Redskins vs. Browns: Postgame Grades, Notes and Quotes for Washington
A year after leading his offense to zero touchdowns in the preseason, Robert Griffin III was the center of attention entering this bout.
While he again failed to engineer a touchdown drive, he showed marked improvement from the season prior. He wasn't sacked and completed 4-of-8 passes for 36 yards en route to posting three points on the board in two drives.
On the ground and through the air, he was upstaged by Kirk Cousins. He completed his first nine passes and finished with 154 yards passing. Cousins also had a 4-yard touchdown run.
Behind the three scoring drives engineered by Cousins and a stingy defense, the Redskins rallied from an early 11-point deficit. Washington's defense surrendered just 170 yards, holding Cleveland to three third-down conversions in 13 tries.
Often an afterthought last season, the team's running game was the focal point of the offense. The team tallied 153 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.
You've got the recap. Now let's delve into the postgame grades, quotes and notes for Washington.
Position Grades for Washington Redskins
With the team bringing back all three quarterbacks from last year's fiasco of a season, it expressed confidence the trio would improve in year two of head coach Jay Gruden's offense.
One game is a small sample size, but in the opener, the franchise was rewarded for its faith. The 'Skins' trio of quarterbacks combined to complete 20-of-28 passes for 215 yards. The passing game was out of sync in the red zone, but all things considered, this was an encouraging performance.
Speaking of encouraging, how about Washington's running game? Committing to the run was an issue for this team a season ago, but not in this contest. The team averaged 4.1 yards on 37 carries.
Alfred Morris was the leading rusher with 42 yards, but it was Matt Jones who turned in the highlights. The third-round pick had a long run of 23 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry on the night prior to exiting with a concussion.
Moving to the team's receiving corps, the word "missed" about sums up this position group. DeSean Jackson missed the game, and the team's other premier receiver, Pierre Garcon, missed a prime opportunity to score when he dropped a wide-open pass from RG3.
Then there's the looming likelihood Niles Paul misses the season. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Paul suffered a dislocated ankle. It's also worth noting Andre Roberts, with young receivers Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder vying for his job, led the team in receiving.
He hauled in four passes for 71 yards.
With the success enjoyed by both the running game and passing attack, Washington's offensive line deserves kudos. It gave up just one sack and paved the way for the team's backs.
On the defensive side of the ball, Washington was rather dominant after some early hiccups. The Browns went 75 yards for a score on the strength of a 35-yard pass interference penalty by Chris Culliver. For the game, though, the defense allowed just 170 yards.
And it was the front seven that led the charge. Cleveland only averaged 2.4 yards per rush and surrendered five sacks. Preston Smith played a big role in this, registering a team-high six tackles and one sack.
Not to be forgotten, the secondary held the Browns to 125 yards passing, with Akeem Davis' interception standing as the defense's lone turnover.
Washington wasn't as successful on special teams. Kai Forbath did connect on both of his field-goal attempts, but the return unit was underwhelming. Both Roberts and Chris Thompson muffed punts, with Roberts losing his.
Additionally, Darius Jennings of the Browns broke off a 54-yard return to open the second half.
As for the coaching staff, it made a conscientious effort to play to the strength of its players. Not only that, evidenced by Cousins zone-read touchdown, it also utilized creative play-calling. With the exception of Johnny Manziel constantly breaking containment—with no quarterback spy waiting for him—the team was well prepared for its opponent.
Important Note No. 1: Redskins' Depth Shot at Tight End
If there's any spot Washington can ill afford to take an injury hit, it's at tight end.
Jordan Reed, who has been marred by injury throughout his brief career, was already out with a hamstring injury. Third-stringer Logan Paulsen too is injured with a toe injury. And per Mike Jones of the Washington Post, he's contemplating surgery.
This makes the loss of Niles Paul sting even more. According to ESPN.com, the dislocated ankle he suffered is of the season-ending variety.
Left with unproven players at tight end, the Redskins have little choice but to explore the market for veteran options.
Important Note No. 2: RB Silas Redd Suffers Knee Injury
Unfortunately, Paul isn't the only Redskin feared to have suffered a serious injury. On his second carry of the game, Silas Redd suffered a knee injury.
And according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, it was to his ACL or MCL. While the team is actually flush with depth here with Jones, Thompson and Trey Williams in tow, Redd was perhaps the most complete back—at least, proven anyway.
He isn't the most dynamic back, but he's a capable receiver and pass protector. In this sense, he compares favorably to Roy Helu, the back these backs are competing to replace.
Pass protection is a struggle for most rookie backs—and it still is for Thompson. But in lieu of Redd's injury, save giving Darrel Young more playing time, this is a weakness the 'Skins will have to cope with.
Quote No. 1: Head Coach Jay Gruden on Quarterbacks
Without a doubt, Cousins had the most productive outing of Washington's quarterbacks. Gruden didn't mince words in cosigning this fact, either.
Speaking at the postgame press conference, h/t Redskins' official Twitter feed, Gruden said "Kirk was outstanding."
Keeping in mind the swarm of support Cousins garnered a year ago for his preseason performance, Gruden also made it a point to again pronounce Griffin as his starting quarterback.
And for good reason. While Griffin struggled to connect with his receivers in the red zone, the fact remains if Garcon does his job, both of his drives end in points.
Until Gruden and the team have exhausted all efforts to maximize their investment in Griffin, all talk of a quarterback controversy or competition has to be tabled.
Quote No. 2: LB Preston Smith on His NFL Debut
By virtue of being selected in the second round, Preston Smith carries the expectation of being an impact player as a rookie.
In lieu of the addition of Junior Galette, though, this expectation has gone to the wayside. Just don't tell him that.
Smith was an impact player in his first NFL action. He registered a team-high six tackles and one sack.
Judging from his postgame comments, h/t team's official website, Smith's performance will serve both as a confidence builder and a learning experience.
It felt great out there to get our feet wet, to finally get a first sack in an NFL game especially in a preseason game, my first NFL game,” he told the media after the game. It was a great feeling to go out there and finally string some pass-rush together and get a sack and get home to the quarterback.”
I wouldn’t say I was pleased with some stuff I put on film that I can learn from, work on. There’s always something I can work on to get better to find more success on the field for my pass-rush.
It'll remain tough for him to garner much playing time with Ryan Kerrigan, Galette and Trent Murphy on the roster. But taking into account his ability to rush from the inside, if he can play at this level consistently, Washington's coaching staff will find a way to get the Mississippi State product on the field.