A somber mood from the players and coaches immediately following a game was a common theme for the Washington Redskins last season, after posting a disappointing 4-12 record. Tonight, however, they had their heads bowed for a different reason. Although the Redskins came away from Cleveland with a 20-17 win in week one of preseason, it came at a heavy price. Locker room favorite and respected team leader Tight End Niles Paul‘s season is over before it even really began, suffering a dislocated and fractured ankle only days after his hard work was rewarded by being listed as the starting Tight End on the Redskins first unofficial depth chart.
The impact of the injury on team morale was palpable post game, with Head Coach Jay Gruden first up to the podium and sharing his sadness, saying;
“It’s a huge loss for us, really. One, he’s a great player. He’s worked so hard to get where he is. But two, he’s a great leader for this football team. The staff and the players are sick about this, right now. He’s going to be okay, I’m sure, but it’s a major loss for us”
Injuries are a part of football, to be sure. But it cannot be overstated how much of an anchor Niles Paul was in the Redskins locker room. Just last week during that melee against the Houston Texans, Paul was in the thick of it defending his team mates and displaying nothing but pride in the Burgundy and Gold he wears on his back. An already depleted and unreliable stable of Tight Ends remains, and it will be interesting to watch how Scot McCloughan addresses the loss of his first starter in his tenure as the Redskins General Manager.
- The Offensive Line got some good work in against a pretty formidable front seven. Neither the first or second unit gave up a sack, and whilst Quarterback Robert Griffin III did take a couple of hits in the pocket, these were more a result of him standing tall as opposed to pressure getting past his protection.
- Alfred Morris averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Matt Jones averaged 7.6. Chris Thompson averaged 5.6. All three Running Back’s numbers are a little inflated by big plays, but the overall theme was that the Offensive Line was giving the ball carriers room to work. Here are two examples of that;
- On this 18 yard carry by Morris (on 4th down, no less), Brandon Scherff, Kory Lichtensteiger and, to a lesser extent, Morgan Moses do a nice job of blocking the defenders and opening up room on the outside for Morris to get around. As you can see, Moses initially makes the wrong read about which defender to pick up, forcing Morris to dodge him with a nice and subtle sidestep. Moses recovers though, and helps bring the defenders to the ground allowing Morris to pick up big yards.
- The longest rush of the day for either team came on this 23 yard carry from rookie Matt Jones, ensuring that the preseason buzz surrounding him will only continue to grow. This nice gain was only possible thanks to Tom Compton engaging with the defender, grappling him solidly, rotating him around and opening a gap for Jones to work into and then spin out of into daylight.
- On the other side of the trenches, the Redskins new and improved Defensive Line lived up to it’s reputation, holding five combined Browns Running Backs to a total 32 yards on the ground. The few yards the Browns did get on the ground certainly didn’t come on runs up the middle, where the combination of starters Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea and Jason Hatcher, and backups Chris Baker, Ricky Jean-Francois and Frank Kearse gave up essentially nothing.
- Rookie Outside Linebacker Preston Smith had a nice first showing, leading the team in tackles with 5-1 and a sack on Browns QB Connor Shaw in the 3rd quarter. Smith got work from both the Right and Left Outside Linebacker positions, but seemed to look more comfortable working from the Right side of the defense.
- Kirk Cousins had struggled through Training Camp but came out today looking motivated and sharp. Cousins threw 12/14 for 154 yards, and ran in a perfectly executed read-option Quarterback keeper for a 4 yard rushing TD as well. To be fair, there was a noticeable drop-off of quality between the Browns first and second team defenses, especially when it came to their secondary, but regardless it was a much needed positive showing from Cousins today.
- Robert Griffin III‘s numbers don’t tell the full story. The stat sheet will show that he went 4/8 for 36 yards, 0 TD and 0 Interceptions. The reality of the matter is that the stat sheet should actually say he went 5/8 for 97 yards and a Touchdown. Here’s why:
- As you can see, on 2nd and 5, Griffin took the snap under center, motioned a hand-off to Morris up the middle which completely froze Free Safety Tashaun Gipson, and had Pierre Garcon with a deep pass that should have been six points. But Garcon dropped the ball.
Some will argue that the throw wasn’t perfect; it was a touch underthrown and should have been thrown to the inside instead of the outside. Those statements may be true, but the fact remains it was an extremely catchable ball that split the two defenders perfectly, hitting Garcon in stride only 14 yards out of the endzone. Frustrating for all involved, including the fans. But Griffin’s fundamentals were, like in Training Camp, noticeably improved. His work at going through his progressions and reading the defenses was also demonstrably better in his limited body of work tonight. Good signs for Griffin who is admittedly still a work in progress in terms of his development.
- Kai Forbath proved the conventional wisdom about him being a “gamer and not a practice guy”, looking reliable in the Field Goal department tonight. A sigh of relief after his dismal showing throughout Training Camp.
- The Cleveland Browns drew first blood with a endzone touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin from Josh McCown. It’s difficult to say who amongst the Redskins Defensive Backs was out of position on the play, but someone was as Benjamin was all alone after a few seconds of McCown scrambling behind a collapsing pocket.
- Both Andre Roberts and Chris Thompson looked shaky in the return game. Roberts fumbled a punt return at the start of the second quarter that gave the Browns the ball 36 yards away from pay dirt. The Browns went on to score a touchdown on the possession.
- Although overall it was a good day for the starters on the Offensive Line, as we mentioned earlier, there were a few plays that were less than stellar. Both Moses and Shawn Lauvao had snaps where they made the wrong decision regarding which defender to block, resulting in running lanes closing down or Quarterbacks pressured and hit. Expect Coach Bill Callahan to work with them on their decision making this week in practice.
- A few of the Cornerbacks were playing a little too physical, most noticeably when Chris Culliver gave up a Defensive Pass Interference early in the game that gifted the Browns the necessary field position and new set of downs that saw them go on to score the games first touchdown.
- Kirk Cousins is still telegraphing his throws too much. If he was going up against starters tonight, there were certainly balls he threw that would have been at risk of being intercepted. He needs to work on looking off his receivers and not making it so easy for defenders to read his eyes and body language.
- Injuries. Alongside Niles Paul, Running Back Silas Redd Jnr may also be out for the season with a suspected ACL injury. Duke Ihenacho and Matt Jones both got dinged up during the game, and Je’Ron Hamm got poked in the eye badly enough that he didn’t get back off of the bench once he sat down. Injuries are never fun no matter when they occur, but during the week one preseason game they sting just a little bit more.
Next week the Redskins host the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field for yet another Thursday night game. The Lions, by the way, beat the New York Jets 23-3 today.
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