The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Washington Redskins - INSIDE SLANT
When the Washington Redskins traded three first- and one second-round draft choice to St. Louis for the right to select Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall in 2012, it seemed that the team's penchant for quarterback controversies was put away for some years to come.
However, this could already be that year, even if responses by team officials reflect the expected amount of denial.
After a record-setting rookie year, Griffin was benched for the final three games of a mediocre 2013 season in favor of backup Kirk Cousins. And after Griffin finished his ugly preseason with a horrendous night in Baltimore Saturday while Cousins played well, there is more than mild discontent in Washington.
Griffin and the starting offense generated one field goal in three preseason games. His passer rating was an abysmal 46.0 as he managed just 141 yards on 13 completions in 20 attempts with two interceptions.
Cousins, who threw touchdown passes to receivers Santana Moss and Nick Williams against the Ravens, has a sterling 101.6 rating heading into the Aug. 28 preseason finale at Tampa Bay in which Griffin and the starters won't play.
Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2012, was a drop-back passer at Michigan State and seems much more comfortable in the pocket than Griffin, who ran the shotgun and read-option offenses at Baylor. Not that first-year Redskins coach Jay Gruden is planning to replace Griffin with Cousins, no matter how many call local sports-talk shows demanding a switch or take to Twitter advocating the change.
"We're not going to panic and abort ship," Gruden said after the 23-17 loss in Baltimore that ended Washington's eight-game preseason winning streak that dated to 2012. "(Robert)'s a lot further along than he gets credit for. I've seen him practice and I've seen him come a long way. Obviously today didn't show (that). ... We're going to keep working and get ready for Houston. I feel good about the starters that we have. Some of the backups obviously played well again, so that's exciting. We just have to do a better job of executing when it counts."
Griffin certainly didn't do that against the Ravens, completing five of eight passes for all of 20 yards while getting sacked three times and being intercepted once for a 27.1 passer rating. The starters generated three first downs on their six series, the final one of which lasted one play, the interception of Griffin at the Washington 26-yard line on the first play of the second half.
"(This performance) will help us," Griffin said. "I know people can't see that right now. They'll be over-reactions all over the place. It's our job to make sure we stay cool, calm and collected and keep fighting. I'm not going to allow what happens in the preseason to carry over to the regular season. Last year, we went 4-0 in the preseason and didn't have a great year."
Indeed, the Redskins crashed from 10-6 NFC East champions in 2012 to 3-13 division cellar-dwellers in 2013, prompting then-coach Mike Shanahan's dismissal and his replacement by former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Gruden.
"We're in the third preseason game on the road on a short week and you'd like to have some positive things going into the regular season," Gruden said after the woeful outing by his starting offense against a Ravens defense minus its top three cornerbacks. "It didn't happen. We have to do a better job of getting into a rhythm, get some completions early and get some first downs. We were so bad on first and second downs, it kept us in some third-and-longs. When you get in third-and-long against Baltimore with (Elvis) Dumervil, (Terrell) Suggs and those guys rushing the quarterback, it's not fun for anybody."
Like Gruden, Griffin insisted that the Baltimore game and its two predecessors this month will serve as a learning experience and an impetus for better performances during the regular season.
"All the work we put in the entire offseason ... we know what we can do," Griffin said. "We know when the lights turn on, we'll be ready to go. We had a bad outing tonight. We'll take that butt-kicking, look at the tape and we'll get better from it. We didn't play very well. Since I'm the leader of the offense, I have to play better. It seemed like we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I know it sounds vague, but I have to improve in the overall process of running the offense. I've got to work on that. I think all the guys on our offense will be ready to go when the season starts."
Trouble is that the dress rehearsals are over for Washington's starters. The curtain goes up for Gruden, Griffin and Co. on Sept. 7 in Houston. The coach might soon be very thankful that the Redskins didn't trade Cousins to get help at other spots during the offseason. He may already be the help at a spot that needs it.
NFL Team Report - Washington Redskins - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed six of eight passes for 112 yards in Monday's 24-23 preseason victory over Cleveland, but the third-year quarterback still had way too many mistakes. Griffin recklessly absorbed big hits from the Browns in a meaningless game, threw a foolish interception when the Redskins had the ball at the Cleveland 27 and was whistled twice for false starts.
As first-year coach Jay Gruden noted, "(Robert) has a habit in his career of being able to get himself out of predicaments with his speed and his athleticism."
However, Griffin's penchant to try to gain extra yards and make a big play have also caused him to take too many blows and to have his dynamic rookie year of 2012 end with two torn ligaments in his right knee, the recovery from which affected him throughout his disappointing second season.
Griffin, as usual, didn't question his attempted heroics against the Browns.
"I got caught in an awkward situation on the first one," he said. "I tried to slide. It was a bad attempt at a slide. And then on their sideline, I was in a situation there where I thought I was going to be able to get out of bounds ... (but a defender was there) so I had to protect myself, so that's why I put my shoulder down. And then my third attempt, I got down and got out of harm's way. It's going to be continually a work in progress ... knowing when to fight for extra yards and when not to. The fans have nothing to worry about there. I'll keep getting better at that. I promise you that."
Gruden and Griffin both agreed that he made a mistake by trying to force a sideline pass to receiver DeSean Jackson with Browns ace cornerback Joe Haden lying in wait for the interception. And the coach and the quarterback were also on the same page about the false starts, which might have happened because Gruden is giving Griffin more freedom to adjust plays at the line that did former coach Mike Shanahan.
"You just have to deal with what they call," Griffin said. "I can clean up whatever I did wrong on the false starts, make the change there and try not to move on some of those hard counts."
Added Gruden, "I don't know if those are called in the regular season or not. He hit a little movement on the hard count with his body and guys have been doing that for many years but they're stressing that now. That's not an issue."
--Phillip Thomas was a promising rookie safety in 2013, but the fourth-round draft choice's season ended almost before it began with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in the preseason opener at Tennessee. Thomas also missed this year's preseason opener with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for almost two weeks of training camp.
So Monday's game against Cleveland was more special to Thomas than probably any other non-rookie.
"It feels like it's been five years, but I was excited to get out there and play and run around with my brothers in the secondary," Thomas said with a grin. "And (I was) excited to walk off (the field healthy) after my first full game as a Redskin."
Thomas was credited with only one tackle, but he wasn't disappointed.
"Tonight was me getting my feet wet," said Thomas, who led the nation with eight interceptions as a senior at Fresno State. "I was a little rusty. I need to work on some of reads and keys and get a little better with my movement. (I have a) lot to work on."
Still, Thomas is listed as second string on Washington's depth chart along with fellow 2013 draft pick Bacarri Rambo and ahead of holdover Trenton Robinson, recently-signed former Steeler Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith and rookie free agents Akeem Davis and Ross Madison.
--A week after being arrested for marijuana possession, fourth-round draft choice Bashaud Breeland continued his strong bid to earn a roster spot, recovering a fumble that was forced by second-year safety Bacarri Rambo, recording five tackles and delivering a huge hit on former Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 26 to end a Cleveland drive early in the third quarter.
"You see (Bashaud) in practice run around and cover and you're very impressed with him," Gruden said. "The one thing you can't see is him tackling. He's a great tackler. It's exciting to have corners that can run ... and be great tacklers. I'm happy with his progression and moving forward, I think he has a great career ahead of him."
--Defensive end Stephen Bowen, who continues to rehab from last December's major knee surgery, reportedly agreed to cut his base salary by $2.2 million, saving the Redskins $1.9 million. A starter since he arrived in Washington as a free agent from Dallas in 2011, the 30-year-old Bowen can recoup more than $2 million of the restructure through bonuses and incentives. Washington has more than $4 million in cap room.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Reserve receivers. Barring serious injury, record-setting holdover Pierre Garcon and high-profile free agent DeSean Jackson are Washington's starting receivers. Andre Roberts, a free-agent pickup who was destined to start before Jackson surprisingly became available, is supposed to be the third receiver.
However, there is good competition for the remaining job at that position, a point that 2013 undrafted Nick Williams made clear with what proved to be the game-winning, 30-yard touchdown catch with 2:01 remaining in Monday's 24-23 survival of Cleveland.
Through two preseason games, fifth-round pick Ryan Grant leads the Redskins with seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Speedy holdover Aldrick Robinson is next with five catches for 64 yards and a score. Grant and Robinson have each been targeted 12 times.
"Ryan Grant continues to make plays like he's been doing all camp," coach Jay Gruden said after the Browns' game. "It's good to see the consistency."
Grant and Robinson are the only receivers with more than two catches and been targeted more than four times. But not only does Williams have a big play, 35-year-old former starter Santana Moss picked up 24 yards on a short throw from backup quarterback Kirk Cousins against the Browns and rookie free agent Rashad Ross hauled in a 43-yard bomb from third-string passer Colt McCoy. All of this while sometime-starter Leonard Hankerson continues to rehab from knee surgery last December.
Oddly, Garcon, who was targeted an NFL-most 184 times last season while leading the league with a Redskins-record 113 catches, hasn't had a ball thrown his way yet, in part because he missed the preseason opener with a minor injury. So did Jackson, but he was targeted four times against Cleveland, catching two for 34 yards. Roberts has caught both passes aimed in his direction for 54 yards.
"There's a lot of talent out there," Cousins said. "It makes our job as quarterbacks a lot easier to throw to guys like that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Robert sliding is only a big deal if he gets injured in the process. You know, I've seen guys get hurt trying to slide, actually. One time I actually almost broke my wrist trying to slide; the guy hit me in my wrist. I said, 'Damn, I should have just stayed up and took it like a man.' He has to understand - and he does understand - that that quarterback position is very important. I'm not going to say the most important, but it's a very important position and we need him healthy for 16 weeks. So if he has the opportunity to take any hit off of him and slide, to play another play and not risk taking another injury, that's what he needs to do." -- Coach Jay Gruden on QB Robert Griffin III's struggles with knowing how and when to slide while running.
NFL Team Report - Washington Redskins - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Redskins cut P Blake Clingan on Aug. 20, but that doesn't mean that the job definitely belongs to Robert Malone. Coach Jay Gruden said that Washington might well sign another player at that spot.
--OLB Brian Orakpo left the 23-17 loss to Baltimore on Aug. 23 with what coach Jay Gruden termed a "very minor" sprained ankle.
--T Morgan Moses departed the Ravens' game with what Gruden termed a slight sprained MCL in his right knee.
--CB Chase Minnifield said that he injured a hamstring against Baltimore but still hopes to play in the Aug. 28 preseason finale at Tampa Bay.
--RB Chris Thompson sat out the Baltimore game with an ankle injury he suffered against Cleveland on Aug. 18.
--ILB Darryl Sharpton sat out the Baltimore game with the sprained ankle he suffered in the Aug. 7 preseason opener against New England.
--CB Tracy Porter sat out the Ravens' game with a hamstring suffered on Aug. 18 against Cleveland.
--LB Rob Jackson had his contract terminated by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--FB Stephen Campbell was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--WR Cody Hoffman was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--LB Jeremy Kimbrough was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--WR Rashad Lawrence was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--S Ross Madison was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--DE Jake McDonough was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--LB Adrian Robinson was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
--DE Jeremy Towns was waived by the Redskins Sunday (Aug. 24).
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