*Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Monday Night's preseason home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedExField: *
The Washington Redskins ran out of the tunnel tonight, exactly 225 nights after falling to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card game. The stakes were certainly different in this game, but the feeling of optimism remained, as nearly 70,000 fans turned out to celebrate football back in the Nation's Capital.
The Redskins sought more seasoning for their starters tonight, with plans to leave the regulars in until halftime. Running back Alfred Morris was expected to get his first action of the 2013 campaign and the Redskins were expected to trot rookies David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo back out to man the starting secondary.
Regardless of the final score, the Redskins looked to make big strides toward the regular season tonight.
The Redskins defense had their way with the Steelers offensive line, frequently collapsing the pocket putting pressure on all four Steelers quarterbacks, chasing Ben Roethlisberger early, knocking Charlie Batch out of the game and sacking Bruce Gradkowski twice. The most colossal collision was dealt by Redskins inside linebacker Bryan Kehl, who raced through untouched for a 8-yard planting of Gradkowski.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Last week's Play of the Game took until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, while this week's happened midway through the first. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has a knack for defending the screen pass, as he shed his blocker, reached up and thieved a pass from Ben Roethlisberger. The advantage to intercepting passes in the flats is the ability to take them untouched for a touchdown, which he was happy to do, finishing it off with an emphatic slam dunk over the crossbar.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The defense ruled the night, putting constant pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, making a mockery of a young, rebuilding offensive line. The lynchpin of the defensive onslaught was outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who continued his reign of terror on opposing quarterbacks. Now in his third season, Kerrigan is playing like a man on fire, picking up better than he left off last season, a Pro Bowl campaign. It's easy to say that he will benefit from the return of Brian Orakpo, but tonight he showed that he could do it without No. 98 as well, playing opposite of Darryl Tapp. In two preseason contests, Kerrigan has already logged two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Receiver Leonard Hankerson has taken big strides in his third preseason, serving as the team's top target through two games, including a touchdown in each matchup. Hankerson has had a bum rap for dropping passes, but has been the picture of consistency so far, hauling in six-of-eight targets.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins hit a homerun with their pass rush this offseason, getting back Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo, retaining veteran Rob Jackson, drafting Brandon Jenkins and adding converted defensive end Darryl Tapp. Taking advantage of the fact that players want to come to Washington to be part of the winning, the Redskins have stockpiled serious depth behind one of the best young pass rush tandems in the league.
--By having such a plethora of pass rushers on staff, the Redskins are able to mix and match on obvious passing downs. At one point in the second quarter, the team had Ryan Kerrigan up and a line composed of Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Darryl Tapp at the other end position. On the next play, the Redskins put in a four-man line of Brandon Jenkins, Kerrigan, Barry Cofield and Tapp. Add Brian Orakpo and Rob Jackson to the mix and the Redskins have more pass rushers than an offense can block.
--Redskins running back Alfred Morris got his first taste of preseason action today, and while his numbers may not be noteworthy (4 carries, 12 yards), he was back to taking live reps. Look to see more of Morris this Saturday vs. the Bills in what is commonly referred to as the dress rehearsal game for the regular season. He should be well-rested and ready by the time the Eagles roll around in Week 1.
--As Redskins running backs dropped like flies late in the fourth quarter, Roy Helu Jr. stepped up and stepped back into the game, taking one carry up the middle and right into the open field. Deftly picking his way through the line, Helu Jr. had a clear path to the end zone. Final line: one carry, 30 yards, touchdown.
--Nose tackle Barry Cofield did not suit up last week, but made up for last time this week, wreaking havoc in the middle of the defensive line. Cofield has been criticized by football "experts" for playing the nose tackle position undersized, but his athletic ability matches the tempo with which Jim Haslett directs his defense. By keep Ben Roethlisberger off balance early tonight, the Redskins were able to stifle the Steelers' offensive attack all night.
--Rookie safety Bacarri Rambo had a big bounce-back game tonight, forcing a fumble on running back Jonathan Dwyer by alertly punching the ball out. Rambo is technically a free safety but has a comfort level playing near the line of scrimmage, which plays into the Redskins' versatility at safety. He will be asked to play all over the field on defense and looked much less like a rookie tonight.
--The surface at FedExField looks dramatically improved over the last time the Redskins ran through the home tunnel. Sporting a fresh sod and boasting a new and improved drainage system, the Redskins made serious efforts to prevent the conditions from last year recurring late in the 2013 season. Of course, this is August and the meaningful games will happen four-five months from now, but this is a much better place to start.
--Rookie cornerback David Amerson may be new to the NFL, but he hasn't been the punching bag that most rookie defensive backs become. In fact, his first two opponents did not seem to be targeting him any more than your average veteran and he has responded well. Through two games, he has five tackles with a pass defensed, all while running with the first-string defense.
--Linebacker Bryan Kehl continues to make a strong case for the final 53-man roster, with three tackles and 1.5 sacks in limited action. That adds to his five tackles from last week for a solid preseason resume. The Redskins need quality depth on defense and special teams, a pair of roles that Kehl can fill. Look for the Redskins to keep him around this year as he continues to show ability and motor.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--For the second-consecutive game, a Redskins safety was flagged with a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds. On both occasions, the opposing player was clearly out of bounds and the reaction by the Redskins defender was one of frustration. Games can be won and lost on major penalties, and this flies in the face of what head coach Mike Shanahan talked about in players keeping their composure. It is only the preseason, but now is the time to correct the tendencies that will get players in real trouble during the regular season.
--Safety DeJon Gomes was the aforementioned offender tonight, drawing a pair of blatant personal fouls (one other for helmet-to-helmet contact) that cost his team 30 yards in penalties. Gomes is a physical player but should know better than to repeatedly put the defense on its heels.
--Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins showed his speed on a pair of rushes for 14 yards, but came up limping after the second hit. Defenses respect Cousins' arm and he should take what he can get, but losing Cousins leaves an uncertain quarterback situation going through the rest of the preseason. Robert Griffin III will not be used before Week 1, which leaves the offense in the hands of Rex Grossman and Pat White. Hopefully, his injury will be short term and his removal was precautionary.
--Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield was given X-rays on his hand and the injury is believed to be at least somewhat serious. If the Redskins lose him for any long period of time, they will lose a key playmaker and captain in the heart of their defense.
Including regular season games, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has three career interceptions. Having a finely-tuned nose for the end zone, he has returned all three for defensive touchdowns. Showing the ability to be versatile, he has also celebrated differently each time, dunking the ball over the crossbar tonight after previously celebrating with teammates and jumping into the stands.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on pick-six interception:
"Fletch alerted us before the play, 'Screen, watch the screen.' Sure enough, that's what came out and I was able to intercept it and take it to the house."
The Redskins will be back at FedExField in just five days, hosting the Buffalo Bills for the all-important third preseason game. Given the timeline and the availability of certain injured starters, this game could prove to be less like a dress rehearsal than the team might ideally like. That being said, it will be an important developmental opportunity for players and an even more important assessment period for the Redskins coaching staff.
Ultimately, the outcome of preseason games don't count for anything, and the Redskins have reason for concern with the number of injuries suffered tonight.
Losing quarterback Kirk Cousins for the remainder of the game will likely not impede his development or affect the Redskins' long-term situation at quarterback.
The possible long-term loss of nose tackle Barry Cofield, however, seriously damages the defense's depth and talent. The team is already without Jarvis Jenkins for the first four games of the season, moving Chris Baker to defensive end. Now Chris Neild could become the team's top option at nose tackle, shaking up the possibilities heading into roster cuts.
The Redskins will look to rest up ahead of Saturday's preseason matchup against the Buffalo Bills. If Cousins is unable to answer the bell on Saturday, look for the team to trot out Rex Grossman and Pat White to cover the quarterback duties.