ATLANTA — It was not the start they wanted. But it is also not a regular-season game, either.
The Redskins lost 23-17 to the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome. There were special-teams miscues and too many penalties and only a handful of things to be happy about.
“We have a lot of guys that are going to play a lot of football for us that have a lot to clean up,” coach Jay Gruden said. “Coaches included.”
Here are a few observations from a performance best described as uneven.
It looked like Washington’s rookie inside linebacker was all over the place on Thursday.
“Some of those places he wasn’t supposed to be,” Gruden cracked.
Such is life for a player still adjusting to a new position at the NFL level. But Cravens made an impact. He made a tackle 54 yards downfield on a Tress Way punt that pinned Atlanta inside its own 20-yard line. Later he about decapitated a runner coming parallel to the line of scrimmage.
But Gruden loved Cravens’ energy. That was one of the biggest things he took away from the first game. In practice it isn’t always easy to tell if it’s there. In a game? Rookies either adjust to the pace or they don’t. Cravens, for the most part, did on Thursday. It was a nice start.
This rankled several veterans in part because players who should be more disciplined committed the penalties. Tight end Niles Paul was whistled for a hold on the opening kickoff. That’s not good. It wasted a 37-yard return by Rashad Ross and immediately backed up the Redskins.
There were personal fouls (Ross) and holds (Morgan Moses, David Bruton, Jr., Takoby Cofield, Dashaun Phillips) and false starts (Keith Marshall). There was an illegal formation penalty and way too many for defensive offsides (Trent Murphy, Preston Smith, Deshazor Everett, Ejiro Ederaine). Stephen Paea (roughing the passer) bailed Atlanta out on a 2nd and 20 situation.
Dez Stewart (block above the waist) and Quinton Dunbar (pass interference) had rough nights all the way around. There was also a running into the kicker call late in the fourth quarter. The grand total: 14 penalties for 123 yards.
“That’s something I’d like to see us get sured up,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “And especially offsides. That kills us every time. We get penalties like that — you’ve got to be smarter. It’s not a play. It’s something that should already be established. It shouldn’t be an issue. It’s already hard enough beating another team. But when you beat yourself … you can’t say nothing about that. But we’ll get it straightened up.”
Young running backs
Not much to say about the veteran running backs. Quarterback Colt McCoy (eight rushing yards) had more yards on the ground than Matt Jones and Chris Thompson combined (three carries, one yard). Yes, left tackle Trent Williams was out. But it just wasn’t a good performance. Jones also had an 11-yard run called back because of a hole on right tackle Morgan Moses.
So, move on to the younger backs. How did Gruden evaluate them? It wasn’t much better. Keith Marshall appeared hesitant at times. He did catch two passes for 10 yards. But other than those screens, Marshall didn’t do much (five carries, -1 yards).
Instead, it was Robert Kelley who put together a few impressive drives. He scored a touchdown with the third teamers and had 40 yards on seven carries. Mack Brown, too, fared better with 28 yards on seven carries. Those are both good signs and likely means we’ll see those two a little earlier next Friday against the Jets to see if they can do it against a second-team defense. But all in all, the running backs looked a lot like last season — which is to say not good enough.
Get in, get out. That was the mantra for Gruden regarding his starting quarterback. Cousins wasn’t getting much more than five or 10 plays. In the end he finished with eight as the offense moved the ball from the 13 to the 43 before punting. Cousins was efficient. He found Ryan Grant for 11 yards and then nine more. He hit Pierre Garcon on a 3rd and 4 situation — shocker — and hit short passes to DeSean Jackson and Chris Thompson. The penalty to Moses really set the offense back on that drive, but it was good enough for one night. Cousins completed all five of his passes. Next week we should see a little bit more from him. For the first game he got his feet wet and that would be enough.
For a team that devoted an entire practice last week to this unit we didn’t really see tangible results. There were too many penalties — Ross’ nice 37-yard return to start the game was negated by the Niles Paul hold. And the 101-yard touchdown allowed to open the second half was a disaster that can’t happen during the regular season.
Let’s go with some bright spots. Punter Tress Way had five punts top 50 yards — two of them over 60. The longest was a 68-yarder. Four times he pinned the Falcons inside the 20. Once he dropped one at the one foot line (special teams ace Terrance Garvin tracked that one down). He also had a 64-yarder that flipped the field with the ball starting at the Washington 9 and ending up at the Atlanta 41 to give the defense some breathing room. Way was phenomenal, and if the Redskins get that kind of production from him all season that will be a tremendous advantage. There are other things to clean up on special teams, but that eased the sting a little. Dustin Hopkins made both of his field-goal attempts, too.
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter