1. Receiver Jamison Crowder. Will he play? Crowder missed the first two preseason games, but coach Jay Gruden told reporters Friday that he’s now a game-time decision after tweaking his hamstring earlier in the week. That’s not good. Crowder had a real shot to win the slot job over Andre Roberts, but it’s hard to do so when you can’t get on the field. The Redskins might be extra cautious with him but if he doesn’t play it hurts his development. He needed some game reps this summer.
2. The run game. Washington has what it says is the makings of an excellent run game and it’s tough to disagree with running back Alfred Morris and a beefier line. Also, rookie Matt Jones has improved, lowering his pad level through the hole (too often in the past he was a bit upright, enabling him to be tackled too easy). Jones has had some impressive runs, thanks to good footwork and knowing how to set up defenders. But the first offense did not have a good night running the ball last week. So much of the offense’s success stems from running well, so it’s imperative to get this going Saturday.
3. The pass rush. Specifically from Preston Smith and Trent Murphy. With Ryan Kerrigan sidelined, both young players will get plenty of snaps to show what they can do. Smith has looked better vs. the backups so it’s a chance for him to show his worth vs. starters. Smith has been thinking less and reacting more with his moves – will that continue vs. better competition? Neither is a dynamic rusher, but both can still be effective. With Junior Galette sidelined, they need to be. But it’ll also be a chance to see more from Jackson Jeffcoat and Houston Bates. Both have speed; Jeffcoat offers more at this point. On the flip side, how will the Redskins handle the Ravens’ rush – the first group struggled at times last week (minus left tackle Trent Williams, who will play; a lot of the issues were at this spot). Baltimore has Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil so it’s a good challenge.
4. The secondary. With corner DeAngelo Hall able to play, it’ll be a good chance for him to shake off a lot of rust. Do not be alarmed if he struggles: I would expect that given how much time he’s missed, not just this summer but also during the spring. The key will be for him to get some timing back and to get ready for the season opener vs. Miami. But it’s fair to wonder how long the struggles will continue (if they do). The Redskins have upgraded their secondary, but it’s still uncertain to what degree because some questions remain. Aside from Hall, there’s still a question as to how effective safety Duke Ihenacho will be. He struggles in coverage and that must change. Will it?
5. Final chance. The more preseason games continue the more I don’t understand why the NFL just doesn’t have one big final cut down day. The fourth game is becoming less and less important for starters on teams so it’s a big showcase for backups. Having a full roster of 90 players gives more players a chance to win jobs or change minds. Until then, however, this will be the final showcase for 14 players (the Redskins currently have 89 on their roster, but that includes Galette, who at some point will be placed on injured reserve). All teams must trim their rosters to 75 by Tuesday. So for those who say the games don’t matter, it does to more than a dozen players Saturday.