Washington vs. Baltimore: Redskins Preseason Week 3 Game Preview
Often called the "dress rehearsal" for the season opener, the starters for both teams should be featured heavily in this contest.
Plagued by turnovers and penalties in their 24-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns, the Redskins want a more consistent effort from their offense. As ESPN.com's John Keim notes, Washington is looking for its first-team unit to register its first touchdown of the preseason.
While a victory in this contest is no forecast for regular-season success, more than any other preseason game, this matchup will give us a glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.
With that said, here is Washington's preseason Week 3 preview.
Washington Redskins Preseason Week 2 Recap
Despite the fact that his team extended its preseason winning streak to eight games, head coach Jay Gruden should be none too pleased with the performance the Redskins had in their 24-23 victory over the Browns.
Washington had four turnovers, and in line with what we've seen all preseason, the Redskins were penalized 11 times for 100 yards.
Even amidst this sloppy play, though, Washington had its moments of dominance. While the running game only netted 117 yards on 31 carries, the team's passing attack ran roughshod over Cleveland's secondary.
In route to amassing over 302 receiving yards, Washington receivers ran free throughout the secondary all game. The team had six receptions that netted 20-plus yards.
If not for the three interceptions its quarterbacks threw, Washington would've had a blowout on its hands. Especially in light of the performance the defense turned in.
Although their yardage total was bolstered by the 91-yard touchdown drive Connor Shaw engineered in the final minutes, the Browns passing attack was non-existent in this contest.
Tallying 186 yards on the night, Cleveland's quarterbacks were sacked five times. Additionally, its two quarterbacks vying for the starting job, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, combined to complete 9 of 22 passes for just 81 yards.
A perceived weakness entering training camp, Washington's defense has carried the team in both its victories. With its starters likely to see significant time against the Ravens, it'll be interesting to see if this unit can maintain this level of play against a first-team offense in longer spurts.
News and Notes
Leonard Hankerson's Roster Status?
Placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list at the outset of training camp, Leonard Hankerson's return from a torn ACL may be on the horizon:
In the time Hankerson's been rehabbing his knee, Washington's daunting depth at receiver has been on full display.
While it's public knowledge that DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts are the team's top wideouts, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and, specifically, Ryan Grant have done their part to stake a claim to a roster spot:
Ryan Grant is going to have Leonard Hankerson looking for a job soon.— Brian Backof (@BrianBackof) August 19, 2014
Already tasked with learning a new offense, Hankerson has little time to demonstrate that his place on the roster is warranted. Barring a scenario where the team keeps him on the PUP list through the start of the season, his time in Washington may be up.
Jason Hatcher's Debut
Dominant thus far in the preseason, Washington's defensive line has done it without its anchor.
Sidelined by an offseason knee surgery, Jason Hatcher is now set to make his Redskins debut, as NBC's Dianna Marie Russini notes:
Redskins back at practice today. Looking forward to seeing Jason Hatcher in the mix. He will make his Redskins debut Saturday in Baltimore— Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) August 20, 2014
Susceptible to giving up big plays via the passing game, Washington is relying on Hatcher to free up pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in an effort to mask its secondary.
Going against a first-team offensive line that's kept Joe Flacco clean this preseason, this is a good matchup to measure the strength of Washington's front.
Silas Redd or Lache Seastrunk?
Rookie Lache Seastrunk is Washington's leading rusher this preseason, but it's important to note the time period he's accumulating these yards in.
Against both Cleveland and New England, the majority of his playing time has come in the fourth quarter. And, most importantly, it's come after Silas Redd:
Silas Redd playing before Lache Seastrunk shouldn't really surprise you. Much more to the RB position besides just the running part.— ESPN 980 (@ESPNRadio980) August 19, 2014
While he's shined with the game lights on—and, unlike Redd, he was drafted—Seastrunk's place on the team's depth chart indicates a large disconnect between his game and practice performance:
Although they're still lacking a startling performance, with every practice he misses, the trio of backs (Silas Redd, Evan Royster and Lache Seastrunk) competing with Thompson gain traction in their bid to steal his roster spot.
While he's made his return to practice, the fact he was limited doesn't bode well for his chances at playing against Baltimore, via CSN's Tarik El-Bashir:
Chris Thompson says sprained ankle is much better. But he will still be limited in practice today. Not sure abt Saturday yet. #RedskinsTalk— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) August 20, 2014
His speed and potential to contribute in the passing game may be an asset for Washington's offense, but at what point does his penchant for injury outweigh this?
Thompson may not have to play in a preseason game to make the team, but it's hard to imagine the Redskins keeping him over the aforementioned backs if he can't at least prove he's healthy in practice.
As for Sharpton, much hasn't changed. His injury history was a red flag prior to his signing, and with the way Will Compton has been playing, it wouldn't be the least bit shocking if he didn't make this team:
Will Compton and Bashaud Breeland playing like two young fellas badly wanting to make this team. Big hit on Armstrong to break up the pass.— Mike Jones (@MikeJonesWaPo) August 19, 2014
With Tracy Porter's injury, the opportunity is there for Bashaud Breeland to showcase what he can do as the team's nickel corner.
An NFL journeyman, Porter was always only keeping the seat warm for when Breeland was ready. If Breeland can follow his impressive showing against Cleveland with another solid outing, who knows, his time may come earlier than expected.
Matchups to Watch
Joe Flacco vs. Washington Secondary
Going against the Tom Brady-less Patriots and the hapless Browns in its first two contests, Washington hasn't faced a starting-caliber quarterback this preseason.
With the secondary its prime weakness last season, this group's performance against Flacco is worth monitoring. Although he had a year to forget in 2013, Flacco has the arm to attack Washington on all parts of the field.
Boasting a receiving corps that includes Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Jacoby Jones, along with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, Baltimore will present the Redskins secondary with the challenge it desperately needs to prep for their 2014 schedule.
Robert Griffin III vs. Baltimore's Pressure
Robert Griffin III can claim that his knee is 100 percent all he wants, but you can be sure that teams won't be shy when it comes to blitzing him during the regular season.
Content to keep him inside the pocket as a rookie, defenses had no qualms about sending the house at a wounded Griffin in 2013. Throwing 156 passes against the blitz last season, he only threw 92 such passes as a rookie, Griffin's completion percentage was only 54 percent.
Considering that Griffin's lone interception against Cleveland came in the face of pressure, he clearly remains a work in progress on this front.
With the pressure that the likes of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are sure to bring in this matchup, Griffin will have his chance at redemption.
Washington Special Teams vs. Baltimore's Return Men
Washington had one of the league's worst special teams units last season. Surrendering a 49-yard kick return to Anthony Armstrong, we were reminded of this fact in Washington's contest with Cleveland.
Facing a Baltimore team that had two return touchdowns in 2013, in addition to finishing second and first in kick and punt return average, this is another matchup to gauge how improved this unit is.
Dominant defensively, the Redskins will be tested by Baltimore's offense. The Ravens have been the NFL's top rushing team in the preseason and have scored 60 points through two games.
Shifting to Washington's offense, particularly the first team, the unit led by RG3 has only scored a field goal. Still, while points and turnovers have been an issue, moving the football hasn't been one. The Redskins have amassed 816 total yards in two games.
While Baltimore is renowned for its reputation on defense, one can't overlook the 30 points the Dallas Cowboys posted in Week 2, backups or not. With the exception being Brandon Weeden—no surprise there—each of Dallas' other three quarterbacks led touchdown drives against the Ravens defense.
If Washington can cut down on its turnovers and continue to apply pressure on the quarterback, a ninth straight preseason victory should be in the cards for the Redskins.
Prediction: Washington 27, Baltimore 20