The story of the day in the preseason NFL was the game between the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts. The Redskins won the exhibition game 30-17, but that obviously wasn't what made it a story. This was the showdown between the top two picks in this year's draft -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Colts and Robert Griffin of the Redskins. And the pair put on a fun show.
Griffin was 11-for-17 for 74 yards and a touchdown. He missed on three deep throws down the field, but at least one appeared to be the fault of his wide receiver, and he showed quite a bit otherwise. On the four-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, Griffin moved out to the right side extremely quickly, showing his speed and preventing the Indianapolis defense from reacting in time to do anything about it. Griffin continues to show poise and confidence and doesn't get rattled when things don't go exactly as planned. Those are key qualities that, along with his talent and athleticism, bode well for his ability to handle NFL life in his rookie season and beyond.
Luck was 14-for-23 for 151 yards and a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. His test was tougher, since the Redskins' defense played better in this game than the Colts' defense did and he faced intense pressure on nearly every play, but he looked very good. Neither rookie quarterback showed anything to make his team feel any less excited about its future.
Here's what else I saw from the Redskins in this game:
The Redskins' defense is going to be about pressure up front. The defensive line and linebackers look very active and aggressive, even with Brian Orakpo out with an injury, and they did a very good job of disrupting things for Luck and for the Colts' run game in the backfield. When the Redskins drop a lot of guys into coverage, as they did on the Colts' final drive of the first half, their weaknesses are exposed. And when the quarterback avoids the rush, as Luck did on his touchdown throw, the Redskins could have problems downfield. On that play, safety Madieu Williams was in single coverage on the wide receiver, and it was a mismatch.
That said, safety Tanard Jackson looked excellent. Starting in place of an injured Brandon Meriweather at strong safety, Jackson looked good in run support, made some nice tackles and knocked away the Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. Jackson could beat out Williams for the starting free safety spot. He's a favorite of secondary coach Raheem Morris from their time together in Tampa Bay, and his issues have all been off-the-field, not on. A couple of secondary players made good plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, including cornerback Josh Wilson and safety DeJon Gomes. The issues are down the field, not up front.
On offense, rookie Alfred Morris got the start at running back again and looked very good. He carried the ball 14 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. He's exactly the kind of runner Mike Shanahan likes -- he makes one cut and gets up the field -- but he's also got some nice moves once up the field and that forward body lean you've heard so much about that helps him pick up extra yards. He needs to improve in pass protection before the Redskins feel great about him, but he looked good throwing blocks in Saturday's game, and it's clear that's a matter of reps and not ability or willingness. Tim Hightower is still the coaches' preferred starter at running back, and he looked lively as he got 28 yards on five carries in his first game action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October. But they're bringing Hightower back slowly, and with Roy Helu and Evan Royster both nursing injuries, the chances are improving that Morris will be the starter for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener in New Orleans. I still expect each of those four to start at some point this year, assuming they all get/stay healthy.
Brandon Banks was returning kicks again in the second half, but it cannot be a good sign for Banks' roster chances that Niles Paul returned kickoffs and Moss returned punts in the first half. Banks was told he'd have to make the team as a wide receiver, not just a return man, and it does not appear as though he's done that, so they're probably looking at other return options to see what they have.
The Redskins' offensive line did a very good job in the run game, and we've seen it look worse in pass protection, though the Colts did have success early with an interior pass rush against Will Montgomery and backup left guard Maurice Hurt. That might get better once Kory Lichtensteiger is back healthy, but it's something to watch. For what it's worth, Griffin seems to handle the rush well. Doesn't get flustered when forced out of the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, etc.
Josh Morgan looked better than Leonard Hankerson, who had a bad drop and slowed down for some reason on a deep throw from Griffin that fell incomplete. I think the coaches would like to line up with Hankerson and Pierre Garcon as their starting wide receivers, but Morgan could surpass Hankerson if he stays healthy and keeps making plays.
You'll laugh, but Rex Grossman looked good, especially when he threw it to Dezmon Briscoe (who's making a late push for a roster spot himself). Grossman finished the game 8-for-8 for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the backup defense of one of the league's worst teams. Somebody asked me on Twitter if the Redskins might cut Grossman and just go with rookies Griffin and Kirk Cousins at quarterback, but why? Grossman knows the offense, can help the rookies learn it, and when he's not throwing interceptions he runs it quite well. He's the perfect backup for the 2012 Redskins.