It’s just preseason. It’s just preseason. It’s just preseason.
That’s the thought you have to continue to remind oneself after watching the Washington Redskins’ first-team offense sputter for a second straight game. After a lackluster performance against the Baltimore Ravens last week, the theme was “it’s just preseason.”
Saturday against the Green Bay Packers was more of the same, and now while it’s not time to panic just yet, their inability to run the football, score in the red zone, and suspect play-calling is a bit troubling. Of course, it’s just preseason.
Here are five biggest takeaways from Saturday’s 21-17 loss.
1. Run Game Root of Lackluster First-Team Offense
No not again. The Redskins first-team offense sputtered into a three-and-out to start the game. The offensive line failed to match the intensity of the opposing defense. And it all starts at left guard.
Last season, Shawn Lauvao was the weakest link of an otherwise impressive offensive line. The Redskins had too many other areas to address in the offseason and Lauvao returned seemingly etched in stone as the starting left guard. However, just like last week, Lauvao was consistently stood up by the defense and pushed back. As a result, starting running back Rob Kelley and the run game suffered.
Kelley mustered just nine yards on nine carries. Sans one play where Niles Paul completely whiffed on a block on the edge, Lauvao was seemingly the culprit for every failed run play. A frustrated Kelley trotted off the field in the second quarter after being met right after the hand-off. His biggest run of the night was a four-yard off tackle run.
Preseason some coaches don’t want to tip their hand. Jay Gruden is seemingly falling into that category. And one will have to hope that when the regular season begins, Washington will have a more conscience effort to run right or off-tackle more often.
2. Kirk Cousins, First-Team Offense Finally Scores a Touchdown
Gruden said quarterback Kirk Cousins was a bit “antsy” early on despite the good protection. Cousins misfired on half of his first 16 passes. He settled down with more snaps and finished the game with an impressive 14-of-23 passing for 144 yards and one touchdown.
That touchdown came just before halftime, as he hit Jamison Crowder on a four-yard stick route in the end zone. The scoring pass came on 4th-and-goal after the team struggled to score on the first three plays — a Rob Kelley stuffed run, two misfires in the end zone. The score was the first-team’s first touchdown of the preseason.
The red zone offense is still a concern without Jordan Reed but no need to panic. The Redskins avoided running a fade route with its first-team. And lost in any commotion was a first quarter touch pass to Vernon Davis that was broken up by the defender in the end zone.
Davis had a step, and while the pass was a bit flat, Davis could have done more to fight for the ball to help Cousins out. If you argue that point, see Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Martellius Bennett on a similar situation. Bennett fends off Redskins linebacker Zach Brown getting the ball at its highest point, leaving Brown no chance to reach in to break up the pass.
You’d like to see Cousins work more to Terrelle Pryor, but again its preseason. Pryor’s routes have not been crisp, and Cousins is just trying to get the ball out. However, Cousins had two of the three prettiest thrown passes of the night by a Redskins’ quarterback. He threw two dimes that would make former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer proud.
The first went to Chris Thompson on a wheel route for 29 yards.
A glimmer of positive; Kirk Cousins throws a dime to @ChrisThompson_4 on the outside for a big gain.
Against 2nd team defense, but still… pic.twitter.com/ilRTabHoVp
— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) August 20, 2017
He followed that up with a similar throw and route concept for 43 yards to Davis.
— NFL (@NFL) August 20, 2017
Cousins is the starting quarterback and his struggle is a byproduct of the attitude of the Redskins approach to preseason. It’s concerning Washington has approached the preseason as practice compared to its two opponents thus far, but it’s no reason to start a quarterback controversy or be overly concerned.
3. Another Stacy McGee Penalty Negates Defensive Stop
Stacy McGee signed a five-year deal worth $25 million with the Redskins this offseason. He is expected to be an integral part of the Redskins’ defensive line. Unfortunately, his first two games in the burgundy and gold has been marred by two dumbfounded penalties.
Last week he negated a defensive stop that would have resulted in a missed field goal by the Ravens. Unfortunately, he illegally lined up over the center, not only resulting in a penalty, but a first down for the Ravens’ offense. They scored a touchdown on the rejuvenated drive.
On Saturday, McGee’s lack of hustle and understanding of the situation and the personnel he was facing resulted in again negating a Redskins stop. After the Redskins seemingly stopped the Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on an opening possession, McGee was the culprit for a “12 men on the field” penalty. The five-yard penalty gave the Packers a first-down thanks to the distance.
McGee casually trotted off the field as the Packers were set to snap the football. The King of drawing off-set penalties, Aaron Rodgers, recognized McGee’s slow pedaling and snapped the ball. He overthrew Jordy Nelson, who had Bashaud Breeland beat, but it didn’t matter. Initially missed by the referees, Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy challenged and won the fact McGee was not off the field at the time of the snap.
What should have been a three-and-out turned into a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Rodgers finished the drive 6-of-8 passing for 37 yards and a touchdown. He was 5-of-6 from the point of the penalty.
Two weeks in a row a mental gaffe proved costly for the Redskins defense and by the same player each week.
4. Inside Linebacker Competition More Intense than Before
The Redskins have a battle for inside linebacker, if you haven’t notice. Zach Brown, Will Compton, and Mason Foster appear to be battling for two starting spots. This week, Brown replaced Compton with the first team. Brown moved in at the Mo spot, while Foster shifted over to the Mike. The results were good. They stifled the Packers run game, and Foster’s coverage over the middle on Bennett was impressive.
There were times Foster was pushed back, but overall Brown and Foster did well. However, the knock was the Foster’s spacing on other passes and his range — still minor at this point. Brown’s inability to jam and press Bennett in a one-on-one man coverage, allowed Bennett to get over top of him and snag a fade from Rodgers to cap off the Packers opening drive with a touchdown. But the two seemed to move well together, Foster and Brown.
Meanwhile, Compton did just as well playing alongside Martrell Spaight and the second unit. Compton consistently got through the line closing gaps like a Mike should. He had one true negative just like Foster. Compton’s was a run play where he shot the gap but failed to wrap up the runner, it resulted in a five-yard gain for Aaron Jones instead of a three-yard loss.
Spaight was the biggest surprise. While it appears to be a three-man race, Spaight shined next to Compton. He interchanged with Compton as the Mike and was consistently at the line scrimmage. He had two plays that stood out, one stopping Brent Hundley on a quarterback scramble on a 2nd-and-goal play. The other came on the next possession when he read and burst through an unsealed gap to stuff Devante Mays for a three-yard loss.
Martrell @spaight1 with a perfectly timed blitz and makes a huge stop in the backfield.
— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) August 20, 2017
In all, all four backers were impressive and the decision to who starts will be just as difficult as it was the week prior. None of the three (make it four) stood above each other, not because of anything lackluster, because all four were great overall. It’s looking more and more like the Redskins will have to play the hot hands and rotate the inside backers based off situational football.
We shall see. Keep in mind, in practice it’s been a constant rotation between Compton, Foster, and Brown. It’s anyone’s guess where it looks in the coaches’ minds until an official announcement is made. But having four solid options is a good problem.
5. Fabian Moreau Catching Wanted Attention
The Redskins defense is stacked, especially if the inside linebacker position plays as well as it has throughout training camp and preseason. The secondary is loaded with talent and one of those talents may not see significant snaps on defense because of that depth.
Rookie cornerback Fabian Moreau had a first-round grade throughout several teams’ scouting. However a pectoral muscle caused him to fall to the third round of this year’s draft. That was a great thing for the Redskins, who swept him up. Now healthy, he is getting an opportunity after missing some time.
He won’t start at least at the start of the season in any of the three corner spots. But he can make an impact on special teams. On Saturday he did just that on his first rep.
Moreau hustled past the Packers’ blocking and gunned down the field. His burst and charge played a huge factor in Trevor Davis muffing the punt. As Moreau slid into Davis, Niles Paul was able to scoop the loose ball giving the Redskins possession and great field position.
Fabian Moreau forces the muffed punt, and the #Redskins recover!
— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) August 19, 2017
Moreau did a great job on another punt getting past blockers and forcing a fair catch.
He also was solid on defense. He did allow a huge gain by Jeff Janis. As you look at the play Moreau was just a half of a step behind. He did a good job of riding out the route. But, the rookie learned a viable lesson, quarterbacks in the NFL can place a pass on the money no matter how good the coverage appears. Riding out the receiver in college works, not in the NFL.
— Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) August 20, 2017
The night was still an overall win for the rookie, just ask Redskins’ top corner Josh Norman.
“It’s no joke what he’s putting out there on the field,” Norman said of Moreau per Peter Hailey of CSN Mid-Atlantic. “Obviously he’s going to be a great talent in this league to come. But he’s still going to work on some things. We’ll get him better each and every day. He’s going to work with us. We’re going to get him to the level he needs to be.”