While a highly anticipated preseason game sounds like an oxymoron, this game got as close as it gets. It featured the top two picks of the draft, who happen to be two highly anticipated quarterbacks, going head to head. Both played well in a relatively exciting preseason matchup.
Outside of the quarterback position, both teams went through plenty of changes this offseason. While the Redskins seem more ready to be a better football team now, they are also playing in a significantly more difficult division. Both teams have some reason to be optimistic, as well as plenty of things they need to work on. Below are the players I decided to keep an eye on while the starters were still on the field.
Washington Redskins – Three Things of Note
1) RGIII’s Home Debut
As expected, Robert Griffin III started the game and played the entire first half as well as the first drive of the third quarter. While there were no huge plays made in the passing game, there was still enough to be impressed.
He completed 11 of 17 passes on the day, with three of the incompletions coming on plays where he went deep and overthrew both his receiver and the defense. Another play was a clear drop, while a further one was more of a throw away due to pressure, leaving just a single play where he missed a close target.
On the other hand, there weren’t a lot of overly impressive completions. For the majority of his passes the receiver was running an out route, or a route which resulted in hitting a receiver while he was running towards a sideline.
To no surprise, the most impressive aspect of his play was his ability to move around in the pocket. There were a few plays where a defender was in position to make a play, but he easily enough moved away from the defense and found the place he needed to be in order to throw the ball.
2) Return of Jenkins
You always hate to see injuries that take a player out for the season, but it is just a tad more heartbreaking when the player is in his first year of the NFL. That was the case with defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins, who was drafted 41st overall by the Redskins in 2011, but an ACL injury took him out for the year.
While he didn’t start this game, he played in the majority of snaps with the first-team defense. He played all three positions in the three-man front, including both inside positions in the nickel defense. There was even a zone blitz where they asked him to go back into coverage. Basically, they asked him to do it all, which leads me to believe he will see significant snaps in the regular season playing multiple roles.
While the entire defense played excellently in run defense, there was no play that stood out for Jenkins in run defense. On both run and pass plays, there were times when he had good penetration to the inside that led to the ballcarrier going more to the outside. He wasn’t able to come up with much more pressure, but there were a surprisingly high number of plays where he was double-teamed. This left some of the stronger pass rushers on the outside against just one blocker. He could be a player to keep an eye on if the rest of the line is as unimpressive as last year.
3) Riley’s the Real Deal
Last year in Week 10, Perry Riley took the starting inside linebacker job from Rocky McIntosh, and was a huge improvement in the run game. He is primed to have an even bigger year this season and could form one of the better run-stopping inside linebacker duo’s in the league. In this game he gave even more reason to believe Washington can have a great run defense.
From the start of the game he played great. On the very first play, two players tried to block him yet he was still able to contribute to a tackle. On the second play he went unblocked and prevented Donald Brown from getting through his run gap.
Over the course of the game he was a part of five tackles. There were a few other plays where he got into the running gap and forced the runner to change direction, leading them to quickly get tackled by someone else. The only negative in his game were a few plays when he blitzed but was unsuccessful in causing much pressure.
Indianapolis Colts – Three Things of Note
1) A Little Luck
After the first two drives of the game, I wasn’t all that happy with Luck’s performance. The throws he made were short or the receiver was no longer in motion when the ball got to him. On some of the passes he completed, most of the yards came after the catch, which is good for the offense but doesn’t tell me a lot about Luck. When it came to getting pressured, he didn’t do a great job of moving around, which resulted in incomplete passes and sacks.
On his third drive, which was his touchdown drive, he started to be more impressive. He hit Reggie Wayne early on the drive while he was on the run, and later avoided pressure for the touchdown pass. His two-minute drill wasn’t all that successful, which involved more throws where he wasn’t hitting receivers in stride.
On his final drive, he was finally able to hit a receiver in stride. Therefore, despite every complaint I had about him during the beginning of the game, he was able to show he could play by the end of it. It will be great if he can make that sort of progression throughout the season.
2) Nowhere to Run
For the past several years it has been Joseph Addai in the Colts backfield, but now his time is Indianapolis is done. Donald Brown is the main man, with Mewelde Moore and fifth-round rookie Vick Ballard as his backups. Moore didn’t play in this game, so while the starters were in we saw Brown and Ballard take the carries. During this time they had a combined 11 runs for 14 yards.
While it may have helped if the runners were a little more elusive, the problem looked to be in the blocking. On a number of runs there was just no hole, so the runner had to find somewhere to go himself. On the few occasions there was a hole, a defender was in it. And there was also a problem of outside players, like a cornerback, coming in unblocked to make a tackle.
On the bright side, Donald Brown did have a successful conversion on 3rd-and-1, and he made a nice move to get by an unblocked defender for another 4-yard run. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that caused all of the rushing problems, but the run game was without a doubt ineffective.
3) Freeney’s New Position
The Colts have made the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. This has meant a position change for Dwight Freeney from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. While I typically don’t expect 32-year-old players in the front seven to play every down for a half in a pre-season game, that is what we saw from Freeney in this one.
During the game he played on both the left and right side, and at times put his hand on the ground, although for the most part he played standing up. When it came to pass rushing, it didn’t look like he had lost a step compared to last year. On a few plays he had a nice bull rush trying to run the tackle into RGIII and making him scramble around the pocket.
There were only two plays I noted where it looked like Freeney was going into coverage. The first came on a screen play, so his coverage skills weren’t tested. The other was on a delayed run, so again we didn’t really get to see him in coverage.
Over the years, Freeney has been a great example of a great pass rusher who is a liability in the run game. For the majority of the first half, Washington had a lot of success running the ball with sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris, but for the most part he was running either down the middle, or in the opposite direction of Freeney. Freeneu’s biggest problems in the run game came when he over pursued to the middle of the field to try making a play, and then the back switched his run direction and went around him. Overall, we should see the same Freeney we are used to despite the position change, unless he does get tested in coverage.