Observations from the Redskins' 34-31 preseason loss to the Ravens on "Monday Night Football":
Everyone loves a horse race, so it's no surprise that so many people who are watching the Washington Redskins' apparent quarterback competition would be treating it as one. Rex Grossman bounces a couple of throws, he's in trouble. John Beck hits a deep ball, he's in the lead. Grossman looks sharp in the two-minute drill, he's not dead yet. Beck throws an interception, he's lost the job! Oh wait! Beck comes back and leads a 95-yard touchdown drive! The job is again his to lose!!!
It's just not as cut-and-dried as that. The key thing to remember about the preseason games is that we never really know what we're looking at. Some teams game plan, some teams don't and you have no idea, really, who's trying hard and who isn't. So the evaluations have to be about more than performance and results. And for Mike Shanahan and the rest of the Redskins' coaching staff, they are.
Shanahan and the Redskins know exactly what Grossman is. He doesn't have to show them anything. They believe, if they install Grossman as the starter, they know exactly what they'll get. And so far this preseason, nothing he's shown has done anything to sway them from that opinion.
They believe, however, that Beck has the ability to give them more. That he can make plays and move the chains with his feet. That he has a quicker release, and that he anticipates throws better. They think the upside is higher with Beck, and what they wanted to see from him when this preseason began is how he would handle the pressure of being the starter -- or at least of the opportunity to finally be a starter in the NFL.
So while, yes, it matters that Beck made a bad throw that was intercepted on his first play of the second half, it almost certainly matters more that he rebounded to lead that long touchdown drive. You're not going to judge a guy on one throw, good or bad. But to watch Beck engineer that drive, make smart decisions quickly, let go of the ball with that kind of speed... that's the kind of thing that, if the question is whether or not Beck can handle the pressure of the situation, the answer is affirmative. Shanahan's not likely to announce his decision for another week or so at least, but I believe Beck's been the favorite all along and has done nothing to lose that status.
Some other thoughts from what turned out to be an exhibition loss when Tyrod Taylor and the fired-up Ravens went in for a touchdown with 22 seconds left:
1. Ryan Kerrigan is an impact player. Sure, he's a rookie still learning to play standing up as a linebacker instead of in the three-point lineman stance he used in college, and he still needs to gets used to the coverage schemes. But when they send Kerrigan after a quarterback, he can flat-out get there. He picked up his second sack in two preseason games, and it appears as though he and fellow outsider 'backer Brian Orakpo can be a fearsome combination. Overall, the Redskins' first-team defense looked very good, though it could suffer if the knee injury suffered in the first quarter by rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins is a long-term issue. Jenkins has been a star during training camp.
2. Terrence Austin is playing himself into a roster spot. For the second game in a row, Austin was a standout at the receiver position. He caught Beck's touchdown pass and had 71 yards on five catches. He's also served as the punt returner the past couple of weeks with Brandon Banks out (though he only got one chance in this one), and that could help him make the team. If he's got a connection with Beck, and if Beck's the starter, it's going to be difficult to cut Austin.
3. Interesting night for DeAngelo Hall. He had the interception return for a touchdown, nicely anticipating the route and sitting on it while Joe Flacco fired it right to him, but he also gave up Lee Evans' touchdown for Baltimore. He had tight coverage on Evans and just didn't see the ball in time to make a play on Flacco's pinpoint throw. In general, the Redskins' secondary has been the weak spot of the defense in this preseason. In fairness, they have been playing without starting safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Josh Wilson -- as well as without inside linebacker London Fletcher, who's not a member of the secondary but is an on-field leader of the defense whose presence and knowledge are missed. It was encouraging to see O.J. Atogwe on the field for the first time this preseason, and Reed Doughty has played well at safety during the injuries to the starters. But once Landry is back there, things will feel much more whole.
4. Santana Moss will be a huge help to whichever guy is the quarterback. Moss is simply a great, professional route-runner. They could use a bigger red-zone threat than they have, but Moss is going to be a safety net for Beck and/or Grossman all year long as they work on moving the ball down the field. As for that red-zone threat... maybe Leonard Hankerson can develop into it. We got on his case last week for drops, so it should be noted that he made a very nice shoestring catch on the only ball that came his way on this night. And Anthony Armstrong looks like a potential deep threat, as Beck found him for 33 yards on his first throw of the game.
5. Tim Hightower. Not much else to say. He ripped off another big run, didn't fumble the ball and looks like he's moving up fantasy draft boards as the season approaches. Nine carries for 56 yards, no sign of injured Ryan Torain to challenge him and Roy Helu looks like a fun, speedy backup at this point. Hightower is a factor in the passing game as well, as a blocker and a receiver, and if he holds onto the ball he's going to be an asset.
Once again, no way to know if the good stuff we've seen from the Redskins will carry into the regular season, and no real reason to think it will. The preseason just doesn't have that kind of predictive value. But even though they lost the game, there were a lot of things about Thursday night to help make the Redskins fell good about themselves, and there is value in that as the season gets ready to start.