Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Thursday's Redskins-Lions Preseason Week 2 showdown at FedExField.
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ESTABLISH A RHYTHM
](http://www.papajohns.com/index.html)Redskins head coach Jay Gruden on Tuesday said the first-team Redskins offense will play about a quarter, "maybe longer," Thursday night against the Lions, giving the unit a chance to establish a rhythm heading into its most extensive preseason test next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
In Washington's preseason opener last week against the Cleveland Browns, its first-team offense saw the field for 17 snaps over two series. The Redskins were unable to find the end zone in those two series, but did come away with a long Kai Forbath field goal before ending their night.
Now, things could've been much different for the Redskins had quarterback Robert Griffin III and Pierre Garçon been able to hook up on a wide open 60-plus-yard touchdown pass that was dropped on Washington's first drive. But the team knows that opportunities like that will, on occasion, fall through the cracks, so working on moving on, staying consistent and establishing a rhythm as a unit will be key Thursday vs. the Lions.
"Yeah, we want to get points on the board, move the ball," Griffin III said this week of his goals for the offense vs. Detroit. "It's a very tough defense that we'll be going against so its going to be a good test. But like I said, you just want to get plays, get the rhythm, timing of everything back down, on the gameday, and see how guys are moving, continue to increase our tempo as an offense and just get positive plays."
Perhaps just as important for the Washington offense (and defense and special teams, for that matter) will be staying as injury-free as possible Thursday. The offense alone has already seen three key contributors lost to the season due to injuries (tight ends Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen and second-year running back Silas Redd Jr.).
Though it's been just one preseason game, the Redskins' defense showed a good amount of promise and development under first-year coordinator Joe Barry against the Browns.
Tightening as the game progressed after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive, the Redskins held the Browns to 3.1 yards per play, the team's best per-play defensive performance in a preseason game since holding the New England Patriots to 2.7 yards per play on Aug. 26, 2006.
The defense's style of play was a positive sign for Gruden.
"They hustled and they were physical. You could see that," Gruden said. "It's exciting to see some new guys we brought in playing with a little more confidence. I think that if you build yourself a strong defense and a good running game, you're going to be in a lot of football games."
The Redskins will certainly have their work cut out for them Thursday against the Lions, who feature weapons across the board in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
But the Washington defense will also have to be weary of the running back position for the Lions, which appears much improved in 2015. In Detroit's 23-3 preseason victory over the New York Jets last week, rookie running back Ameer Abdullah, a second-round pick, and undrafted rookie Zach Zenner combined for 20 carries for 122 yards.
Against the Browns, the Redskins had key contributions throughout the game from several young players, each of whom are hoping to keep the momentum going against the Lions. They included outside linebackers Preston Smith (six tackles [two for loss] and a sack), Trent Murphy (who didn't record a tackle, but was a menace), Houston Bates (two sacks on consecutive plays) and Jackson Jeffcoat (one sack), middle linebackers Martrell Spaight (five tackles) and Terrance Plummer (six tackles) and safety Akeem Davis (who had an interception).
COLT'S TIME TO SHINE
Last week against the Browns, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins entered the game in the second quarter and turned in a gem, completing 12-of-14 passes for 154 yards and running for a touchdown, while also helping turn a 14-3 deficit into a 20-17 lead the Redskins wouldn't relinquish by midway through the third quarter.
Check out the top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Preseason Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns Aug. 13, 2015, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The performance certainly helped Cousins' case to be the team's No. 2 quarterback by the start of the regular season, a battle he currently finds himself in with veteran Colt McCoy.
Gruden confirmed this week that on Thursday, McCoy will get his shot to lead the No. 2 offense during a big chunk of the game, with Cousins coming in for the final quarter or so.
Last week against the Browns, McCoy effectively protected the team's three-point lead, completing 4-of-6 passes for 33 yards.
Gruden this week talked about the "open competition" between Cousins and McCoy.
"They're both doing some great things in practice," he said. "And, obviously, Kirk [Cousins] had a very strong performance against Cleveland. So, Colt's just got to parlay a solid performance when he played in the games last year, and see his growth and see what he's all about and move the team and get the ball in the end zone."
The Redskins last season kept three quarterbacks – Griffin III, Cousins and McCoy – the entire season. Gruden has hinted at the possibility of keeping just two quarterbacks in 2015, which would free up a spot for another player at another position. So Thursday's game vs. the Lions will have huge implications for all three Redskins quarterbacks – but for various reasons, of course.
TIGHT END DEPTH
Make no bones about it: the Redskins have been faced with a major issue early on at the tight end position, where two of the team's top three players at the position have already suffered season-ending injuries.
Those injuries to Paul (ankle) and Paulsen (toe) led to the Redskins signing two tight ends in the past week in D.J. Williams and Ernst Brun. Of the six current Washington tight ends, only Jordan Reed and Williams have NFL regular-season experience under their belts.
Thursday's game will be a good test to see exactly where the young Redskins tight ends stand against another NFL team's defense. Reed will likely be held out with a stiff hamstring, so rookie Je'Ron Hamm – a converted wide receiver – could get the start, followed by fellow rookies Chase Dixon and Devin Mahina, and then the two new signees in Williams and Brun.
Gruden said it's important for any new tight end with the Redskins to realize how important the blocking responsibilities are in addition to any role they play in the passing game.
"It's something that they're a work in progress and these weeks leading up to the first regular season game are going to be very important," he said. "You've got Detroit obviously; you have a very tough Baltimore front. We have some games that we can get a good look."
To help with those blocking responsibilities – and to help prevent further injuries – the Redskins have explored lining up an offensive lineman at the tight end position, particularly tackle Tom Compton, who has prior experience doing just that. "There can be positives to that – your play-action protection is probably a little bit more sound with a bigger guy there, your running game obviously," Gruden said. "But obviously we would like to get a tight end to emerge in there; whether it's Jordan Reed or [Chase] Dixon or [Je'Ron]Hamm or [Devin] Mahina or somebody. We would like to get some work in there but Compton is a good option."
REDSKINS ON TV: Don't forget to catch all the action between the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet!