Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Saturday afternoon preseason action between the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills at FedExField:
Every year, the third preseason game is circled as the all-important dress rehearsal game on the eve of the regular season. Starters are expected to go between two and three quarters, play at gameday speed and knock the final rust off before Week 1.
But the Redskins 2013 circumstances are not conducive to that schedule.
Given the injuries to Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, Barry Cofield and others, the team is understandably hesitant to put top players at risk. Combine that with the short preparation week following Monday Night Football and the team is prepared for starters to go no more than 20 plays on offense and defense.
With that being said, this is still a critical opportunity for development as the NFL mandates roster cuts to 75 by the close of business on Tuesday afternoon. Winning and losing matters much more on the individual level than it does on the scoreboard.
Good thing it was reflected in both.
This game was never in doubt, but quarterback Pat White showed true grit, particularly on his touchdown run with 6:01 remaining in the first half. Following his lead blocker, Darrel Young, White showed patience and durability, weathering a pair of hits and staying inbounds all the way to the pylon.
White has been impressive this preseason, but tonight answered the question of whether or not the former prospect has the guts to play at the NFL level. White put good play on film and will almost certainly find NFL work this season.
PLAY OF THE GAME
In a game that lacked major highlight reel material, special teams deserves credit for their play tonight, and Kai Forbath's 53-yard field goal was particularly impressive. After joining the team in Week 6 last year, he showed tremendous accuracy, but drew criticism for his leg strength on kickoffs and distance field goals.
During training camp, he flashed an improved range, hitting from 58 yards in practice, and today he upped his career long from 50 to 53 yards. The kick sailed through dead center and would have been good from the upper 50's as well. Nice job for No. 2, as he gave the team no reason to consider a kicker competition this year.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Redskins won this game today with relative ease, as the offense and defense rotated constantly through personnel. The player that stuck out the most in unusual circumstances was outside linebacker Darryl Tapp, who has made a solid transformation after a career at 4-3 defensive end.
Tapp was likely not in need of a top performance to make the final 53-man roster, but he turned one in anyway. On the last drive to end the first half, Tapp took over, batting a pass at the line of scrimmage and later sacking Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel. He led all defenders with seven tackles today.
Tapp is still a work in progress in pass coverage, but the former down lineman has made a remarkable transition to the upright linebacker position. Expect him to look lost at times but to improve to provide a valuable pass rush as the season goes on.
Tight end Fred Davis has been used very conservatively this preseason, but looked like himself in limited snaps today, catching a 31-yard pass from Rex Grossman for a big first down.
It wasn't a scoring play, it wasn't a play that will end up on the highlight reel, but it's the type of play that makes this offense very dangerous looking ahead to the regular season. It was also Davis' longest reception of any kind since 2011.
Davis has shown no ill effects from his Achilles' tear and is likely being saved for the regular season. Even with other weapons at tight end, none are quite so lethal as No. 83.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The front office could end up looking really smart for taking a pass rusher with two Pro Bowlers on the team, but they could look even better because they took Brandon Jenkins in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The rookie got early looks in this contest and sacked Kevin Kolb on the opening drive for a 13-yard loss. His foot is clearly not an issue after losing his senior season at Florida State to Lisfranc surgery. With his speed and quickness, he brings another element to a strength pass rush.
--Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman remains a controversial character in Washington, credited with the development of Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III, but blamed in part for some of the offense's struggles in 2011. Ignoring reputation, Grossman remains a viable NFL quarterback and showed just how well he understands the Redskins offensive system in his spot start today. Armed with the team's best players around him, Grossman hit eight receivers in the first quarter alone, throwing 8-for-14 for 144 yards. Even while rotating with Pat White, Grossman was still an effective passer in the second half, finishing 11-for-21 for 171 yards and a touchdown.
--If not for the penalties, the Redskins starting defense played a dominant first quarter, holding the Bills to just 61 yards on 16 plays. The group swarmed to the ball and only got in trouble on deep passes down the sideline. This is a unit influx as the rookies get up to speed, but they look aggressive and hungry on the eve of the regular season.
--Since arriving in Washington in Week 6 last year, Forbath has missed only two kicks: a field goal and extra point last year. Besides that, he has been the model of kicking consistency and has improved his leg strength and kickoffs so far this preseason. Today, he finished three-for-three on field goals and three-for-three on extra points
--Redskins running back Roy Helu Jr. proved he is both lucky and good today, rumbling for 54 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He had a long of 17 yards during a late Redskins scoring drive and recovered his own fumble. Ball security is not usually an issue for the veteran back and the play likely served as a valuable reminder on the eve of the regular season. He finished the day as the team's leading rusher: 70 yards on 13 carries.
--The Redskins coaching staff has gotten due credit for developing a young, talented core in Washington, but not enough is said about the reinvention of London Fletcher and Santana Moss under the Shanahan regime. A career 4-3 middle linebacker, London Fletcher never made the Pro Bowl until he played in Jim Haslett's 3-4. Now he has made four consecutive trips. On the other side of the ball, Santana Moss flashed his old familiar skills today, catching an underneath pass in double coverage and turning it into a 45-yard gain.
--Alfred Morris looked strong in limited action this afternoon, rushing four times for 16 yards. This brings his preseason total to a whopping eight attempts for 28 yards, or approximately one quarter's worth of work. This is the last fans will see of Morris in uniform before Week 1. It makes sense to protect the franchise's season-leader in rushing, but he showed no worse for wear taking 39 preseason carries last year. Will there be any signs of rust? Only time will tell.
--For the second-straight preseason, inside linebacker Bryan Kehl has been the stats king, collecting 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in three games. He has also played lights-out special teams, joining in the scrum that secured the team's fumble recovery at the Bills 5-yard line. With Lorenzo Alexander gone for Arizona, the team is in need of an enforcer on special teams to add to Reed Doughty and Niles Paul. So far, Kehl fits that role to a 'T.'
--Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson and running back Keiland Williams both stated their cases for the final roster today, with Robinson leading the team with four receptions for 61 yards and Williams taking over in the fourth quarter for 52 rushing yards. Both players are likely to have more opportunity in the fourth preseason game as they look to strengthen their preseason resumes.
--The team's tight ends have been toasted for their ability to make plays with the football, but this is also a physical group unafraid to block for teammates. On separate occasions tonight, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul and Jordan Reed each stuck blocks that opened the edge for runners out of the backfield to make huge gains. Including the team's wide receivers, this is an unselfish, aggressive and physical receiver corps that makes plays happen with or without the ball.
--Dezmon Briscoe has had a challenging tenure in Washington, coming in with expectation last preseason and being relegated to the doghouse after a disappointing game in Pittsburgh. He made a discernible impact tonight, however, catching a pass over the middle for 24 yards. He also showed veteran alertness, making a tackle after a turnover and recovering a Chris Thompson fumble after battling with a pair of Bills defenders that got there first. This is the type of never-say-die play that can earn a bubble player a spot, and Briscoe was likely in need of a boost. Regardless of whether or not it works, he put a solid performance on tape tonight.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--One concerning trend that can be taken away from the Redskins preseason slate is the number of costly, avoidable penalties. Through each of the first three games, starters have committed a personal foul penalty. None of these were misunderstandings of the new rules, just a lack of execution. Through the first seven minutes of the game, the team committed 49 yards of penalties. Not a good way to start a dress rehearsal game.
--The Redskins lost a big contributor in Richard Crawford, who is likely done for the year with a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and possibly a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is very disappointing news for a player who figured to see significant time on defense and special teams. In losing Crawford, the team loses a top candidate for nickelback and punt returner. Hopefully a worthy candidate for each position will emerge in Game 4.
--Rookie running back Chris Thompson has uncommon NFL speed and the agility, when healthy, to be a dynamic third-down back and returner. His 28-yard kickoff return to start the second half and 31-yard punt return confirmed that he has the ability to contribute at the NFL level. But his pair of fumbles in 10 offensive touches is not going to cut it, especially considering his stiff competition. Look for him to get other opportunities, but this team is too talented to keep a return specialist. He will have one more big opportunity to make amends vs. Tampa Bay.
--The Redskins had a prime opportunity in the third quarter to punch the ball in after a botched punt return on the Bills gave them the ball at the 5-yard line. However, after three attempts, the Redskins were held to a field goal. Now, this was not the potent first string offense, and the Redskins certainly did not need the points. But the Redskins cannot sacrifice such opportunities when the games matters.
With the very real possibility of beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, the Washington Redskins have an opportunity to go undefeated in the preseason for the first time since 1985.
History has proven that there is no correlation between preseason success and the regular season, as the middle-2000 Colts regularly went 0-4 in exhibition play and the 0-16 Lions went 4-0. But the last time the Redskins went undefeated in the preseason, the team finished 10-6. Ten wins is probably enough to win the NFC East or a wild card spot.
Head coach Mike Shanahan on the next man up behind Richard Crawford at cornerback:
"Any time a guy goes down, another guy gets an opportunity. We played a lot of guys today and we're looking forward to looking at the film and seeing who played well."
The Washington Redskins will enjoy an off day tomorrow, followed by scheduled practices on Monday and Tuesday. At the close of league business on Tuesday afternoon, rosters will be trimmed from 90 to 75.
This forces teams to make tough decisions in the next three days, cutting, trading and designating players to PUP and injured reserve. This is likely to affect more than 15 Redskins players as the pool of available free agents increases by nearly 500.
Roster shuffling could have the Redskins front office busy this week, bringing in available players for a test run before final roster cuts the following week.
The team has another short week heading into Tampa Bay for the fourth preseason game, but that is unlikely to affect the starting roster. Shanahan has yet to play his starting roster in the fourth preseason game, meaning that it will be a big opportunity for reserve players to put it on film.
The loss of Richard Crawford will hurt this team most on special teams, but it also opens up opportunities for players like Chris Thompson, Nick Williams and Skye Dawson to make the team as a specialist.
Other than that, the Redskins managed to avoid major injury and took a step forward with several bubble players making the most of limited repetitions.
The team has another short week before the fourth preseason game in Tampa Bay, and the roster will shrink in the meantime. This likely means more opportunities for players like Keiland Williams, Dezmon Briscoe and Ron Brace to make the team.
How will they respond to the pressure? Tune in Thursday night to find out.