Everybody will talk about Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, and so will I, but I think I should start with the Redskins' defense. Having watched the Redskins play four games against the New York Giants over the past two seasons, the thing I noticed most about their 28-14 victory Sunday was the difference in the energy on the defensive side of the ball.
The Redskins did a lot in the offseason to improve their defense as they headed into the second year in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme. They added former Giant Barry Cofield at nose tackle, signed defensive end Stephen Bowen away from the Cowboys, brought in cornerback Josh Wilson and drafted outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. Those additions, plus the fact of the holdovers having spent 2010 learning what Haslett wanted from them, has resulted in major improvements over last year's defense, and it showed Sunday.
Kerrigan provided the highlight-reel play when he tipped and intercepted an Eli Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown, but there were big plays all over the field from the Redskins -- and at big times. The Giants were 1-for-10 on third downs and 0-for-1 on fourth, and running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for just 73 yards on 19 carries -- an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Manning had a lousy game and will surely get the bulk of the blame in New York. But without a healthy tight end and with the passing-game options limited, the Giants undoubtedly believed they could and would run on the Redskins. They were disappointed.
Shortly before the game, the Giants announced that star defensive end Justin Tuck would not play due to his neck injury. It was the final, crushing blow for a defense that lost starting cornerback Terrell Thomas, starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, starting defensive end Osi Umenyiora and reserve linebacker Clint Sintim to injury during preseason. The result was a badly undermanned Giants defense trying to stop a Redskins offense that looked sharp as it stuck to a good-looking plan. Grossman was 21-for-34 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, spreading the catches around among six different receivers. Tim Hightower carried the ball 25 times, demonstrating a commitment to the run that will serve the Redskins well as a foundation in every game this year if they can maintain it. Tight end Fred Davis was unstoppable, especially when he was able to get open in the middle part of the field against a confused and overwhelmed group of Giants linebackers.
The Redskins played an excellent all-around game in their opener. The Giants will limp home and deal with many of the major problems that were exposed in this game. But as Grossman and the Redskins prepare for next week's game against an Arizona defense that just gave up 422 yards to Cam Newton, the confidence and optimism they generated with their strong preseason has intensified, and they're surely (and justifiably) feeling very good about themselves.