Washington Redskins: Much-Maligned Offensive Line Deserves Game Ball After Win

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 09:    Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints tries to get around  Trent Williams #71 of the Washington Redskins during the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Redskins defeated the Saints 40-32.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Amid the euphoria inspired by their terrific opening-day victory over the New Orleans Saints, somebody in the Washington Redskins organization should present a game ball to the offensive line.

The much-maligned group excelled against a Saints defense led by a crafty new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo and boosted by the return of pass-rusher Will Smith on the eve of the game.

Washington's O-line kept rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III clean. He took some hits, but most of those occurred down the field at the ends of scrambles. The only sack surrendered by Washington's front five was made possible by Griffin tripping over the feet of running back Alfred Morris, a fellow rookie.

Griffin was not harassed in the pocket. He had room to step up and a clear a lane of vision.

The excellent pass protection was made possible by the ability of the Redskins line to recognize and pick up Spagnuolo's complex fire zone blitzes.

Scrappy center Will Montgomery deserves a lot of credit in this area. He handled adjusting protections based on overload looks and managed to identify potential zone-blitzers.

Montgomery was aided by solid play on the left side, particularly from tackle Trent Williams. This author was as critical as anyone of Williams in 2011. His concentration and technique frequently went missing at crucial times last season.

However, he was at his best in New Orleans and showcased the skilled hands, quick feet and raw power that make him a formidable blindside protector. Any time Williams got his hands on Smith, he simply pinned the speedy rush end on the corner and refused to yield any ground.

He had a couple of slips in the running game late when he again appeared sluggish coming out of his stance.

However, Williams showed enough to indicate he may finally be ready to fulfill the potential that led the Redskins to select him fourth overall in the 2010 NFL draft.

As impressive as he was, it was clear Williams benefited from the return of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger. The oft-injured Lichtensteiger is the best zone-blocker on the Redskins roster.

His steady, assured pass-blocking and physicality in the running game are crucial to Mike Shanahan's zone-based blocking scheme. Lichtensteiger kept the Saints' stout defensive-tackle tandem quiet for most of the game, prevented an interior push and knocked open holes for Morris.

Right guard Chris Chester and journeyman tackle Tyler Polumbus were also very impressive. Chester in particular created some big lanes for Morris to exploit in the second half. He looked quicker than he did a year ago.

The offensive line was one of the biggest question marks about this Redskins team heading into the new season. Its ability to protect Griffin and give him the platform to make big plays was a major concern.

It's clear the group will be helped by a quarterback who quickly gets rid of the ball and can also make defenses hesitate due to his ability as a runner.

However, the O-line still deserves plenty of credit for making things easier for a young set of skill players in Week 1.