Sunday, August 14, 2011

Game Recap: Steelers at Redskins Pre-Season Week 1

(Moss spins into the end zone as Skins win 16-7. AP photo via
I know what you're probably thinking. "Who cares, this is the pre-season a win doesn't matter, heck a great performance doesn't truly matter." And if you were thinking that, you're right. That said, this was a great start for the Redskins as they outplayed the 2010 AFC champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 16-7 victory. As a team the Redskins accumulated over 400 total yards, 27 1st downs and dominated in the time of possession by almost 19 minutes (WAS: 39:25, PIT: 20:35). Most importantly we saw something from the Redskins that we haven't seen in a long while; good performances by both the offensive and defensive lines. The Redskins ran for 140 yards on the ground against one of the better run defenses in the league. The D-line also were able to contain the Steelers for a majority of the game and cause penetration and collapse the pocket. The sole Redskins touchdown came from a Santana Moss catch from Rex Grossman. The 2011 Redskins looked like they were in good football shape and were not making the mental mistakes that I expected them to make with limited time together and with so many new faces on the team (worth noting is that the Redskins had 7 players starting that were not on the 2010 team and numerous players that were on the 2010 team but weren't starters last season).

I also know you might be thinking this as well: "Sure the Redskins looked good, but the Steelers only had most of starters in the game for the first few series." And that's also true. Mike Tomlin went with the classic protocol of playing starters for less than a quarter in week 1 of the pre-season, Mike Shanahan on the other hand felt that the veterans and potential starters needed more time on the field. Remember, the Skins have had limited contact in training camp and were actually hitting and tackling at full speed in this game. But just for the folks who wanted to see true starter vs. starter comparisons, I broke down both the Steelers and Redskins 1st drives and will now show them to you. (-Ed Note: Also, please don't tell me that this doesn't count because Polamalu and James Harrison didn't play. The Skins were without Chris Cooley, Ryan Torain, LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe in this game.) Then I'll have a rookie watch report and IIWII's classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

1st Series (Steelers on Offense)

Kickoff- Touchback as Gano kicks ball through the uprights. Ball at Steelers 20.
Note: One reason why Graham Gano probably makes the roster is that with the new rules, almost every kickoff from him should go into the endzone. Joe Theismann also said it's good to know Gano can hit a 65 yard FG during the broadcast.

Starting Redskins D: Kerrigan (OLB), Carriker (DE), Cofield (NT), Bowen (DE), Orakpo (OLB), McIntosh (ILB), Fletcher (ILB), Hall (CB), Wilson (CB), Horton (FS), Doughty (SS)

1st Play (1st and 10, Steelers 20)- Mendenhall runs off tackle. Gain of 4 yards.
Notes: Ryan Kerrigan pinched in and looked like he lost some contain, allowed Mendenhall to bounce outside. Nice open field tackle by London Fletcher.

2nd Play (2nd and 6, Steelers 24)- Completion to Brown for 19 yards.
Notes: Skins send 5-6 to rush (McIntosh, not sure if he was playing man on RB or was a delayed blitz). Hall vs. Brown, Brown made a nice cut and beat D. Hall. Good pressure on Roethlisberger though.

3rd Play (1st and 10, Steelers 43)- Roethlisberger dumps off to Mendenhall, gain of 3 yards.
Notes: Skins send 4 (Kerrigan, Carriker, Cofield and Bowen). Orakpo drops into coverage. Good rush/penetration by Cofield and Carriker. Roethlisberger is hit on the play.

4th Play (2nd and 7, Steelers 46)- Roethlisberger throws deep to Wallace, Incomplete.
Notes: Skins change to 4-3 nickle package (D-line: Kerrigan, Carriker, Bowen and Orakpo). Send 4 to rush. Steelers stay in to protect. 3 of 4 rushers are double teamed. The lone player not double teamed (Carriker) does get some pressure on Rothlisberger. The good news is that the ball was well overthrown. The bad news was that Wallace had beaten the coverage of Wilson/Horton. Also, it looked like Kevin Barnes was beaten by the player he was covering in the seam.

5th Play (3rd and 7, Steelers 46)- Roethlisberger is sacked by Kevin Barnes. Loss of 9 yards.
Notes: 'Skins in a 4-3 nickle/dime package. Send 5 rushers (Orakpo, Bowen, Carriker, Fletcher and Barnes). Ryan Kerrigan drops into coverage. Fletcher destroys C, Mike Pouncey on his way to Roethlisberger. Kevin Barnes is untouched on the blitz. Barnes gets the credit for the sack but had help from Fletcher. Roethlisberger did get the ball off but was ruled "in the grass".

6th Play (4th and 7, Steelers 37)- Punt to Redskins 1. No return.

2nd Series (Redskins on Offense)

Starting Redskins O: Grossman (QB), Hightower (RB), Young (FB), Moss (WR), Gaffney (WR), Davis (TE), Williams (LT), Lichtenstiger (LG), Montgomery (C), Chester (RG), Brown (RT)

1st Play (1st and 10, Redskins 1)- Grossman to Moss for 16 yards.
Notes: Grossman play action passes to Moss. Steelers LBs bite on the PA. Moss beats his jam on the line. Good job by the O-line, Hightower and Young to pickup the 6 Steeler defenders.

2nd Play (1st and 10, Redskins 17)- Hightower runs left, off-tackle for 6 yards.
Notes:  Skins in 2 TE set (Davis, Paulsen) with 1 RB (Hightower) and 2 WRs (Moss, Gaffney). Chester and Montgomery get pushed back but recover and take out their blockers giving Hightower enough time to break outside for six. Nice seal block by Fred Davis.

3rd Play (2nd and 4, Redskins 23)- Grossman to Davis for 11 yards.
Notes:  2 TE set, 2 WRs (Gaffney and Moss) Grossman with a play action bootleg. Rolls right and hits Davis who is completely uncovered. Classic Shanahan play.

4th Play (1st and 10, Redskins 34)- Tim Hightower runs left for 16 yards.
Notes:  2 TE set, 2 WR set (Gaffney, Armstrong). NT Casey Hampton gets by Chris Chester to get into the backfield but not able to make the play. Nice blocking by Lichtensteiger and Davis to hold their blocks allowing Hightower to break outside and take it up field. Nice down field blocking by Paulsen and Gaffney. Trent Williams got up field incredibly quickly but didn't seem to get a hit on anybody.

5th Play (1st and 10, Midfield)- Tim Hightower runs right for 11 yards.
Notes:  1 TE, 2 WR (Moss/Gaffney), 1 RB, 1 FB. Nice chip by Jammal Brown and then blocked a LB at the next level. Chris Chester and Will Montgomery open a hole for Hightower. Lichtensteiger chops Casey Hampton out of the play. Williams chops DE Keisel, slows him down but he recovers and helps to make the tackle 11 yards later.

6th Play (1st and 10, Steelers 39)- Grossman to Hightower for 8 yards.
Notes: 2 TE, 2 WR (Moss/Gaffney) set. Steelers send 5 with one ILB blitzing. Lichtenstieger was engaged with the DE but saw the blitzer and tried to slow/stop him. Was too late, Grossman is hit while throwing the pass. That said, Grossman knew exactly where Hightower was and made the play. Hightower took it for about another 5 yards.

7th Play (2nd and 2, Steelers 31)- Evan Royster runs right for 5 yards.
Notes: 2 TE, 2 WR set. Royster enters the game for the 1st time as a RB. Not much push by the O-line but opens enough of a hole to get Royster through.

8th Play (1st and 10, Steelers 26)- Grossman to Young for 16 yards.
Notes: This was a play that Rex Grossman made really from nothing. Runs a PA bootleg right. This time however the OLB (LaMarr Woodley) read the play and instead of running with the stretch fake, he charged Grossman. Grossman saw Young wide open and dumped it off to him. Then Young bulldozed his way down the field. (Timeout Redskins).

9th Play (1st and Goal, Steelers 10)- Hightower runs left, stopped for a loss of 3 yards.
Notes:  1 TE (Davis), 2 WR (Moss/Gaffney) set. 7 Steelers on the LOS. Davis and Montgomery get pushed into the backfield and slows Hightower's attempt to break it outside. Young can't hold his downfield block and Hightower gets stopped 3 yards behind the LOS. Nice down field block by Trent Williams though. I wonder why Logan Paulsen isn't in.

10th Play (2nd and Goal, Steelers 13)- Screen pass, incomplete.
Notes: 1 TE, 2 WR set. Gaffney in motion. NT Hampton looks like he gets released too soon by Montgomery, DE Keisel reads play and gets his hands up. Grossman is forced to alter angle of pass and makes a lousy throw. This is a timing play and despite the Skins good tempo/timing in this game, they didn't have this one down yet.

11th Play (3rd and Goal, Steelers 13)- Grossman to Moss for 2 yards.
Notes: 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set. Steelers have 5 on the line but drops 2 on the left side into zone, meanwhile sends three on the right side to cause an overload. Grossman feels prssure and dumps it off to Moss. for 2 yards.

12th Play (4th and Goal, Steelers 13)- Graham shanks a 29 yard FG. Steelers ball.

So, despite the end result, it looks like the Redskins starters fared better than the Steelers starters.

Rookie Watch

Time to look at our 2011 draft picks and a few UDFAs and see how they did.

Ryan Kerrigan- Is going through some growing pains like most rookies do. Plus, much like Orakpo, he's having to learn a new position. It took 'Rak some time but he made it and so will Kerrigan. I did think he did a better job in rushing the passer than I expected at this point in his career. 3 tackles.

Jarvis Jenkins- living up to his camp stories.Made some serious penetrations on a few plays. Nearly had a RB in the back field but couldn't wrap him up (Orakpo made the play at the LOS).

Leonard Hankerson- dropped 2 passes. One hit him in stride and would have been a big gain. Caught 1 pass for 8 yards. I expect him to improve.

Roy Helu- 8 carries 28 yards, long of 18; 1 catch, 10 yards. I like some of what I saw. We also need to remember he took most/all of his snaps with the 2nd and 3rd team O-line.

Dejon Gomes- Had one nice tackle in the backfield (2 tackles total) also sacked Dennis Dixon on a blitz. Not bad.

Niles Paul- Had 1 great catch for 16 yards and was wide open. I'd like to see more of him.

Evan Royster- 15 carries, 66 yards; long 16. Good game. Still needs to improve upon his pass blocking, but it's pretty good. May have a shot to make the 53 man roster.

Aldrick Robinson- Struggled on punt returns. Showed his speed on a Go route and drew a flag on a Steelers defender. Has a long way to go to make this team.

Brandyn Thompson- Was he even on the field?

Maurice Hurt- Was up and down but looked better than last year OL draftees Erik Cook and Selvish Capers.

Markus White- I like this guy. Nice speed, good pressure. 1 tackle. If he can play special teams well, I think he may make the roster.

Chris Neild- Saw him on the field 1-2 times. Did nothing bad, did nothing exceptional.

Willie Smith (UDFA)- Played RT during a large portion of the 2nd half. Pass blocking looked good. Run blocking could be better. Might earn a spot on the PS so the Skins can develop him.

That's about it with the rookies. Time for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

Rex Grossman (19/26, 207 yards; 1 TD)- When Rex Grossman isn't getting hit constantly, he can run this system pretty well. That may be the key. Not that Rex is an elite QB, but he knows where his receivers are supposed to be, when he needs to get it to them and has enough arm strength and mobility to get the ball to them. Grossman wasn't perfect. He did throw one lousy pass in the end zone that could have been picked off by Steelers LB Larry Foote. Overall though, he played well and threw for a TD while not turning over the ball once.

Tim Hightower (10 carries, 44 yards; 1 catch for 8 yards)- Not bad for the guy that many thought would be the Skins 3rd down RB. Hightower seems to have the skills to play well in this scheme. If he can handle the workload, continue to not fumble the ball and improve upon his pass blocking, he may be the Skins #1 RB.

Santana Moss (7 catches, 64 yards; 1 TD)- The lockout didn't seem to affect him at all. He's playing at his 2010 form. Could this be another career year for Moss?

Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 38 yards)- Could the Skins have a possesion WR to go with their smaller, speedy guys like Moss and Armstrong? I also like Gaffney's run blocking. Another trade that isn't talked about enough as the Skins got a starting WR for a player they probably would have cut.

O-Line- These guys played great. NO false starts, NO holding penalties, NO sacks. They weren't perfect (who is?) but this team is a damn sight better than the 2010 unit at least so far. I also don't want to think I was overly bashing Will Montgomery in my series analysis. Montgomery is already miles better than Casey Rabach was in 2010. Casey Hampton is no slouch (he's one of the better NTs in the league). The Steelers gave up on average less than 70yds/game in 2010. To run on them for 140 yards is amazing. The 2010 Redskins wouldn't have been able to run for 100 yards against Pittsburgh's 3rd string team.

D line- When was the last time the Redskins D line consistently contained an opposing team's run game and frequently penetrated into the backfield in passing situations? I'm thinking maybe sometime back when Gregg Williams was our D coordinator. Bowen and Cofield have made this team much, much better already. Kedric Golston also made a nasty hit on Charlie Batch. I even like Doug Worthington's and Darrion Scott's performances and they probably won't even make the team.

London Fletcher (2 tackles)- When does this guy have a bad game. Man is Fletcher a beast. He'll probably be even better in 2011 with a D-line that will allow him to run more free.

Graham Gano (3/3 FG; Long 45, XP 1/1)- Every kickoff was a touchback and he nailed every FG and extra point. Keep this up and you make the team easily.

Terrence Austin (2 catches, 46 yards; PR: 1/19 yards)- Lost in the mix has been Austin who had a good punt return (same as Brandon Banks) and made two nice catches.

Logan Paulsen (1 catch, 12 yards)- I love this guy. Awesome blocker who really excels in a ZBS, but is sneaky enough to get open and catch a pass or two a game.

Brandon Banks (KR: 1/58, PR: 1/19)- Banks is pretty much Mr. Excitement to the crowd. Check this out.

Skins will need to try and find a place for him on the roster.

Change in Philosophy- The Redskins look like they have change from being a pass first team to a run first team. Smart move in my opinion. This scheme predicates itself off of bootlegs and play action passes. Teams won't bite unless you have a run game. Also, by having a run game you can dominate time of possession and allow your defense to rest.

The Bad

John Beck's groin- Both Grossman and Kellen Clemens had good games. Beck needed the opportunity to show how good (or bad) he really is. Now he's behind and will have only one game to prove to Mike Shanahan that he's worthy of being the Redskin's starter.

Ryan Torain's wrist- He could lose the starting job if Hightower keeps playing like this.

Brandon Banks' knee- Yes, he had a good game. But his knee keeps swelling up. The Redskins can't afford to keep a guy who can't stay healthy and play.

Malcolm Kelly's foot- This was the year where Malcolm Kelly had to prove himself. The Skins weren't depending on it and drafted 3 WRs, traded for 1 (Gaffney) and signed a veteran FA (Stallworth) just in case. Where is Malcolm Kelly? Hurt again. With good performances by Gaffney, Austin and Stallworth it doesn't look like he'll be a Redskin in 2011.

3rd down conversions- Skins ending tonight's game going 5/14 (35%) in 3rd down conversions. This was something they struggled with in 2010. Good news is that the Skins were 4/6 when Grossman was in the game.

Red Zone efficiency- Pretty lousy. 1/5. The Skins need to find a way to score in the Red Zone. Better play by the players and better play calling.

Secondary struggles- In more than one occasion, the secondary got burnt badly deep. Luckily all of the passes were off target. Maybe it's b/c of the starting safeties being out. Something worth watching.

O-line depth- Beyond Sean Locklear, there's not much depth on the O-line. Erik Cook and Selvish Capers have struggled (that's me being nice). The Skins can't depend on rookies like Willie Smith and Maurice Hurt to be starters. There's really not much. Hopefully the Skins will be able to sign a few guys when cuts take place.

The Ugly

- The lone Pittsburgh TD came off of a broken Chris Horton tackle. Horton looked like he had Redman at the LOS but somehow Redman broke the tackle. At this point everybody else was either blocked out of the play or too far away to make a play. Not good for Horton, who is seriously on the bubble this year.

- Shayne Graham cut. Graham is considered one of the more accurate kickers in the league still, but I think he has a case of the Yips. I'm beginning to wonder if his career is over. Those FG attempts in the Steelers game weren't even close.

- 2011 could be a great year for Fred Davis. Davis had a good game.Had a good catch, but dropped a pass when he got hit really hard. Blocked better but still could improve. Davis is in better shape and could be a better fit for the Skins in 2011. With Chris Cooley injured, Davis could be expected to step up and take over the starting role.

- Remember it's only the pre-season. And if you do forget, just turn on the TV and ESPN or the NFL Network will remind you of that. Of course, they've already given the Lombardi to the Eagles and their "Dream Team"........

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