First Impressions – Redskins @ Ravens

| August 29, 2011

It could be argued that preseason games are most exciting for fans of teams who haven’t decided on a starting quarterback. Ultimately, who cares about what the score of the game is, it’s simply time to evaluate the quarterbacks and decide on which one gives your team the best opportunity to win. It’s your chance to play GM. DVR, get ready for a workout. It’s time to rewind every decision the quarterback makes: was it a good throw away? a good decision to scramble? does he have enough zip on the ball?
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If you’re a Ravens fan, the only thing you’re evaluating about the quarterback is how well he’s being protected and whether that pain in your chest is heartburn from the chili dog or a heart attack induced by watching Flacco get sacked for the third time.
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The game ended in a final score of 34-31 in favor of the Ravens, but everyone knows that preseason games are not about the score, rather the storylines of the game. Here are three for each team.
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Baltimore – Three Things of Note
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●   You never want to give up sacks in the preseason, never mind three in the first half. In all fairness, the line was missing Marshal Yanda, Matt Birk, and even throw in newly acquired Bryant McKinnie, but it still wasn’t a performance to write home about. For the most part, a lot of pressure was being brought through the heart of the line. That shouldn’t be a surprise given the absences of Birk and Yanda, but even Ben Grubbs–who played really solidly last season–was responsible for allowing some of it. On the outside, Jah Reid, who doesn’t project to start given the addition of McKinnie, looked to be driven back a few times in the run game and gave up a sack after losing rookie Ryan Kerrigan. Michael Oher didn’t play poorly on the blindside, but on one play looked inside allowing Brian Orakpo to run free on his outside shoulder and deliver a big sack on Flacco … which is not what you want to see, especially in a preseason game. On the plus side for the Ravens, he does project to move to the right and this does look to be a very good defensive line for the Redskins.
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●   Ed Dickson is trying his best to replace Todd Heap, but it will most likely have to be a committee job with the help of fellow sophomore Dennis Pitta. In this game, he looked good receiving the ball, especially on a spectacular back-shoulder catch down the seam in coverage. There were a few plays where he seemed out-of-sync with Flacco, however, and still seemed to struggle blocking at the point of attack on run plays. For that reason, it seems Pitta will have to be relied on to at least help in the blocking department. Not that Pitta – or Heap, for that matter – is a mauler, but Dickson finished with PFF’s lowest run blocking grade of all tight ends last season with a -18.7.
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●   Terrence Cody has been named the starter at nose tackle with Kelly Gregg gone, which is a tall task after only registering 144 snaps in his rookie season. It’s not that Gregg was an every down player, he only saw 503 snaps himself, but Cody hasn’t really made it clear he can fill the limited role that will be asked of him. I know the questions about Cody typically include whether his 350 pound frame allow him the stamina to play consistently, but I think a bigger concern is his balance. For being as big as he is, Cody is knocked off his feet too easily. On Tim Hightower’s 37-yard touchdown run, he was knocked down leaving a wide open cut-back lane that led to the touchdown. In this game, something that jumped out to me was his slow feet. Having slow feet limits the benefits of his size, as even smaller lineman who keep theirs moving eventually power through him after his feet slow to a stop. It’s early and the Ravens expect a lot from him, so I will wait till he’s played a few more regular season snaps before declaring that he’ll disappoint.
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Washington – Three Things of Note
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●   John Beck’s first throw may have been one of the best of the night by either quarterback. He placed the ball just over Anthony Armstong’s shoulder in a place that even if Domonique Foxworth wasn’t beaten, he probably couldn’t have made a play on it. After that, I think it was Rex Grossman who impressed me the most. Grossman drove the offense on a sustained 80-yard drive at the end of the second quarter, while the starters for the Ravens’ defense were still in. It wasn’t a drive that saw the Ravens sit back, either. Baltimore was bringing pressure from a number of different areas, but Grossman stepped into it and made a number of impressive throws. The drive was concluded on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, after Grossman had identified the blown coverage and put the ball right where it needed to be. Beck also had an impressive drive later in the game, driving the Redskins 97 yards on 12 plays, but it wasn’t exactly against the Ravens’ starters. Needless to say, another game will be required before being able to say who will start for the season opener; it will probably take more than one game to decide who should start going forward.
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●   The Redskins’ first-round pick, Ryan Kerrigan, looked impressive in this game. It would be difficult to say that he outperformed some of his teammates on the defensive front seven, however, given how good Brian Orakpo and Barry Cofield looked, but that is simply a sign of how good the defensive front is looking at this point. Albert Haynesworth, who? It was hard to evaluate Kerrigan in coverage, as I didn’t really see many plays in his zone, but he did close well on one pass play to Ray Rice. In both run defense and pass rush, though, I saw enough to be convinced that he will succeed in the league. In the run, he regularly drove his blocker back a few yards and kept contain – forcing the runner back into the heart of the defense. Just a note though, some of that was against the aforementioned Dickson who is hardly a blocker to measure yourself by. In the pass rush, Kerrigan wasn’t as explosive as Orakpo (not many are), but showed a good motor and spin move on the play he got a sack.
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●   Khaled wrote that Tim Hightower would be a positional downgrade from Clinton Portis, mainly due to how good Portis is with his blocking. If this game is any indication, I am not so sure that will be the case. Other than on one play where he didn’t see Lardarius Webb, Hightower seemed to be picking up all the right rushers and giving either of the two quarterbacks more time to throw. In addition to that, Hightower showed good bursts and cuts, carving out yards against the Ravens defense. His best play was a 37-yard jaunt for a touchdown, on which he made a number of good cuts and decisions finding the open running lane and having the speed to finish off the run. Hightower–along with rookie Roy Helu – should prove great additions to Ryan Torain in the Redskins’ backfield.
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It was a game all about Washington’s quarterback battle (which still doesn’t have an answer), but defensively, the Redskins have improved which should give them a good chance to win more than the six they won last year. The Ravens, on the other hand, are probably hoping that the Redskins offense is better than last year’s because it found a few cracks in both their run and pass defense in the first half of this game.
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Follow Rodney on Twitter: @PFF_RodneyHart … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • uppercut

    Is it just me, or when Orakpo was the backside defender (runs & screens) his effort was pretty piss poor? Sure, it’s pre-season & even when it’s not there’s the realism of you actually standing a shot at affecting the play — but I prefer a guy to hustle his butt off regardless

    • Rodney Hart

      I saw your comment and went back and watched him exclusively for every play of the first half, and I would say that describing his effort as piss poor is definitely an overstatement.

      In the first half he was in for 36 snaps (all), and I think you could realistically question his effort on maybe four plays. Two of which were plays closing out the half-one that was a draw that would seem to end the half, then the Ravens squeezed in a last pass play before the half ended and he stopped rushing the passer after it looked like he hurt his hand. Also, I would say that he made at least four really good plays. Based on what I just saw, I am sure you could complain about many more players even on Sundays.

      I have a sneaking suspicion that you might be like my football coach who would make someone do sprints if he saw them not running on film. He even yelled at me during halftime for getting held while playing defensive end. That’s you, isn’t it uppercut? Ha ha..

  • uppercut

    I didn’t say EVERY play**, I just said when he was the backside defender (the run or screen going away from him – and maybe not all, but enough to bring the point up). And I DID acknowledge that there’s a “realism” aspect to it (even if you did hustle you might not make it or a teammate would get to the ball carrier first). But I don’t think it’s unrealistic/unfair to expect guys to be hustling – Orakpo or anyone.

    **There were some plays where he would have burst off the line, but when he saw the play was going the other way, he seemed to pull up & “stop”, and the times it happened were enough to sour me (especially given his level of physical talent & reputation). I’m not going to claim someone specific but there are talented players who still let their motor go 100% every snap. Call me old school but I respect that.

    • Rodney Hart

      I know you said when he was the backside defender, I just watched every play to be thorough. You’re definitely right, it’s not unfair or unrealistic to expect 100% from everyone on every play. I just didn’t see enough even on those few plays to really sour me, but I’m with you when it comes to respecting people who never stop chasing plays.