August 15, 2010

Shanahan's Debut Is Enticing But...

There was little to hate in regards to the Washington Redskins' 42-17 pounding of the Buffalo Bills on Friday night.

Mike Shanahan made his debut as the Redskins' head coach one to remember as Washington scored early and often. The 42 points they scored surpassed the 41 points scored in the first three games of last year's preseason. Jim Zorn fans, take note.

Donovan McNabb led a scoring drive while Rex Grossman headed up three more and undrafted rookie Brandon Banks quickly made us all forget Antwaan Randle El by returning a punt 77 yards for a TD.

They say the preseason isn't always a telling sign of what a team will be like in the regular season, but it was encouraging to see an offensive line, so overmatched last year, surrendering just two sacks and paving the way to a 140-yard rushing performance.

Trent Williams built on an impressive training camp in his debut as a Redskin. The entire line appeared to have chemistry and they moved effectively in the new zone-blocking scheme.

In years past, it was never a good thing to watch a Redskins preseason game. Too often the offense was vanilla, predictable, and tough to stomach. Despite the struggles, we would always write it off as the preseason. Zorn and Joe Gibbs were just keeping the juicy details of their offense under wraps until the real games started, right?

Wrong. Once the regular season came around, it became painfully obvious that the offense's preseason struggles were an accurate indicator of how bad they really were. The Redskins have been offensively challenged for years, and so it was breath of fresh air to see a confident, aggressive unit on Friday.

Obviously, there must be continued success to generate some real belief in the offense, but it sure was nice to see things working out for the 'Skins. Even an ill-advised Grossman pass in the red zone was snagged by tight end Fred Davis for a TD when it could have easily been taken the other way by Bills' cornerback Reggie Corner. It was that kind of night for the 'Skins.

Clinton Portis received his turn as the feature back against Buffalo. He rushed for 22 yards on six carries. Larry Johnson will get a crack at it next week against Baltimore. However, the real stars on the ground were the two guys not on everyone's radar coming into training camp.

Ryan Torain, a Shanahan draft pick from his days in Denver, rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries while rookie Keiland Williams had 11 carries for 51 yards and a pair of rushing TD's. Torain added a catch for 22 yards and made a good block that helped spring Banks on his punt return TD.

Banks, the Big 12 special teams player of the year in 2009, was the big story as he returned four punts for 97 yards including his scintillating 77-yard scamper. The Redskins have not possessed a player with Banks' speed in years, and so far he seems like a player worth keeping on the roster just so he can touch the ball a handful of times per game.

Banks did muff a punt, but his dazzling return squashed the memory of the miscue far into the summer night. He stands at just 5-7 and might weigh 160 pounds soaking wet, but the guy has the acceleration and speed to make it in the league as a game-breaker. Think Rudy Ruettiger with dynamite in his cleats.

But not all was flawless on Friday. While Banks and the offense rightfully drew rave reviews, it was the defense which was the cause for concern. And it shouldn't come as a surprise given the recent switch to a 3-4 base.

The Bills averaged 8.1 yards per rush against the 'Skins renovated front seven, and the lateral speed of the linebacking corps was largely to blame. I was afraid that the OLB's would be liabilities in coverage and in containing the edge. What I saw last night did nothing to convince me otherwise.

The pass rush is ferocious and it will have to be all season in order to hide the deficiencies in coverage from the linebackers. London Fletcher is suited to be a plugger. He isn't a guy who is incredibly versatile. Same goes with Lorenzo Alexander, Andre Carter, Brian Orakpo; none of these guys are strong in coverage.

This shortage of multi-dimensional linebackers will hinder the defense, but I would bet Albert Haynesworth emerges as a solution. Friday night, he certainly looked the part as he drew several double teams and forced some pressure up the middle while playing for two series in the second quarter.

A healthy, productive Haynesworth at nose tackle will give the linebackers extra space to operate while also giving the Redskins an ability to control the line of scrimmage. Current starting nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu is still not at 100 percent after his Achilles injury, offering Haynesworth the perfect situation to win back the starting job. He's too good to sit on the bench and Shanahan knows it. It's simply a matter of time.

However, for now the front seven on defense will have to make the necessary adjustments to ensure their lack of lateral speed can be overcome by a strong pass rush and improved secondary. Rest assured changes will be made for next week's game against Baltimore, and we will see how positive these changes are.

It was only a preseason game, yet there was plenty to approve of in the Mike Shanahan debut. The recently-installed HD video boards were christened at Fedex Field with some highlight-reel performances as the 'Skins executed their gameplan to near perfection. The new era of Redskins football didn't fail to thrill us in its opening act on a night where the Burgundy and Gold played with the swagger of a champion.


vj2kool said...

Thanks for the details on Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain My fantasy owners will add them to the "Sleepers list" I will certainly keep an eye out for both of them. But I would like to know what you thought of Portis overall?

I have been telling my Fantasy peeps to draft Larry Johnson in the late rounds (after 13 -16 rounds) he looked good in camp. Now just to see him start maybe a whole new thing

Banks looks like he is going to be a difference maker for you guys! Good Luck Redskins!
- Vince J

Jack said...

Portis doesn't bring his A game until the regular season, but given the improved state of the offensive line and Portis being in shape, I think he would be a good pick between rounds 2-4.

He is more explosive and focused, plus he will factor in on third downs due his blocking skills. He will be the workhorse as far as I can see.

I see him rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring somewhere between 5-8 TDs. LJ will steal goal line carries for sure so it would be a good idea to handcuff them.