There were several Redskins defensive storylines I could have focused on Saturday night when Washington squared off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Preseason Week Two.
You know the kind …
Had middle linebacker London Fletcher really lost the half-step he seemed to have misplaced a couple of times against the Ravens in Week One? Did sophomore cornerback Justin Tryon replace the athletic supporter said marauding purple gang stole from him? Was Redskins Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache going to demonstrate yet again that there is, in fact, a flavor less than vanilla?
But at “game” time, when it came right down to it, turns out the only thing I was really dialed in to see was whether or not the Redskins revamped defensive line could get after the damn quarterback.
Drilling down even further, I discovered the one thing I really wanted to see was how the starting group fared in that regard. Depth is a wonderful thing, to be sure. A dynamic, dominating wall of slobbering oncoming burgundy and gold, overrunning the offensive line from the opening gun, however, is even, well …more wonderfull.
The last time the Redskins had one of those, I had hair. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a connection.
So, preseason level of appropriate seriousness properly calibrated …
The first series lived up to the hype—all of it.
DT Albert Haynesworth and Co. swarmed, harassed and otherwise flummoxed Pittsburgh QB Charlie Batch (who I think might have hair once too) and his offensive line on four successive pass plays, forcing a holding call, four ugly incompletions and leaving the Steelers with 4th-and-11.
FedEx Field was rockin’ and your humble scribe grinnin’.
1-10-PIT 29 (8:08) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short left to 39-W.Parker (99-A.Carter). PENALTY on PIT-78-M.Starks, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at PIT 29 - No Play.
1-20-PIT 19 (8:03) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short right to 39-W.Parker.
2-20-PIT 19 (7:57) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass short right to 39-W.Parker to PIT 21 for 2 yards (23-D.Hall).
Apparently, the officials got caught up in the moment too, however, because after the 3rd down play, they called a really [emphatic epithet] weak personal foul on Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall for an alleged late “hit” (somewhere, Night Train Lane ran off his tracks).
3-18-PIT 21 (7:10) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short left to 83-H.Miller.
PENALTY on WAS-23-D.Hall, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at PIT 21.
Personally, I think they wanted to watch the Redskins defense do their thing some more.
Which they did.
1-10-PIT 36 (7:04) 39-W.Parker up the middle to PIT 38 for 2 yards (93-P.Daniels, 23-D.Hall).
2-8-PIT 38 (6:26) PENALTY on PIT-38-C.Davis, False Start, 4 yards, enforced at PIT 38 - No Play.
2-12-PIT 34 (6:06) 39-W.Parker left tackle to PIT 35 for 1 yard (99-A.Carter, 64-K.Golston).
3-11-PIT 35 (5:23) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass deep middle to 10-S.Holmes to WAS 18 for 47 yards (22-C.Rogers). Washington challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete deep middle to 86-H.Ward (23-D.Hall).
There was a brief “Immaculate Reception Lite” moment there when the officials, clearly enjoying themselves, allowed a 3rd-and-11 pass to bounce off the ground to a grateful (and surely guilt-ridden) Steelers WR Santonio Holmes, who pranced with it all the way to the Redskins 18.
Fortunately, the 21st century prevailed and instant replay set the record straight.
First string defense, first possession:
8 plays, 6 yds, 2 penalties
Passing: 1-for-4, 2 yds
Rushing: 2 carries, 3 yds
As first impressions go—starting Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger or no Pittsburgh starting QB Ben Roethlisberger—turning in a couple of emphatic three-and-outs in succession against the defending champions was a pretty nice home introduction to Greg Blache’s new toy.
The happy buzz didn’t last, of course. The next time the defense trotted on the field, setting up shop at midfield (more on that below), the Steelers reminded everyone watching of two very important facts:
1. They are, in fact, the defending world champions, and
2. Preseason giveth, and preseason taketh away.
1-10- (4:03) 39-W.Parker right end to WAS 43 for 7 yards (23-D.Hall).
2-3-WAS 43 (3:25) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short middle [96-C.Griffin]. PENALTY on PIT-16-C.Batch, Intentional Grounding, 10 yards, enforced at WAS 43.
3-13-PIT 47 (3:19) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass short middle to 10-S.Holmes to WAS 37 for 16 yards (48-C.Horton; 22-C.Rogers).
1-10-WAS 37 (2:39) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete deep left to 17-M.Wallace.
2-10-WAS 37 (2:32) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short right to 86-H.Ward.
3-10-WAS 37 (2:28) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass deep middle to 86-H.Ward to WAS 13 for 24 yards (30-L.Landry).
1-10-WAS 13 (1:45) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass short left to 83-H.Miller to WAS 3 for 10 yards (22-C.Rogers, 48-C.Horton).
1-3-WAS 3 (1:03) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short right to 83-H.Miller.
2-3-WAS 3 (:58) 39-W.Parker right end for 3 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
As you have no doubt surmised, there is a reason the two third down plays are bolded. Those of you who have followed the Redskins the past few years don’t need me to explain. For those who have not … they’re bolded because the Redskins always give up third and long conversions. Those two plays were highly unwelcome symbolism, given The Moment was supposed to belong to Big Albert and Co. And if you saw his face on the sidelines afterwards, it was apparent he agreed.
The drive went nine plays in total. On the seven non 3rd-down plays, the Steelers picked up 20 yards—10 passing (1-for-5, including an intentional grounding call), and 10 rushing (two carries, including the 3-yard TD).
On the other two plays, both 3rd-and-long situations, they converted on two relatively easy-looking passes over the middle for 40 yards (16, 24). Hey, if you found yourself mumbling “I’ve seen this movie,” you weren’t alone.
And that was it for the first team. The next time the Redskins defense took the field, most of the starters were wearing baseball caps and quaffing Gatorade on the sideline.
Total Steelers offensive numbers on the first two possessions:
Plays: 15 (6, 9)
Total yds: 56 (6, 50)
Passing: 4-for-10, 52 yds
Rushing: 4 carries, 13 yds
[Don’t yell at my math—the breakout numbers account for penalties]
So what does it all mean?
It means that the defensive line, at full bore, looks every bit as capable of wreaking havoc on offensive lines as has been projected since the day Haynesworth put ink to the dotted line.
It means that for at least one more week, despite said brief glimpse of dominance, the lingering concern in some minds that the Redskins defense still can’t get off the field on third downs remains alive. It was "only" two plays out of 15, but they were killers. We know that drill. We don't like it.
It means that, on at least one of the two possessions, the starting corners and safeties played far enough off the ball to allow opposing receivers to roam pretty much at will underneath … while the defensive line either got tired, bored or something else bummer-inducing and didn’t apply any pressure. Or the Steelers offensive line took pity on Charlie Batch after the first series debacle and decided to save his life.
Or Greg Blache decided he had played with his shiny new toy enough on the first possession, and on the second went back to giving vanilla a bad name, and calling off the dogs and torturing his DB’s by putting them on the proverbial desert island again.
And it clearly means that trying to read anything serious into preseason is … please feel free to fill in the blank. Me, I’m fresh out of preseason adjectives.
Still, those first few plays, with the crowd on the edge of its collective seat, and the Redskins defense exploding off the ball and hunting in packs through the Steelers offensive backfield … far as I'm concerned, the regular season really can’t come soon enough.
One other defense-related thing that put a smile on my face was the last series. It seems like it’s been a long time since I watched them get after the passer in the final minutes of a one-score game. For years, it's seemed as if the master plan has been to sit back in the dreaded “prevent” and hope to stop somebody.
This last Saturday night, with the “game” on the line, the Redskins defense looked determined to punch somebody in the mouth and steal their candy.
1-10-PIT 32 (4:04) 33-I.Redman up the middle to PIT 33 for 1 yard (57-C.Glenn).
2-9-PIT 33 (3:31) 13-M.Reilly pass short middle to 15-M.Nance to PIT 41 for 8 yards (29-L.Holmes).
3-1-PIT 41 (2:52) 33-I.Redman right tackle to PIT 43 for 2 yards (75D-A.Dixon, 58-R.Henson).
1-10-PIT 43 (2:18) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly scrambles up the middle to PIT 48 for 5 yards (76-J.Jarmon).
Timeout #1 by PIT at 02:10.
2-5-PIT 48 (2:10) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly sacked at PIT 41 for -7 yards (95-C.Wilson).
3-12-PIT 41 (2:00) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly right end to WAS 39 for 20 yards (41-K.Moore).
Timeout #2 by PIT at 01:45.
1-10-WAS 39 (1:45) PENALTY on PIT-84-D.Sherrod, Illegal Substitution, 5 yards, enforced at WAS 39 - No Play.
1-15-WAS 44 (1:45) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly pass incomplete deep right to 19-T.Grisham.
2-15-WAS 44 (1:40) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly pass short middle to 19-T.Grisham to WAS 35 for 9 yards (29-L.Holmes) [91-R.Jackson].
3-6-WAS 35 (1:17) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly pass incomplete short right to 82-B.Williams (40-M.Grant).
4-6-WAS 35 (1:14) (Shotgun) 13-M.Reilly pass incomplete short left to 82-B.Williams [76-J.Jarmon].
Yeah, I know—I see the third-and-long conversion too. Old habits die hard.
Preseason or no preseason, fact is it did this old heart good to see the Redskins get after the quarterback in a game-ending one-score-game scenario and slam the door shut. If that alone turns out to be an indication of a shift in Blachian philosophy, sitting through four preseason "games" will have been worth it.
Going over the NFL’s drive stats for this piece, something jumped out. So for [stuff] and giggles (and since at one point during the game I remarked—not for the first time—“does it seem like the entire game is being played in Redskins territory?”), here is a breakdown of the starting field position for each team throughout the game.
See what if anything jumps out at you ...
Pittsburgh (9 possessions)
26 (6 yds), 50 (TD), 31 (1 yd), 10 (21 yds), 38 (46 yds, FG), +35 (5 yds, Missed FG)
Avg start: 31.6 yard line
26 (9 yds), +45 (22 yds, FG), 46 (-4 yds), 32 (33 yds, end game)
Avg. start: 39.75 yard line
Game: 34.8 yard line
Washington (10 possessions)
35 (62 yds, FG), 11 (0 yds), 20 (7 yds), 8 (33 yds), 36 (1 yd), 18 (21 yds, INT)
Avg. start: 21.3
40 (TD), 24 (25 yds), +18 (TD), 20 (69 yds, INT)
Avg. start: 41.5
Game: 29.4 yard line
Maybe there’s more to this whole defense thing than just ... defense?
Okay, I'm outta here.
NEXT UP: Colt Brennan & Chase Daniel