengths, and he executed it very well. He was 6-for-6 on an opening field goal drive on which he didn't throw one pass beyond the line of scrimmage, and on the first play of the second possession he hit Pierre Garcon for an 88-yard touchdown pass. For the rest of the day, the Redskins called rollout after rollout, using Griffin's outstanding speed to keep him in space and out of the way of the New Orleans pass rush, and he consistently made good decisions and accurate throws downfield. If Redskins fans wanted to wrap up their day excited about their future with Griffin as franchise quarterback, they got their wish.

The other side of the ball: The Redskins' defense also looked very good. They threw a number of different looks at Drew Brees, using defensive backs to blitz and dropping linemen into coverage. The defensive backs looked good in coverage, too, which was something of a surprise. They hung with Marques Colston and the receivers and broke up several deep passes. The Redskins' best defensive maneuver in this game was their remarkable time-of-possession advantage, as they were able to keep Brees off the field for long stretches. But when the defense was on the field, it appeared to have fresh legs and made plenty of plays.

The other rookie: Sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris got the start at running back and got the bulk of the work all day. He appears to be an excellent fit in an offense that asks its running backs to make one cut and get upfield as quickly as possible. He did some tough inside running and started to break off bigger chunks of yards in the second half. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Redskins stuck with him as the starter for the foreseeable future.

Injuries: Garcon left the game with a foot injury in the second quarter and did not return. Rookie safety Jordan Bernstine was carted off the field with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter. If Bernstine is out for a while, the Redskins may have to go out and find another safety.

Booming leg: New kicker Billy Cundiff was brought in because of his ability to kick the ball through the back of the end zone on kickoffs, and he delivered with six touchbacks out of eight kickoffs. Cundiff also connected on all four of his field goal attempts, the longest of which was 41 yards.

What needs work: They had some issues in the punting game. Sav Rocca had one blocked in the second quarter that gave the Saints a touchdown just before halftime, and there was a bad snap on a fourth-quarter punt that resulted in a circus play and a couple of penalties for illegal activity downfield. You have to wonder about the downfield passing game if Garcon has to miss time. Griffin threw to a wide variety of targets, but Garcon is the one that looks most like a game-breaker.

What's next: The Redskins travel to St. Louis, where they'll play the Rams at 4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday.

More bad news for Redskins' secondary

September, 5, 2012
So, a week ago, it looked as though the Washington Redskins' starting safeties for Sunday's season opener in New Orleans might be Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson. While you might not have been overly thrilled with that pairing, you'd had a chance to get used to the idea that it could work.

Well, on Friday, the NFL announced that Jackson was suspended for a year for his latest violation of its drug policy. And on Wednesday, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told reporters that Meriweather had sprained ligaments in his knee in Monday's practice and will miss 2-to-4 weeks.

The technical football term for this is "not good."

Madieu Williams is the likely starter at free safety, and Shanahan said DeJon Gomes could get the start at strong safety in Meriweather's place. (The other options are Reed Doughty and rookie Jordan Bernstine.) But regardless, one of the Redskins' thinnest positions is now much thinner. And their coverages will be affected by the issues with personnel at safety. The Redskins aren't overly strong at cornerback, either, but when they're at full strength they believe they can compensate for that weakness by not isolating their corners on receivers. They give them help, very often from safeties. Now, they have to worry about their safeties.

Like I said, not good.

On the bright side, it's not as though the quarterback they're facing Sunday is coming off a year in which he set NFL records for passing yards, completions, completion percentage and 300-yard passing games.

What's that?


Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012

Just when I thought I was out, Roy Helu pulls me back in.

As this preseason has unfolded, the one thing we thought we knew about the Washington Redskins' running back situation was that Helu was confirming the coaching staff's fears about his ability to stay healthy. He hadn't been any kind of factor at all since the first preseason game, sitting out practices with sore Achilles' tendons while Evan Royster and Alfred Morris got starts and Tim Hightower made his return from last year's knee surgery. And in the first half of the Redskins' 30-3 preseason victory over the Buccaneers on Wednesday, it was all Royster.

But then in the second half came Helu, showing that burst through the line he showed when he got his chance last year and rolling up 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries. He even added 34 more yards on two catches, reminding everyone of that receiving ability with which they fell in love last year. I thought he looked good in blitz pickup, too. The result was the upstaging of Royster's 10-carry, 44-yard first half and a further deepening of the muddle that is the Redskins' starting running back picture with a week and a half left before the season opener. To wit:

Is Helu really their most talented back? And if he is, can they count on him to stay healthy? Or will nagging injuries always be an issue? Can they use him as a third-down back, or increase his reps in the second half after one of the other guys has softened up the defense?

Is Hightower healthy enough for a starter's workload 10 months after surgery to repair a torn ACL? And even if he is, has he lost a step?

Does Royster show more as a consistent runner than Helu does, in spite of the latter's explosiveness and receiving ability? And if so, is that the more important factor?

Is the rookie Morris good enough yet in pass protection to get significant reps as the starter if need be?

All we know is that (a) they like Hightower as the starter out of all of these guys if he's healthy and (b) he's not fully healthy right now. So there's no way to know who the starter will be on Sept. 9 in New Orleans until we see who runs on the field. But Mike Shanahan believes he has four good running backs who can succeed in his system, and that's fine by him. I reassert my belief that four different backs will start games for the Redskins this year, which is the same number of backs that started games for them last year, and that whoever it is that gets the ball from week-to-week will be a threat to clear 100 yards. Call the Redskins' running back "Timfred Heloyster."

Here's what else I noticed in the Redskins' final game of the preseason. Warning: It ain't much.
  • It's not that they had five sacks -- it's where they came from to get them. Marlon Favorite, Kedric Golston, Darrion Scott... the defensive line was generating pressure up the middle. With backups. And against backups, too, yes, I know that. But what this tells me is that the Redskins' defensive scheme doesn't plan to limit itself to using those outside linebackers to generate pressure. If they get an interior rush going, they could be a real force up front with the depth they do have (ahead of the guys who played Wednesday) on the defensive line.
  • The Redskins had to like seeing rookie cornerback Richard Crawford get an interception a few days after trading Kevin Barnes. Crawford's performance this preseason is one of the things that made Barnes expendable. The Redskins also like rookie safety Jordan Bernstine, who also had a pick.
  • I don't see how Brandon Banks has made the team as a wide receiver. He is still dangerous as a return man, and he had one very long catch. But he doesn't fight for the ball effectively against defenders and just doesn't show enough, technique-wise, as a wide receiver compared to the other guys competing for the spots. And Aldrick Robinson looks like he can handle kick returns, and someone (Santana Moss?) will figure out punt returns.
  • New kicker Billy Cundiff missed from 46 yards, but he sure looked good drilling those kickoffs through the back of the end zone. Expect a lot more of that from the guy who set an NFL record last year for touchbacks in a single season. I have to believe that's why he's on the team and Graham Gano is not.

NFC East training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:


Inside linebacker: Dan Connor versus Bruce Carter.

Carter was the Cowboys' second-round pick in 2011. He was injured when they drafted him, so they didn't expect him to make much of an impact in 2011. Once recovered, he played in each of the team's final 10 games, but didn't play much. With Keith Brooking and Bradie James gone, the Cowboys need a starter at inside linebacker next to 2011 standout Sean Lee. Their hope is that Carter can be that for years to come, and they'd be perfectly thrilled if he could jump in at the start of this season. But they're not kidding themselves, and they know Carter might need some time to develop. That's why they signed Connor, the free-agent from Carolina. Connor's the veteran, and a guy they can plug in next to Lee right away and feel good about. But Carter's the one with the upside, and he's getting first-team reps this offseason while Connor recovers from shoulder surgery. My sense is that Carter will either convince them he's ready and get the job or convince them he's not and leave the job to Connor with the chance that he usurps him later in the year. I don't think Connor's performance in the preseason matters to this competition as much as Carter's does. We could have picked No. 3 wide receiver for this exercise, or guard, or center. But the Cowboys' main issues are on defense, and this is a spot on which the coaches will have their eye later this month.


No. 3 wide receiver: Rueben Randle versus Domenik Hixon.

The Giants have two of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the free-agent departure of Mario Manningham left that No. 3 spot open. They drafted Randle in the second round and think very highly of him, but that's not going to be what gets him the job. He'll need to outplay the other guys in training camp in order to earn it, and the other three names on this list have more experience in the league and the offense. My pick as the current favorite to open the season in that spot is Hixon, who was the favorite for it last year before re-injuring his knee. I think that, if he's healthy, he's got the best chance to land that position. But that's a huge "if" with Hixon, and Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan all have the physical tools they need to impress coaches during this competition. It's probably Barden's last chance to show he can stay on the field and compete. And Jernigan has a shot to stick if he shows he can help in the return game. But my best prediction is a healthy Hixon wins the job and Randle gradually takes snaps away from him during the year as he continues to develop into the long-term answer.


Strong safety: Kurt Coleman versus Jaiquawn Jarrett.

This one got even more interesting with the recent signing of veteran O.J. Atogwe. Given his recent injury history and how slow he looked when actually on the field with the Redskins last year, I still think Atogwe is more likely to be a backup and a veteran mentor than a threat to the starting spot opposite free safety Nate Allen. But it's possible that neither Coleman nor Jarrett will impress enough to win the job. Jarrett is the team's 2011 second-round pick, and they have high hopes for him. He didn't show much last year, and his main problem is that the thing for which he was best known in college -- hard hitting -- is not something he's able to demonstrate during an offseason program. If he can make strides in coverage and then lay some people out in preseason games, he might have a chance to grab the starting spot. But if Coleman beats him out and Atogwe is healthy enough to stick, people will justifiably start wondering whether Jarrett really has a future as a starter in Philadelphia.


Safety: Madieu Williams versus Tanard Jackson.

This one could have been wide receiver, where there's a jumble at the spot opposite Pierre Garcon. But the Redskins' safety situation is its own jumble, and it's one about which more fans probably should be worried. They're projecting Brandon Meriweather as one of the starting safeties. They think he fits their coverage schemes much better than he did those of the Bears last year, and they think the reason the Patriots cut him had more to do with personality conflict than performance issues. So they feel good about that spot. For the other, they like Williams, who has impressed them as an alert and intelligent leader on the field. It's possible he could get a challenge from Jackson, the talented-but-troubled former Buccaneer who's reunited with former coach Raheem Morris (now the Redskins' secondary coach), but they'll need to see Jackson play in the preseason -- and stay clean -- before deciding how much he can give them. They also like their depth here, with guys like DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty and Jordan Bernstine, so it's possible a sleeper candidate could emerge. But as of now, keep an eye on Williams and Jackson fighting it out for that spot next to Meriweather.




Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22