Friday, August 13, 2010

The Great Taste of Preseasoning

Washington 42, Bills 17

I'm not usually one to put much effort in reviewing preseason games with depth or enthusiasm. These are the games that, frankly, serve as a teasing appetizer for the hearty, full-bodied supper called the NFL regular season. Most times teams approach these games as pure evaluation tools, hoping that their starters finish the four games unscathed and fresh for when the contests actually matter. But on some occasions, a preseason game means much, much, more than just limited playbooks executed by future UPS drivers.

Friday night's game signaled the true beginning of the New Era in Washington. Unlike previous
Redskins reboots, the fans got to see a true shift in the philosophy, key players, and (gasp!) ownership. This was the triumphant beginning of Shanahan the Man: no feigned excitement about an unknown coach, no ridiculously high-priced free agent saviors, no bizarre team strategies. Fans saw new coach Mike Shanahan's footprint all over the Skins the moment he addressed the media as new head coach with owner Snydely--excuse me, Daniel Snyder--nowhere in sight. This is his team, and he and GM Bruce Allen took the off season months to detonate the 2009 squad, as I requested, and start all over again.

So all eyes were on FedEx Field as Shanahan the Man, Donovan McNabb, Trent Williams, and, more slowly, Albert Haynesworth, trotted onto the field for this first exhibition contest.

Let me be frank, after taking copious notes for the first half, I followed the rest of the contest via streaming box score updates. (I did run to my DVR and rewind the plays over twenty yards. C'mon, I miss football as much as anyone but it IS just a preseason game.) With the horrific display of offense in 2009, I smiled when these revelations calmed my cautious expectations for 2010:

1. DJ McNabb looked great, making quick reads and decisions while throwing on target and scrambling when necessary. Frankly, that's all we need him to do...and all we wished Jason Campbell could have done. (Speaking of him, you can get a JC jersey for just a dollar! Replace the patch with "D. Williams" and enjoy!)

2. The first team offense performed solid. The first series was odd, featuring a Santana Moss end around on the second play of the game. (Remember when Coach Gibbs would run the most vanilla playbook during the preseason and lose the games?) But Cooley then got open and again in the second series when McNabb orchestrated multiple play action fakes. Clinton Portis ran hard, covering the ball well while wideout Anthony Armstrong certainly upped his prospects to return in September with a goal-line touchdown reception. Oh, and left tackle Trent Williams appears to be The Truth, doing a great job of keeping McNabb virtually untouched.

3. Rex Grossman appears to be a qualified backup...but let's hope we don't need him. I am pleased that he was able to meet my low expectations of his performance. He zipped balls in to open receivers, but he also made some questionable decisions on placement. Had Buffalo's defenders been a step better, Sir Grossman could have tossed two pick-six interceptions.

The one-quarter-of-pure-excitement continues next week when the Redskins face off against a Super Bowl contender in the Baltimore Ravens. Hopes are high in the land of crabcakes and Natty Boh with good reason: Anquan Boldin provides the best target that Joe Flacco's ever had and running back Ray Rice is this season's fantasy football keeper. For the first time in a long time, Baltimore might have a stronger offense than defense. A strong showing here, particularly from the first-team defense would add a wonderful spice to an increasingly flavorful preseason.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Newton/Washington Post

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