Washington vs. Cleveland: Redskins Preseason Week 2 Game Preview
A winner in its last seven preseason contests, Washington will look for its eighth straight victory against the Cleveland Browns this Monday night.
Coming off a 13-12 defeat to the Detroit Lions in its opener, Cleveland will enter this contest looking to solve its current conundrum at quarterback. Both veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel are vying for the starting job, and according to Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, head coach Mike Pettine is looking to pick a starter after this game.
In light of how Washington's defense played versus New England, though, neither quarterback will have an easy go at accomplishing this feat.
Aside from shutting out the Patriots for the game's first 58 minutes, the Redskins limited New England to just 207 passing yards. On the ground, the Pats didn't fare much better. Washington held them to just 63 yards on a paltry 2.6 yards per carry.
While he acknowledged that it was against New England's backups, Gruden told Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post that he was pleased with his defense's performance.
“They didn’t play any starters, but those four or five backs can start for many teams,” Gruden said. “It was good to see us wrap up; it was good to see us gang tackling and just flying around to the football. I just felt good watching these guys.”
Although you can expect Washington to have a longer leash with its starters in this contest, with roster cuts looming, expect the team's backups to log the majority of the playing time.
With that said, here is Washington's preseason Week 2 preview.
Washington Redskins Preseason Week 1 Recap
Gruden's debut and Washington's defense may have been the main talking points from the team's 23-6 victory, but the rushing attack also shined.
Washington tallied 177 yards on the ground, with rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd doing much of the heavy lifting. Redd had 45 yards on nine carries, and Seastrunk had 63 yards on 12 carries.
Not to be forgotten, the offense featured an efficient passing attack as well. While Robert Griffin III only completed two passes during his brief cameo, backups Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy combined to complete 17 of 22 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
Another positive takeaway was the performance of Washington's young players. In conjunction with Seastrunk and Redd, sophomore Bacarri Rambo and rookies Ryan Grant and Bashaud Breeland turned in inspiring performances.
Taking advantage of the opportunity that injuries to Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson provided, Grant hauled in three passes for 37 yards. Filling in for safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Tracy Porter, Rambo and Breeland combined to register 11 tackles.
While these players are sure to see significant time again, it won't come with the starters, barring a repeated absence from the aforementioned veterans.
As the team nears full strength, chemistry is the thing to watch going forward, given the newcomers the team has brought in via free agency and the NFL draft.
News and Notes
Kirk Cousins, Worthy to Start?
Still in the process of settling on a starting quarterback, how ironic is it that the Browns will battle against a player, Cousins, that they targeted this offseason to potentially fill this void?
As NBC's Dianna Marie Russini notes:
It was made pretty clear today by Cousins and Gruden that the Browns were indeed interested in Kirk Cousins during the off season.— Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) August 15, 2014
For some fans, Cleveland isn't the only depth chart Cousins would look good on top of:
@Redskins Kirk cousins is out playing Robert Griffin the third this preseason. Give him a shot .— Calder Gage (@CalderGage) August 11, 2014
According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, Cousins got the better of Griffin in the team's joint practices with the Patriots:
One of my biggest takeaways from Patriots-Redskins joint practices was surprise that Robert Griffin III didn’t look like the best quarterback on his own team. In fact, I thought Kirk Cousins was better than him, from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand. I wondered if I was alone, and then heard the same sentiment echoed by some others in the Patriots organization.
While Gruden has expressed that Griffin is the starter, this is a storyline worth monitoring, especially in light of Griffin's injury history.
Is Chris Thompson on Thin Ice?
In a battle with Seastrunk, Redd and Evan Royster for a spot in Washington's backfield, Chris Thompson's injury demons rose at the wrong time.
As Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com notes, Thompson has been hampered by an ankle injury:
Gruden said it's "unfortunate" that Chris Thompson (ankle) can't practice. Says it opens opportunities for others.— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) August 15, 2014
With Gruden relaying to Mike Jones of The Washington Post that he needs to see Thompson perform, his chances of making the team are starting to dwindle.
Redd and Seastrunk are coming off solid debuts, and Royster, if anything, is at the very least durable. Thompson is still without a return date for this injury, so Washington has to weigh if it's worth keeping him around as it starts to trim down the roster.
Phillip Thomas' Return
Lost for the season in his NFL debut last season, it's been more than a year since Phillip Thomas last played in a live game.
After missing the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, Thomas took the first step to returning to game action, per CSN's Rich Tandler:
Phillip Thomas looks like he will practice for the first time since Aug. 31. #Redskins— Rich Tandler (@Rich_TandlerCSN) August 14, 2014
While Thomas' roster status isn't as tenuous as Thompson's, he was projected to start last season. With Brandon Meriweather and Clark entrenched in the starting lineup, the preseason could serve as Thomas' lone chance to show Washington that he's the long-term answer at safety.
Jason Hatcher's debut is again delayed, but seeing him practice, as Tom Schad of The Washington Times did, is a promising sign that his absence is just precautionary.
With him out, Jarvis Jenkins will have another chance to validate his place in the defensive line rotation. After three uninspiring seasons, it appears the light has finally turned on for the former second-round pick.
Gruden on DE @Jarvis99jenkins: "Jarvis has done well." Said he challenged Jenkins earlier, and has "really taken it personally."— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) August 14, 2014
Signed on to be a potential replacement for London Fletcher, Darryl Sharpton has long been out of the picture for the starting gig, with Keenan Robinson taking the reins for that job.
The way the depth chart is looking, Sharpton may be out a roster spot if his ankle doesn't have a speedy recovery, via CSN's Tarik El-Bashir:
On that "unofficial" depth chart, ILBs Adam Hayward and Will Compton are listed ahead of Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton.— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) August 14, 2014
As for Thompson's absence, it only increases the likelihood that he doesn't make the team. If Seastrunk can duplicate his performance from Week 1, his lead for the final running back slot could become insurmountable.
Matchups to Watch
Washington Defensive Line vs. Cleveland Offensive Line
After harassing Ryan Mallett and dominating a patchwork New England front in the opener, the Redskins will get a challenge from the Browns offensive line.
With the ongoing quarterback competition, one would expect for Cleveland's first-team starters to see additional playing time as the coaches evaluate both quarterbacks.
Facing a front that features offensive tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack, how far Chris Baker and, specifically, Jenkins have developed will be evident.
Bashaud Breeland vs. Browns Receivers
A big and physical corner, Breeland excels at press coverage. At the same token, his style of play has its drawbacks.
According to ESPN.con's John Keim, Breeland has been cited repeatedly during the offseason for illegal contact penalties.
Although Keim has noticed an improvement on this front in recent weeks, with the NFL making it a point of emphasis to crack down on these penalties, Monday night's contest will reveal how far Breeland has come in his development.
Robert Griffin III vs. Cleveland Secondary
With Garcon and Jackson slotted to return, Griffin will at last have his full arsenal of weapons at his disposal.
Looking to shed the read-option quarterback label, Griffin first has to become a more consistent passer from the pocket.
While discussing Griffin's progress on this front with ESPN.com's John Keim, Gruden gave a glimpse into his day-to-day performance in practice. "When you watch tape every day, and he throws the ball 45 times and 35 are pretty good, there are good decisions and there are a couple we have to correct," he said.
Against a secondary featuring the likes of Joe Haden, Donte Whitner and rookie Justin Gilbert, this is a good game to gauge how far Griffin has come as a pocket passer.
It's the preseason, people. The best team doesn't always win here. Often, for the victor, either the starters play longer, or the team is just deeper.
For its past seven preseason games, that team has been Washington. With Griffin, Cousins and McCoy, the Redskins are one of the few teams that boast three quarterbacks with starting experience.
Even with that said, considering that Hoyer and Manziel are engulfed in an intense battle for the starting position, Washington's advantage here is a moot point.
Then there's the amount of playing time the Redskins starters will see. According to CSNWashington.com's Rich Tandler, Gruden has said that his starters will play "at least a quarter."
Unfortunately, though, on the opposite end, Pettine has revealed that his starters will roughly play the entire first half, via Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram:
#Browns Pettine said starters will play in "neighborhood of a half" Monday vs. Washington. Little tricky with quick turnaround to Sat. game— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) August 13, 2014
That's the ballgame, folks.
Still, facing a quality secondary, look for the Redskins to air it out in an effort to build the chemistry between Griffin and his new weapons.
Ultimately, while Cleveland doesn't have the weaponry to run away with this game, its edge on defense should enable it to maintain the lead its starters build versus Washington's reserves.
Prediction: Browns 21, Redskins 17