I suppose I should be happy with the Washington Redskins getting another August victory, beating the Cleveland Browns 24-23 last night at FedEx Field. But in the first half of the Redskins-Browns preseason game, I just found too much to get aggravated over.
It starts with the defense, as my Redskins consternation usually does. The numbers say the ‘Skins D kept Cleveland’s offense under firm control, whether it was Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel at quarterback. But to watch the game unfold was to see Browns receivers frequently coming open underneath over the middle, with plenty of room to run after the catch. Hoyer and Manziel threw passes into the grass, so it didn’t hurt last night, but against any team with a marginally competent NFL quarterback, those plays will go for a lot of yards.
Yesterday, in a column about a variety of young quarterbacks, I opined that Manziel should simply get the starting job in Cleveland. I still feel that way, but after last night I’m beginning to wonder if the big Manziel-Hoyer debate isn’t akin to what happened in Pittsburgh when I was living there in the early ‘00s. The Steel City was divided over whether Tommy Maddox or Kordell Stewart should be the starter. The answer to that controversy was to draft Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe that’s the case in Cleveland too.
Returning to the Redskins, the offense was more of a mixed bag. The common theme is that nights that were generally solid got ruined with signature bad moments. Let’s start with Robert Griffin III.
I loved RG3’s decision-making, when to run, when not to run and where he went with the ball. His passes were crisp and accurate, and he seemed to be staying in the pocket just a bit longer. There were no cases of happy feet with the pocket started to rumble and he still made a couple plays with his feet.
But on 3rd-and-14 and in field goal range, RG3 made a hideous pass to the right side that got picked off by Joe Haden. A Cleveland blitz was not picked up by Roy Helu, and RG3 had to get rid of the ball immediately. Instead of throwing it out of bounds, he lobbed a softball into coverage that Joe Haden intercepted.
The NFL is a league where games are won and lost by turnovers and plays at signature moments on the field. That’s why seven or eight excellent plays, like RG3 had going coming into that interception, are negated by a single bad decision. It’s one thing if an interception bounces off someone’s hands, or if it’s a spot on the field where it’s worth taking the risk. It’s quite another when the pick is clearly the quarterback’s fault and at a spot on the field where throwing it away clearly makes the most sense.
Fortunately, RG3 was able to undo some of the damage the next possession with a beautiful 48-yard pass to Andre Roberts, hitting the receiver almost perfectly on a fly route. Now it was the offensive line’s turn to spit the bit.
The O-Line did a mostly credible job, opening up holes and providing some decent pass protection. Even when the pressure came on Griffin, it was more due to long coverage by the Browns defensive backs. The cases of the interior line just collapsing right at the snap, as we saw all too often last year, did not happen.
Following the RG3-to-Roberts pass, the Redskins got 1st-and-goal at the one-yard line. Four straight times, Alfred Morris got the ball. Four straight times he had no room to run. I don’t fault Jay Gruden for the play selection—if this were a regular season game, maybe you get a little more creative. But this is a time to find out what the offensive line can do in situations where the defense knows a run is coming. What we found out was not reassuring.
Finally, let’s finish with Kirk Cousins. The Redskins’ backup quarterback continues to showcase a live arm and makes some excellent passes, especially in the intermediate range. But he can be so erratic, that it’s hard to know what to expect from throw to throw. Cousins needs to be more consistent, and whether he’ll get the reps necessary to do so is a fair question, given that this offense is not built around him.
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, and maybe I’m looking for reasons to be annoyed. That’s possible—if you critique any team hard enough, you can find fault somewhere. I’m aware of that. But after four preseason wins in 2013 led to three regular season wins, I’m looking for reasons beyond the winning and losing to find optimism for 2014. I want to see better than what was on the field last night.
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