ASHBURN — At Redskins practice Thursday, coaches traversed the field holding play sheets. Scout teams mimicking the Green Bay Packers had been assembled on offense and on defense.
The purpose: have the team ready to play a bit more effectively than they did last week against Baltimore.
“We’re going to study Green Bay, obviously their defense from an offensive perspective, what they do, what their fronts are, what runs we like, obviously pass protections,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We’re going to make sure the quarterbacks are protected and the quarterbacks know how to protect themselves. And then defensively, put our guys in a good position to stop what they do best and let them play.”
Teams devote more time to scouting their opponent in the second preseason game than in the first. The Redskins didn’t practice against a scout team before the Ravens game. Last week, the Redskins scouted the Ravens primarily to keep their quarterbacks protected.
The diversity of blitz packages and the fact that the Ravens routinely sent five pass rushers at Redskins quarterbacks were atypical of a first preseason game. The Redskins didn’t expect that. The problem was two-fold. One, the Redskins offense performed badly. Two, the coaching staff didn’t get a good look at several players.
Keep the disparate levels of preparation in mind when watching the Redskins play the Packers Saturday at 7:30 p.m., particularly in these areas.
Can the run game get going? Of all the disappointments of the Baltimore game, the fact that the Redskins only managed 2.2 yards per carry annoyed Gruden the most. The Redskins want to improve on the ground in 2017. Doing so would help their play-action game, too, which is another focus.
Gruden said Thursday that he intends to play the starting offense “a little more than normal” on Saturday. He wants to see his starters find a rhythm.
Presumably, running back Rob Kelley should get the chance to take a hit or two and settle into the game. Assuming the offensive line holds up better and gives him a chance, will the improvements he’s made to his body show up on the field?
As far as backups go, Gruden also wants to see fourth-round draft pick Samaje Perine hit the hole more violently. He’ll need clean hands, too, after fumbling in the opener. It was interesting to note how the Redskins used third-down back Chris Thompson against Baltimore. Thompson made a lot of runs between the tackles, which isn’t normally his role. Will that continue?
In the passing game, Kirk Cousins may have a more complete set of receivers at his disposal. Jamison Crowder is expected to play. The safe bet is that Josh Doctson won’t, but it’s possible. Cousins also has yet to connect with Terrelle Pryor Sr. in a game.
Down the roster, Robert Davis needs to show Gruden that he can be more precise in his route running. The sixth-round pick has talent, special teams ability and an opportunity to compete with a player like Brian Quick for a roster spot. He was out of position, though, on multiple plays against the Ravens including one where Colt McCoy threw an interception intended for him. (McCoy should never have thrown the pass, but Davis still didn’t get to the right depth.)
Masked by the offensive futility was the fact that the Redskins’ starting defense looked quick and effective against the Ravens.
Aaron Rodgers is unlikely to play Saturday and, if he does, his snap count will be low. The Packers are still a solid, offensive-minded team. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley has more potential than Ryan Mallett. If the Redskins starters shut down the group Green Bay puts out at the beginning of the game, evidence will have started to build that the defensive improvements made this offseason aren’t just talk.
“I’d like them to continue their trend of making plays and flying around to the football,” Gruden said.
Gruden said Thursday that Zach Brown and Mason Foster will start the game at inside linebacker, with Foster calling the signals as the Mike linebacker and Brown playing the Mo, or inside weak side, spot.
“After that we’ll see what happens, see how they perform and go from there,” Gruden said.
Brown has already begun building a strong case to be a Week 1 starter. Gruden likes to reward guys like Will Compton, who are leaders in the locker room and have spent time with the organization. If Brown keeps it up, his athleticism will override Compton or anyone else’s experience.
That’s a good thing for the Redskins. It means they got a good player.
The Packers game will also provide a first in-game look at cornerback Fabian Moreau and safety Montae Nicholson, third- and fourth-round picks who started practicing after the first preseason game. Moreau would have been an earlier-round pick had he not torn a pectoral muscle at his pro day so the Redskins will be wondering how soon he’ll show that potential.
The Redskins will be without safety Su’a Cravens. Deshazor Everett is expected to start in his place, but Nicholson may also get extra snaps. The same should be true at outside linebacker, where the Redskins will be without Junior Galette and perhaps Ryan Anderson (stinger). Chris Carter and Lynden Trail will fill in and could be fighting for the spot freed up by Trent Murphy.
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