*Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Thursday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field: *
The Washington Redskins took the field to face an opponent for the first time in 214 days today, as they took on the Tennessee Titans for the preseason opener for the 2013 season.
Good, bad or indifferent, the final score is irrelevant in exhibition action, but for the participants on the field, the opportunity to continue an NFL dream lies in the balance.
Roster cuts won't occur until after the third preseason game, but for the first time in a long time, more established NFL players are competing for their jobs as the level of competition has risen on the roster. Even in a game that technically means nothing, the Redskins played with pride and a sense of urgency tonight.
The Redskins got beaten at the line of scrimmage a number of times early in the evening, with the most notable coming on a Chris Johnson run through a giant hole in the first quarter. Clearly, there were a number of breakdowns on the play, as rookie safety Bacarri Rambo was left one-on-one with one of the fastest athletes in the NFL and way too much open space to cover. Johnson faked left and cut right, putting Rambo out of position on a 58-yard touchdown run.
PLAY OF THE GAME
It took 57:30 to get there, but the Redskins turned in the play of the game off a two-point conversion for the fourth-quarter lead. On the previous play, Pat White took the ball up the middle himself for a 9-yard touchdown. Sensing another quarterback keeper, the Titans defense locked down, driving White backwards out of the pocket. Dropping back, he found undrafted tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi in one-on-one coverage in the end zone and flicked a pass into the numbers. Ogbuehi held on for the catch, the lead and the win.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was given the keys to the starting lineup and drove it like a well-oiled machine. He stayed in only two drives, but found success, throwing 6-for-7 for 52 yards and a touchdown. That works out to be a 137.2 quarterback passer rating, and one of the best stretches of his NFL career. Last time he faced a starting defense as a starter, Cousins went one-for-six with an interception against the Cleveland Browns. Tonight, he was in command, directing the offense and picking up the early lead.
After leading the NFL in rushing last season, the Redskins look to get better this season with the healthy return of Roy Helu Jr. The team rested a number of starters tonight, including Alfred Morris, and Helu Jr. carried the offense through most of the first half, gaining 57 yards on 12 carries and a long of 13. The NFL's best rushing attack just got better.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins got some of their injured players back in the fold tonight without exposing any of them to injuries. Tight end Fred Davis started the parade with a pair of catches on the offense's second drive of the game, including a three yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone. These were Davis' first catches since tearing his Achilles' last year in Week 7 at New York. It was also his first touchdown of any kind since Week 12 of the 2011 season and his first preseason touchdown since Week 1 of the 2010 preseason vs. Buffalo.
--Redskins outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are picking up where they left off at the start of last season, with each player tallying a sack against Titans starter Jake Locker in the first quarter. Credit the pass defense for good coverage on the play, but Locker was trapped in the pocket on both sacks, indicating a good push up front.
--Brian Orakpo has been such a force throughout offseason training and training camp that it's easy to forget he missed nearly 15 regular season games in the last two seasons with pectoral injuries. Orakpo told the media at the beginning of camp that he would play unafraid, and that's exactly what he did out there tonight. There are certainly things to tighten up on defense, but the pass rush looks strong early.
--Redskins running back Roy Helu Jr. looked healthy for the first time the Week 14 matchup against the New England Patriots in 2011. Getting the start for a healthy Alfred Morris, Helu Jr. showed that he still has vision and speed, bouncing runs to the outside and cutting back through the hole with ease. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he would select the second-best running back as his backup to Alfred Morris, and Helu Jr. did nothing to disappoint tonight.
--Rex Grossman recovered from early struggles this evening to lead the offense on a 12-play, 84-yard drive for a touchdown at the end of the half. Grossman may not be in contention for a starting position on this squad, but his veteran experience comes through in clutch situations like that.
--Third-year receiver Leonard Hankerson had a strong night, catching four passes on five targets and converting a touchdown on a pass to the flats. Hankerson needs to show consistency this preseason but got off to a strong start tonight.
--The Redskins developed the returner battle this evening, seeing Niles Paul, Richard Crawford and Skye Dawson in action for the first time. True return opportunities were limited tonight, but Niles Paul showed his willingness to make an impression by returning a ball five yards deep in the end zone. Dawson did the same on punt returns, but ended up with a net return on two punts of -4 yards. He then turned in the return performance of the night, taking the final punt 27 yards back to help seal a preseason victory.
--Veteran cornerback E.J. Biggers had a limited night on defense, collecting just two tackles, but made his impact on special teams. Playing coverage, Biggers got downfield in a hurry and was there to receive a booming Sav Rocca punt at the Titans 6-yard line to end the third quarter. Rather than letting it go into the end zone for a touchback, Biggers forced the Titans' worst starting field position of the night.
--The Redskins offense relied on a methodical approach tonight, picking up 24 first downs and outgaining the Titans in total yards, 359 to 269. The score may not reflect the success the team had on offense, but the offense showed that they could move the football throughout the game, which reflects well on the team's cohesion early in the preseason process.
--Reserve left tackle Tom Compton had a solid start to his 2013 season and laid one mammoth hit on Titans defenders near the goal line to clear the way for a Leonard Hankerson score. Compton was visibly fired up after the play and he should be. By clearing out the defender, Hankerson had a clear path to the end zone after a reception in the flats. Can't draw it up much better than that.
--Pat White had a strong showing in his return to football, finishing with a stat line of 5-for-8 for 31 yards and another four rushes for 34 yards and a touchdown. White is a true dual-threat quarterback and showed his ability on the team's final scoring drive. After running the touchdown in himself, White put nice touch on a pass to tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi for the two-point conversion. Welcome back, Pat.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--Most mistakes in the preseason can be attributed to simple rust or miscommunication between teammates. The Redskins did make a number of mistakes tonight, but that is why the NFL plays four preseason games: so teams are ready to go full force by Week 1. Take all negatives with a grain of salt—teams aren't expected to look great at this point in the season.
--Starting strong safety Bacarri Rambo got exposed to NFL speed early in his career, biting on a fake by Titans running back Chris Johnson that resulted in a 58-yard touchdown by the former 2,000-yard back. Johnson is one of the best at his position when healthy, so there's no shame in compensating for his outside speed. This game film should prove useful for the youngster as he prepares for a bright future in the NFL.
--While the penalties committed weren't egregious, the starters committed a few avoidable penalties, including a delay of game on an obvious punt situation and an offsides penalty on Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo. Later in the first half, Rambo drew a frustration penalty as he shoved a Titans running back out of bounds after a touchdown. That can't happen. The Redskins defense has shown a visible aggression early this year which pays dividends with sacks and turnovers. However, if unchecked, teams will use hard counts to keep them off balance all year.
--Third-year receiver Aldrick Robinson is expected to make the next step this season, but must seize on every opportunity he gets. His wide-open drop in the middle of the second quarter led to a punt two plays later plays later. The Titans failed to take advantage of the miscue, but teams in the regular season will not.
--Cornerback Richard Crawford likely got robbed on a fourth-quarter interception, trapping the ball between his legs as he rolled around in the end zone for a touchback. Unfortunately for him, video replay was inconclusive one way or the other and did not show enough to overturn the play on the field. The Titans ultimately converted for a touchdown several plays later, sealing the game.
By completing five passes tonight, Pat White surpassed his career totals for NFL passes. In 2010, he went four-for-four in a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. He failed to complete a pass in the regular season and was out of football until this year. It's been a long time coming, but congrats, Pat.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield on the return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo:
"He's come back like a hungry, wild animal, so Orakpo's going to be back to his Pro Bowl ways."
The Redskins bring football back to Washington next week, hosting their first preseason game of the schedule at FedExField against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
It will be the first of two preseason games in five days at FedExField, but will come after an 11-day rest from Game 1.
The third preseason game is traditionally seen as the dress rehearsal game for the regular season, but it is likely that more Redskins players will be active for Game 2 than tonight.
Ultimately, the outcome of preseason games don't count for anything, and plenty of Super Bowl winners have underperformed in the preseason.
However, with tonight's game, the Redskins have a lot to feel good about and a reasonable list of things to work on. This was a valuable progress report on the work that they've done in training camp, and as the team starts introducing more elements of the playbook, look for the play to improve.
Considering the team trotted out three rookie starters on defense, resting eight guys that started at least one game last season for the team, this was a quality showing on both sides of the ball.
The Redskins will fly back tonight and lift tomorrow, but it's back to the grind on Saturday. Come watch the Redskins in action at 1 p.m. at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.