Joe Gibbs himself summed it up best after the game Saturday night, when he stated simply that the Redskins were 'solid'. Indisputably, their 17-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins was a definite improvement. While little can be made of any pre-season win, first-stringers played most of the first half for both teams, and it was a first half dominated by the Redskins.
Defensively, the Redskins continue to be impressive. Despite being without Lavar Arrington and Mike Barrow, Washington's defense was 'solid' from starters to scrubs. Gregg Williams called a very aggressive game and gave Redskin fans a taste of what his 4-6 defense is all about. The beleaguered defensive line got good pressure on AJ Feeley the entire half but the new emerging star of this defense, Marcus Washington, registered the only sack. Actually, Antonio Pierce also got to Feeley once on a 3rd and 5, but the sack was nullified by a penalty to rookie Sean Taylor.
So did Taylor struggle in his first start as a Redskin?
Not quite. Four plays later, Taylor put his first big league smack on Chris, forcing a fumble, and then recovered it as well. When the Redskins drafted the Miami phenom with the 5th overall pick, they knew they were getting a game changer. But even they probably didn't realize just how good this kid might be. Jeff Bostic commented during the game that Gregg Wiliams had stated that they needed to try and teach Taylor some humility because 'the game just comes too easy for him'.
Antonio Pierce also had a 'solid' workman-like performance after getting the start at middle linebacker in place of Barrow. He registered 2 tackles and an assist as well as being all around the ball.
A lot of the credit for the defense's performance belongs with Williams. So far in the pre-season, the Redskins have not allowed a first half touchdown to be scored against them. It is certainly refreshing to watch a defense go after the quarterback so aggressively. Williams brought pressure from everywhere Saturday night, and he brought it often. The decimated Dolphins line-up never had an answer.
Offensively for the Redskins, Mark Brunell looked much better. His accuracy was better, and he looked much more comfortable. Other than overthrowing a 3rd down play, he was nearly perfect going 7 of 9 for 79 yards in nearly a full half of work. Clinton Portis gave the burgundy and gold faithful their first taste of his potential ability as well. He broke one sweep for 22 yards and racked up 37 yards on 7 carries in just one series of action. He capped that series with a one-yard touchdown run.
Of course, it's easy to run like Portis, and quarterback like Brunell, when you're dominating the line of scrimmage.
The Washington starting offensive line was awesome, both in protection, and in run blocking. Joe Bugel is definitely making a mark. The aforementioned Portis TD run was behind a massive block by Randy Thomas, but Chris Samuels, Lennie Friedman, Derrick Dockery and 'fill-in' Kenyatta Jones all had equally 'solid' hog-like performances. Brunell was not touched all night and the Redskins running backs finished the first half a combined 22 carries for 75 yards. The Gibbs' offense hinges on the ability to rush for 4 yards on first down, and the Redskins seemed to be doing it at will. Hogs... Dirtbags... whatever you want to call them... Saturday, they were the most 'solid' unit on the field.
The Redskins' offensive line seemed to dominate regardless of what 'string' was playing. Cory Raymer anchored the second unit as well as Friedman did the first, and the center job continues to be probably the toughest roster battle on the team. Ray Brown did not look old... nor did he look rusty. He did however look big... and capable. It was the play of ALL of the Redskins' offensive linemen that allowed them to put up a staggering, 41:22 in time of possession compared to Miami's 18:38. That's ball-control offense.
Miami was decimated by injuries with 21 players sitting out and for the most part, they looked like it. Travis Minor does not look like the cure for the loss of Ricky Williams and managed just 15 yards on 8 carries. AJ Feeley and Jay Fiedler both had disappointing outings going 4 of 8 for 36 and 4 of 9 for 41 yards respectively. In fact, Miami only mustered 98 total yards of offense the entire game (25 rushing, 73 passing) compared to Washington's 301 total yards (181 rushing, 120 passing).
Perhaps the only Redskins' unit that wasn't 'solid', was special teams. Danny Smith looked furious most of the night and often with good reason. After Ola Kimrin kicked a 26-yard field goal to put Washington up 17-0 early in the third quarter, his ensuing kickoff was returned 49 yards by Fred Russell negating the Redskins' momentum. Gari Scott and Chad Morton combined for a mere 10 yards on 5 punt returns and Scott also fumbled a punt return giving Miami it's only other decent field position.
Patrick Ramsey showed some signs of improvement, but is definitely lagging behind in the quarterback battle. He continues to look uncomfortable in the pocket, but he did make a few good plays. With Brunell's strong outing Saturday though, it seems nearly a foregone conclusion that he will get the nod. As long as both guys continue to improve, and get along so well, the Redskins quarterback situation is as 'solid' as any team in the league.
John Simon has been 'solid' all pre-season, but Saturday, he might have earned himself a roster spot. With Ladell Betts still on the shelf, Simon got a lot of time with the first and second units. His 43 yards on 12 rushing attempts may not have been much on it's own, but coupled with an additional 42 yards on 4 receptions, Simon proved that he can be a versatile back.
Renaldo Wynn had a good game Saturday. Though he did not register any sacks or tackles, he did have a quarterback pressure and got good penetration on several occasions. Always 'solid' against the run, Wynn seems to be enjoying the diversity afforded him in Williams' 4-6 defense.
Chris Cooley continues to show he belongs on this team. He saw limited action, but made a 'solid' grab for 12 yards and it was early in the second quarter against first string competition.
Nic Clemons continues to play well late in games. Despite the fact that it is against 'scrubs', he consistently puts in a 'solid' effort and the Gibbs' coaching regime is sure to notice. It may only be on the practice squad, but expect Clemons to earn a pay cheque from the Redskins in 2004.
Perhaps the most 'solid' performance Saturday was by the Redskins' coaching staff. Few mistakes were made, few penalties were taken, and despite the fact that the game didn't 'matter', the Redskins got another win. These games may not count for anything, but a 'solid' improvement is all you can ask of your team.