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Redskins-Browns: 4 Keys To The Game

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Monday's Redskins-Browns preseason showdown at FedExField.

Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Monday’s Redskins-Browns preseason showdown at FedExField.

“Redskins-Browns: 4 Keys To The Game” is presented by Papa John’s.

Every Monday, fans can order a large cheese pizza for only $9.99, plus for each touchdown that the Redskins score, fans get one free topping. And with a Redskins victory, fans get double the toppings.



KEEPING THINGS EFFICIENT
The Redskins excelled all around in their 23-6, preseason-opening victory Aug. 7 over the New England Patriots at FedExField. Washington’s starters proved effective in limited action, their backups outplayed the opposition’s backups, several rookies and draft picks got significant playing time and, best of all, the Redskins suffered no serious injuries.

The overall goal for Monday night’s preseason game vs. the Cleveland Browns remains the same: let’s see the starters be efficient, the backups continue to evolve and compete, the rookies get their feet even wetter and, of course, stay healthy while doing it.

On offense, look for the Redskins to try to show off a little more of their passing attack. Against the Patriots, Washington was without its top two receivers in Pierre Garçon (hamstring) and DeSean Jackson (ankle), each of whom were battling minor – yet nagging – injuries. Both Garçon and Jackson are expected to be in the lineup vs. the Browns, meaning quarterback Robert Griffin III should be attempting more than the four passes he did against New England.

And that’s not to say that attempting four passes on one drive is necessarily a bad thing. Against the Patriots, the Redskins were content with feeding their running backs, especially Alfred Morris, whose 27 rushing yards on the first drive helped get Washington into field-goal range. If the Browns’ starting defense is showing a more padded look in the secondary, then look for Morris to eat that opportunity up. 

SPECIAL DEVELOPMENTS
After bringing in new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica and then using the offseason to sign players who would buy in and dedicate themselves to their various roles on the kickoff and punt teams, the Redskins were eager to see where they stood in those areas in the preseason opener against New England. The results were mostly positive, but not without a few areas to correct – starting with Monday’s game vs. the Browns.

The good news? First off, the Redskins have a battle on their hands at kicker. Rookie Zach Hocker had an impressive debut vs. the Patriots, booming the game’s opening kickoff out of the back of the end zone, hitting both of his field goal attempts (from 27 and 39 yards) as well as an extra-point attempt, and, perhaps most impressively, making an open-field tackle on a kickoff to stuff a possible touchdown return. Returning starter Kai Forbath, meanwhile, had an up-and-down game. He converted one of his two field goal attempts (made from 39 yards; missed short from 46), and although one of his kickoffs was downed in the end zone for a touchback, he had another kickoff bounce out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at their 40. The two have pretty much been neck and neck in practices, so it looks like this competition is going to be decided in preseason games.

The Redskins only punted once against the Patriots – a 42-yarder from Robert Malone – so it’s yet to be seen where the battle is between Malone and Blake Clingan. Malone has been listed as the No. 1 punter on the team’s unofficial depth chart the past two weeks.

And, finally, in the return game, the Redskins had success in limited attempts vs. the Patriots. Andre Roberts returned two punts for 16 yards – one of which being a 14-yard return – while, in the kick return game, Rashad Ross had a 37-yard return to open the second half.

KEEP HIM CLEAN
The Redskins are expecting to be tested time and time again against the blitz Monday vs. the Browns, so in order to help ensure his offense can get into a rhythm each time they have the ball, head coach Jay Gruden said he’s been testing his running backs in practice with various pass protection drills and challenges.

On third downs, particularly, Gruden said he feels “most confident” at this point with where running back Roy Helu Jr. is with his pass protection skills, but knows every single one of his running backs is going to have to face a blitzing linebacker or safety in a game to really know where they stand.  

“It’s just a matter of getting them out there and picking up some blitzes and seeing how they do – if they stick their face in there and protect,” he said. “We’ll go from there and make the decision.”

The Redskins finished in the middle of the pack in the NFL in sacks allowed with 43 a season ago, but quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins were hit a total of 96 times in 2013 – 10th most in the league. Some of that blame can undoubtedly be placed on the quarterback, but if the team’s running backs improve in their pass protection, then these numbers will go down.

JOHNNY FOOTBALL
No, Griffin III and Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel won’t ever be matched against each other Monday night, but much of the hype and attention surrounding the game has been and will undoubtedly continue to be focused on the two Heisman Trophy Award winners.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced earlier this week that Brian Hoyer will get the start at quarterback vs. the Redskins, but that he and Manziel will have about the same number of reps in the game with the first-team offense.

In his NFL debut last week against the Detroit Lions, Manziel – working with the second-team offense – completed 7-of-11 passes for 63 yards, while adding a team-best 27 yards rushing. In his four offensive possessions, the Browns were able to get one field goal. Hoyer completed 6-of-14 passes for 92 yards with the first-team offense, which put two field goals on the board in three drives.

The hype for Monday’s game will be similar to 2012, when first-overall pick Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts came to FedExField for a preseason game vs. Griffin III – the No. 2-overall pick – and the Redskins.

But, again, these are just preseason games. Both teams are focused primarily on getting better and limiting mistakes, but make no bones about it – the Redskins’ defense will definitely be licking its chops when Manziel comes into the game.

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