The preseason is half over and a few interesting things have stood out. Here are some of the biggest surprises compared to what I was expecting:
-Through the first two games the Redskins pass rush has steadily won battles against opponents 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams. The level of penetration has been pretty effective for the Redskins rushers. Especially since in the first game it was done without Barry Cofield and the second game they were without Brian Orakpo. Even missing those key guys, the Redskins are dialing up the pressure. This was their weakness last year, and it exposed pretty much everyone in their secondary. This season though it could be a big reason to think this pass defense will improve.
-The Redskins have always been pretty vanilla in preseason, but that looks to be different this year. We are seeing the Redskins use the 5 LB package, with Kerrigan rushing from the inside. It looks like we are blitzing and stunting more in preseason than we typically did in the past. On offense we are seeing some of the pistol look (even with Rex Grossman) and read option with Pat White. We are seeing the team split running backs and fullbacks out wide on passing plays to create mismatches. These aren’t things that we saw as much the last three preseasons under Mike Shanahan, but they are things the Redskins do for the season.
-When the Redskins drafted a pair of running backs in April, I think the expectation was that both Evan Royster and Keiland Williams were on their way out the door. Even if the Redskins kept four running backs (which doesn’t seem likely at the moment), Royster and Williams would both be looking for work on cutdown day. Now there is a chance that could still happen, but it no longer seems likely. In fact if the Redskins were to keep four backs, it is possible that neither rookie would get a spot. Royster and Williams have both ran well in the preseason so far, and clearly seem to be ahead of the rookies. Williams has also proven his value on special teams. Right now the best scenario might be if Thompson’s injuries allow the Redskins to put him on IR, and Jamison gets kept on the practice squad (it wouldn’t be ideal to have to RB’s on the PS).
-Now the Redskins were without a first rounder so the level of production of the Redskins rookies versus another team (or another year) should be adjusted. That being said things have not gotten off to a good start. Tight end Jordan Reed missed all of OTA’s with an injury and appears to be well behind at this point. As a 3rd rounder you would have hoped for some positive production, but that seems unlikely at this point. Fourth round safety Phillip Thomas was injured 7 plays into his first preseason game and is now out for the year. Fifth round running back Chris Thompson has missed all of OTA’s and much of training camp. He had three carries in the 2nd preseason game, fumbling on one of them and suffering a shoulder injury. Sixth rounder Bacarri Rambo is expected to start at free safety, but that is more by necessity than actual production. He’s struggled in open field tackling in both games and has allowed multiple big plays. Seventh round running back Jawan Jamison appears to be buried on the depth chart, and at best can hope for a practice squad spot.
That leaves just 2nd rounder CB David Amerson and 5th rounder OLB Brandon Jenkins. Amerson has shown some positives so far, but he still seems like a work in progress and might not contribute that much this season. That could change if some other CB’s get injured, but he’s still a question mark at this point. Jenkins has proven to be valuable as a situational pass rusher and should definitely find his way on to the field some on game days. That is pretty good value for a late 5th rounder, but he may end up making the biggest positive impact of this rookie class. Now again you can’t expect too much from rookies, but this was really the Redskins only way to add talent this offseason and it doesn’t look like they will get much impact.
-If you asked any pundit or fan, what the Redskins biggest defensive worry would be going into the season it was easily their pass defense. Afterall the Redskins finished 30th in passing yards allowed and 5th in rushing yards allowed. That discrepancy was a bit distorted given that teams threw more against the Redskins than any team in the league and rushed against the Redskins less than any team in the league. In reality the Redskins were 25th in the league in net yards allowed per passing attempt and 17th in yards per rushing attempt. The Redskins just happened to play against fewer run first type of team. Only one opponent of theirs (Vikings) finished in the top 10 in the league in rushing attempts, and that was at a time when Adrian Peterson was still limited. This year the Redskins will face 5 teams (Chiefs, 49ers, Vikings, Broncos, Bears) who finished in the top 10 in rushing attempts. In addition the Eagles figure to be a much greater run centric team under Chip Kelly, so that could be nearly half the Redskins games, where teams will look to run 30 times a game.
Through two weeks of the preseason that could be a scary number. The Redskins have not defended the run particularly well, giving up far too many big plays due to poor tackling by the defensive backs and linebackers. That is something that is going to really need to change, once they start facing starting units for 60 minutes. On the flip side the pass defense is looking much better, due in large part to the improved pass rush. As the season starts, it looks like run defense will be the greater concern to watch.