I. All season, the single most crucial element in any real Redskins game will be the play of its young veteran quarterback, Jason Campbell. His performance in tonight’s preseason “game” against the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t have much bearing in terms of the final score, but it will carry significance in terms of confidence and progression for Campbell himself, his teammates, his coaches and fans of his team.
Last week Campbell was solid-if-unspectacular. He chose safe underneath routes, seemingly the result of both his own instincts and the design of Head Coach Jim Zorn, who stated after the game he went into it with legitimate concerns about his offensive line’s ability to protect Campbell against the Ravens’ aggressive pass rush, and called Campbell’s few plays accordingly.
In week two I’ll be looking to see both Zorn and Campbell build on that and pull the trigger on at least 2-3 downfield looks. They don’t have to be 50-yard rainbows—I’ll settle for a couple of 25-yard seam routes or deep outs. Just call for the man to take a deep drop and cut it loose a couple of times. What that will also do, of course, is test the starting offensive line, which, while protecting Campbell well last week, faced no jailbreak blitzes or sophisticated stunts from Baltimore. The Ravens didn’t start really coming after the Redskins passers until after Campbell was done for the night. I’m not expecting the same from the Steelers tonight.
I hope to see the Pittsburgh send the house at Campbell a couple of times, see the Redskins pick it up professionally and Campbell execute the right quick read to beat it. The line and Campbell’s consistent inability to do that during the 2-6 slide over the second half of last season was a primary cause of that slide. Their ability to reverse the trend in 2009, in all likelihood, will be the primary factor in what kind of season the 2009 Redskins are going to have.
II. For all the focus on pass protection heading into last week’s opener, one thing that jumped out during the “game” was the starting offensive line’s inability to create even a whiff of running room.
Here are the running plays from the starting units’ two series, and the eleven total runs during the first half. I didn’t do the second half because, well … I was bummed. [Courtesy of NFL.com]
1-10-WAS 27 (14:19) 46-L.Betts right tackle to WAS 27 for no gainIn four running plays over two drives, the Redskins starters managed seven yards (1.75 avg.). And it wasn’t against a Ravens defense putting eight men in the box to stuff the run either. With the exception of the final play of the second possession, Baltimore came out in base 4-3-4 sets and simply ran to the ball. Unfortunately, no Redskins broke through the line into the second level to take on LB or safeties. There was no movement up front at all.
2-10-WAS 38 (13:03) 46-L.Betts right end to WAS 42 for 4 yards
1-10-WAS 39 (5:35) 46-L.Betts left tackle to WAS 39 for no gain
2-10-WAS 39 (5:02) 46-L.Betts right guard to WAS 42 for 3 yards
The rest of the first half, with the second and third groups, didn’t go much better:
2-10-WAS 23 (12:17) 24-M.Mason right end to WAS 28 for 5 yardsRock Cartwright did pick up nine yards in two carries at the end of the half, but against a Baltimore defense playing "prevent" in the 2-minute drill.
1-10-WAS 22 (11:09) 24-M.Mason left tackle to WAS 23 for 1 yard
2-9-WAS 23 (10:29) 24-M.Mason up the middle to WAS 26 for 3 yards
1-10-WAS 11 (6:50) 24-M.Mason left end to WAS 11 for no gain
2-4-WAS 29 (5:18) 24-M.Mason left end to WAS 28 for -1 yards
1-10-BAL 34 (1:59) 31-R.Cartwright up the middle to BAL 30 for 4 yards
1-10-WAS 38 (:02) 31-R.Cartwright left tackle to WAS 43 for 5 yards
I have no illusions about using tonight’s preseason action against the defending champions and their top-ranked defense to “get the running game un-tracked”—it ain’t gonna happen. But I would like to see a couple of seams in there. Maybe a six-yard off-tackle run or two where someone blows someone else off the line. Just something to show me that the old legs up front can still get a little push and coordinate a lane or two in the normal course of play.
III. The only real surprise from last week’s preseason clunker was the ease with which Baltimore moved the ball against the Redskins first defensive group. Game plan or no game plan, different team agendas or not, that wasn’t what I was expecting to see from a unit widely viewed as among the elite defensive units heading into 2009.
I’d like very much to think that the starting defense will come out a little hungrier tonight, looking to make a statement in front of the home fans.
[Assuming there are any "home fans" among the expected throng of Steeler fans at FedEx tonight, using the Redskins as an excuse to get out of town for a while. Not that it's that surprising. If I lived in Pittsburgh I’d grab every opportunity to come to Washing—er, Landover, too.
Oh, relax Pittsburgher—it was a joke. Mostly.]
We won’t really see it tonight, but maybe we will see the first visible hint of what could turn out to be one of the more interesting side stories of the year—the reincarnation of Greg Blache as a riverboat gambler.
“According to several players, the presence of [DT Albert] Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with." – ESPNPlease, let it be so. And let this kind of talk not only indicate an overall more aggressive approach, but prescience:
“… Greg Blache now believes [S LaRon] Landry should be more than just an NFL starter. Here would be Blache's goals for the third-year safety, simply put.Two things could make the 2009 Washington Redskins special,
‘Creating turnovers for us," he said this week. "Having six-eight picks. Some devastating plays where he's got some of these highlight kind of hits and breakups on the ball, and at the end of it him taking a trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowl safety as opposed to being an alternate.’
I'm looking for a huge year out of LaRon, because he is healthy. This is his third year. He's got the position figured out. This could be a real break-out year for him." - RedskinsInsider
1) the emergence of Jason Campbell as a legitimate Pro Bowl-level quarterback, and
2) the defense playing up to their level of expectation.
Of the two, if you had to bet real money you’d probably go defense without a second thought. An early series or two of dominance—even of the “yeah, but it’s just preseason” sort, would be a tasty morsel to take with us into the next week of hyper-dissection leading up to preseason “game” three against Tom Brady and his merry band of Patriots from up New England way.
IV. No injuries.
Enjoy tonight, and if you're going to the game and planning to tailgate ... be smart. We don't want to lose any Redskins fans to tragedy because they forgot that they, too, were in preseason mode. Keep your wits about you.