The hosting Washington Redskins dominated the New England Patriots 23-6 in both teams' preseason opener on Thursday at FedEx Field.
As is often the case, much of the emphasis in this game went on second-stringers and, in particular, the No. 2 quarterbacks on each side. Washington's dynamic starting signal-caller Robert Griffin III got little work, putting the ball in the hands of his 2012 draft classmate Kirk Cousins.
It appears as though the new system under first-year coach Jay Gruden is working well, because Cousins completed nine of 13 passes for 103 yards, highlighted by a 10-yard touchdown strike to Aldrick Robinson.
Patriots legendary QB Tom Brady didn't play, as the team attempted to showcase the talents of his cannon-armed backup in Ryan Mallett with no success. The NFL on ESPN outlined Mallett's pedestrian final stat line:
Mallett entered the game garnering considerable hype. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald encapsulated that in his recent analysis, which featured a glowing quote from NFL Network's Mike Mayock:
Rookie second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo figures to be Brady's heir apparent under center, and he was impressive in completing nine of 13 pass attempts for 157 yards and one touchdown.
The majority of those yards came in garbage time, though Oliver Thomas of NEPatriotsDraft.com alluded to one of the few bright spots for New England on the evening:
Brian Tyms and Jimmy Garoppolo get the Patriots on the board. Five receptions, 119 yards and a touchdown between the two.— Oliver Thomas (@OliverBThomas) August 8, 2014
In defense of Mallett and the Pats' inept offense, though, Washington was able to control time of possession throughout the game, per ESPN 980:
#Redskins have had scoring drives of 11, 10, 9, 10 and 10 plays for their 23 points. Two TD's and the three field goals. Long drives + pts.— ESPN 980 (@ESPNRadio980) August 8, 2014
That was thanks in part to another Baylor product in Washington, rookie sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk, who carried the rock 12 times for a game-high 63 rushing yards.
CSN's Rob Carlin recognized the explosiveness Seastrunk brought to the gridiron:
The humorous side to Thursday's latest Pats tactics is that New England likely hoped to showcase Mallett lighting it up in a pseudo-scrimmage, yet he failed to deliver. NFL Network's Albert Breer commented on one of the more underrated preseason subplots to emerge from Thursday's action:
After a half of action, gotta score a win for Kirk Cousins over Ryan Mallet in the Trade Value Shootout.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 8, 2014
Colt McCoy thrived within Washington's offense as well. McCoy operated a West Coast system during his bid to start for the Cleveland Browns and then took on a complex offense in San Francisco last season.
In his first action on the field in quite some time, McCoy lit it up by going 8-of-9 passing for 102 yards and a score.
While the QB situation looks rather promising in Washington behind Griffin, New England has to hope Brady, 37, is able to stay on the field. Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus noted how different Mallett and Garoppolo are:
It's fascinating to me that the Patriots have drafted both Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo. Such different players— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) August 8, 2014
It's always a bit of a tactical chess match in the preseason; a unique one in that neither team is trying to give away too much.
Thus, the foundational plays of an offense are often run against base defenses that don't use too many exotic looks. Evaluating how players execute from a pure talent standpoint is possible, but marketing them as trade bait is trickier due to the nature of competition.
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Mallett's struggles may have accentuated just how valuable Brady is to the Patriots. Despite New England doing little to acquire sustainable receiver help, Brady has managed to make the Pats perennial Super Bowl contenders.
Washington did come out sharp in front of the home fans, which bodes well for the team bouncing back from last year's nightmarish 3-13 season. But make no mistake, there is a long way to go before the real games start.
Despite a discouraging all-around performance, New England shouldn't be too alarmed with a coach like Bill Belichick and a field general like Brady on their side. On that same token, Washington has plenty of work to do to prove it is closer to the 2012 NFC East champions than the 2013 debacle.