Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Friday night's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
Conclusions drawn in the preseason are generally premature, but there is little reason not to feel good about tonight's game. The Robert Griffin III era began on the road tonight, and the rookie quarterback did not disappoint in his Redskins' debut.
The Bills' revamped front-seven held the Redskins' offense in check through the first two drives of the game, before Griffin III and company opened up the playbook in drive No. 3. Griffin III found receiver Pierre Garçon three times on the drive, taking the ball 80 yards in 3:40 for the touchdown and lead.
Defensively, the Redskins starting defense limited Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to six-for-14, for 61 yards and a 56.0 QB rating. The offense was limited to a 43-yard field goal, set up by a fumble at the Redskins 21-yard line. The Redskins' defense pushed the Bills back to the 25-yard line on that drive.
Offense in the game went stagnant in the second half, but the Redskins have a lot to be proud of on tape, with plenty of time to make improvements before Week 1 in New Orleans.
The Redskins' offense came out conservative and stiff in the first quarter, opting for handoffs up the middle on four of the first six plays. It was not until the third series that Griffin III found receiver Pierre Garçon on consecutive plays, for a pair of first downs. The early momentum shift opened up the options on offense, allowing Evan Royster some breathing room in the running game. The drive culminated in a screen pass to Garçon for the first touchdown of the 2012 preseason.
PLAY OF THE GAME
With Buffalo quarterback Vince Young driving late in the fourth quarter, Redskins outside linebacker Markus White preserved the win with a third-down sack and forced fumble. Young recovered the ball in the ensuing scrum, but White's strong effort forced a punt, halted a comeback, and ultimately preserved a Redskins' victory tonight.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The obvious pick might be Robert Griffin III, but you have to like the work of his top target Pierre Garçon. Garçon got wide open several times on the first-quarter touchdown drive, and showed his ability to pile up yards after the catch on his touchdown grab. Garçon finishes the night with 58 yards a touchdown, with a good chunk of them earned in the open field.
Richard Crawford has an electric rookie debut, and may be the team's long-term solution at punt returner. Despite battling for the position, Crawford showed good patience in the return game, averaging 14.0 yards per return and contributing on defense with an interception. Given the battle for field position in the second half, Crawford's contributions likely sealed a victory for the Redskins tonight.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
-- The Redskins' 2012 offseason. It is still way too early to gauge the long-term value of quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he experienced success and left the game on a high note. On the receiving end of the offense, new receivers Pierre Garçon and Joshua Morgan combined for six receptions, 98 yards and a touchdown.
-- The Redskins' offensive line kept the quarterbacks clean. Despite starting a patchwork O-Line that included only two projected starters (Will Montgomery, Trent Williams), the unit performed well against a highly-touted Bills' front-seven. The unit allowed zero sacks tonight and opened up holes for the Redskins' running game.
--Running back Evan Royster got first crack at the starting running back job, and finished on a strong note. After being bottled up for -1 yards on three rushes to begin the game, he closed out with four rushes for 21 yards to finish his day, including a rumble for 12 yards up the middle.
-- Sophomores shine on the D-Line. Second-year contributors Chris Neild and Chris Baker shined with extended playing time tonight, combining for three tackles and sack, while constantly working to collapse the pocket.
--Punter Sav Rocca is already in midseason form, booming it eight times for a 40.6-yard average, including two downed inside the 20-yard line. Rocca said during training camp that he intends to break the franchise record for net average in a season this year, and got off to a strong start tonight.
--Rookie defensive back Richard Crawford inserted his name into the conversation on defense and special teams. Crawford opened his night with an interception in coverage, returning it 16 yards. He followed that up as the team's primary punt returner, getting three opportunities for 42 yards. The Redskins ranked 21st in the NFL last season with an 8.9-yard punt return average.
-- Redskins defense pitches a shutout for 26 minutes between kicks. After allowing an early field goal, the Redskins' defense buckled down for nearly two whole quarters before the Bills tacked on another field goal. In total, the defense allowed only six points, which is a far cry from the 23-0 beating the Redskins suffered last season in Toronto.
--Ryan Kerrigan wasted no time getting his sophomore season started, sacking Bills' starter Ryan Fitzpatrick on Buffalo's first play of the day. Kerrigan played sparingly after, but appeared to be showing no lingering effects from the illness that bothered him last week.
--Despite drawing nine yellow flags during the game, the Redskins were penalized only 56 yards on the day, as compared to 90 for the Bills. There is room for improvement here, but not bad for the first preseason game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
-- The Redskins' offense struggled on third down today, converting only six-of-18 opportunities. It's difficult to establish a rhythm with rotating personnel, but sustained drives should certainly be an area of emphasis as training camp continues on Saturday.
-- Kirk Cousins committed the first gaffe of his NFL career, throwing behind receiver Joshua Morgan under duress. The pass went slightly behind Morgan and was picked off by cornerback Ron Brooks, who returned it for four yards. The Redskins got the ball back on the very next play, but could do nothing with it.
-- Redskins' starting left tackle Trent Williams hurt his foot on the extra point attempt during the first quarter. The coaches ordered an x-ray during the second half, which came back negative, but his status is uncertain moving forward. With only two starting offensive linemen appearing tonight, this has to be a concern moving forward.
The Redskins stay on the road next week, traveling to Chicago on Saturday, Aug. 18 to battle the Bears at Midway. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m., and you can catch all the action on NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet. This is the first time cornerback DeAngelo returns to Chicago since picking off Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler four times in Week 7 of the 2010 season.
With a rating of 145.8, Robert Griffin III posted the top QB rating of any quarterback in the NFL through the first round of preseason games. It's limited sample sizes across the board, but still pretty impressive for a player new to the NFL gridiron.
"The thing about the preseason is you really can expect anything. I didn't expect the whole first series that we [would see] no-huddle, and we didn't see a single run play."
– London Fletcher
All week, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan preached patience with his rookie quarterback, and that sermon will be appropriate someday. But for tonight at least, the Redskins got a glimpse at the potential of a revamped offense and a determined defense in Washington. Preseason games ultimately mean nothing, but the Redskins veterans avenged a painful loss from last season, and the young players performed up to expectations. The Redskins will get a good test next week in Chicago against a similarly built team. Will the defense continue to dominate? Will Griffin III carry over tonight's success? The Redskins will close out training camp this week and find out next Saturday in the Windy City.