Redskins vs. Bills: 8 Things We Learned from Washington's Preseason Debut

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 9, 2012

Redskins vs. Bills: 8 Things We Learned from Washington's Preseason Debut

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    The Washington Redskins are 1-0, and the defense has yet to give up a touchdown. Oh, and Robert Griffin III has a 145.3 passer rating. 

    If only I weren't writing about the preseason...

    Still, there was more good than bad in Washington's victory over the Buffalo Bills to kick off the NFL preseason tonight. Here are eight things we learned in western New York.

Robert Griffin III Is on the Right Track

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    Robert Griffin III has received some less-than-flattering reviews thus far in training camp, but his performance tonight was stellar. 

    Griffin completed 4-of-6 pass attempts, but he actually made a good throw to Pierre Garcon on his first incompletion. On that connection, Pierre Garcon just failed to stay in bounds. 

    So for all preseason purposes, let's say he was approximately 5-of-6. He also appeared to get more comfortable with each series, and—this is of utmost importance—he clearly already has good chemistry with Garcon. 

    The two hooked up for back-to-back first downs midway through the first quarter, as well as a touchdown on a screen to cap that drive. 

    I made a conscious effort not to overreact to Griffin's fantastic rookie camp and applied the same approach to the rough start to training camp. Staying with that philosophy, I'm not going to get too excited about a solid maiden performance, but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

Niles Paul Has a Lot of Work to Do

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    Niles Paul struggled in his real-game debut at tight end. The converted wide receiver was supposed to have trouble blocking early, but instead, dropped passes did him in. Paul dropped two of them in the first half, making only one grab despite being targeted four times (by my count).

    Paul's going to have to battle to hold off both Chris Cooley, who was looking svelte and super-versatile as a fullback, and Logan Paulsen, who blocked very well.

Alfred Morris Will Have a Legitimate Shot at Earning Regular-Season Playing Time

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    Alfred Morris' numbers weren't special tonight, but he pounded hard and the Redskins showed that they really wanted to get a good look at Morris. He ran hard in the north-south fashion that I believe the Shanahans want from a backup running back.

    Jury's still out on Morris' pass-blocking (that's something we'll take a closer look at upon further review), but if he can nail that aspect of his game down, the sixth-round rookie could edge out one of the team's top three backs: Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu. 

    Hightower didn't play tonight due to injury (what's new?), and Royster was responsible for a turnover that was credited—I believe, incorrectly—to Robert Griffin III. Helu looked decent on only four carries.

    Just another reason for fantasy football peeps to stay far away from the D.C. backfield.

Chris Baker Could Be a Hidden Gem

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    Finally, a big defensive tackle in jersey No. 92 actually made some plays for the Redskins tonight. The Albert Haynesworth era is over, but Chris Baker looked like a bigger, more productive version of Haynesworth against Buffalo

    The 330-pound Hampton product spent most of 2011 on the Washington practice squad, but he's looked good throughout the offseason. That carried over to Game 1 of the preseason, because Baker was exceptional against Buffalo's second- and third-stringers.

    Now we'll see if the 24-year-old has earned himself a chance to gain more first-half reps as the preseason progresses. He was one of the best players on the field in Buffalo.

The Defense Still Has to Become Better at Taking the Ball Away

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    They were only able to force one turnover on defense, and that came when Richard Crawford intercepted a quasi-prayer of a throw from Tyler Thigpen near the end of the first half. Still, good on Crawford, who is on the bubble. At least he was able to catch the football.

    By my count, Redskins defenders dropped three would-be interceptions. The culprits: Bryan Kehl, Brandon Meriweather and Kevin Barnes. 

    This is a team that registered only 21 takeaways and 13 interceptions last season. I'm sure Jim Haslett would have liked to see his D make some more plays tonight.

It'll Be Tough for Brandon Banks to Make the Team as a Receiver

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    Brandon Banks isn't a good enough return man to stick around this year based on those skills alone, which might be part of the reason he got so many reps and was targeted so often tonight. The problem was that Banks didn't look polished, had at least one clear drop and simply didn't make plays. 

    The 24-year-old had just two catches for seven yards despite being targeted at least nine times, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

    With so many quality receivers on this team, it'll be tough for Banks to make the final roster if he can't improve as a receiver. And yes, I know he wasn't getting a ton of help from his quarterbacks, but you still have to deliver something.

Rex Grossman Is Terrible

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    Wait, you already knew that? OK, well, Rex Grossman was in fine Rex Grossman fashion, going 2-of-10 for 22 yards. With him in the game, the Redskins managed a grand total of one first down on four drives. 

    And that's why I'm not ready to completely condemn Brandon Banks just yet. Poor guy was lassoed with Bad Rex for four possessions.

    Kirk Cousins looked like a rookie playing in the NFL for the first time, but he was still better than Grossman. And to think, Rex was facing the Bills backups. 

    I still think it'll take a miracle for Cousins to move ahead of Grossman on the depth chart, simply because having rookies in the top two spots seems a little irresponsible, but this is just a reminder that the 'Skins have to do everything possible to keep Robert Griffin healthy.

The Pass Protection Held Up

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    Robert Griffin III survived, and the Redskins went the entire game without taking a sack. That's a good start considering how much this depleted offensive line struggled to start training camp.

    Tyler Polumbus struggled with his run-blocking but did a decent job in place of Jammal Brown. It's probably too early to judge young guards Maurice Hurt, Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus, but there were some rookie moments for LeRibeus. I continue to be impressed by Gettis. 

    "I didn't get touched today. That was a great feeling," Griffin said in his postgame press conference. "So all the talk about the offensive line and the injuries that we've had—the protection was great. Nobody got near me on any of those plays that we were in there for, so I was really proud of the team for stepping up, especially the offensive line."