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Notes & Observations: Redskins 30, Bills 7

A variety of notes after the Redskins’ preseason victory over the Bills on Saturday, including observations on Richard Crawford’s injury and its effect on the roster, Pat White and more.

BY ZAC BOYER

Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the Redskins’ 30-7 preseason victory over the Bills on Saturday:

* The loss of Richard Crawford to a torn LCL in his left knee will affect Washington much more on special teams than it will from a defensive standpoint. The second-year cornerback took over as the primary punt returner before a Week 14 victory over the Ravens, and he kept that role after he returned a punt 64 yards in overtime to set up Kai Forbath’s game-winning field goal.

Crawford left the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter when he was tackled at the end of a punt return by linebacker Arthur Moats and safety Da’Norris Searcy. But it looked like he actually may have injured his knee on the first punt return when he was hit by linebacker Marcus Dowtin as he knee whipped slightly (think of Robert Griffin III’s hit by Haloti Ngata in that Ravens game).

The Redskins had four players ready to return punts yesterday – Crawford and receivers Santana Moss, Skye Dawson and Nick Williams – but rookie running back Chris Thompson, who started returning punts the final week of training camp, was given the nod after Dawson.

Crawford, in his second season after being drafted in the seventh round out of SMU, was one of the more improved players during training camp. He was motivated to move past the struggles of his rookie year, in which he took over the responsibilities of the slot corner in October but played so poorly he sat for six games. Still, he wasn’t any higher than the fifth cornerback, and in the preseason he played almost exclusively on the outside.

One positive for Crawford: One of his best friends on the team is Griffin, and there will be no better player to motivate him to recover from the knee injury than someone who did so exceptionally well.

* Crawford’s injury answers one roster question while posing another. Chase Minnifield is now a lock to make the team after spending the first month of training camp and the preseason on the bubble (though I had him firmly on the 53-man roster). He’s versatile enough to play on the outside – he’s been on the left – and he’s also been trusted to move inside and cover the slot receiver as well. If the Redskins still do elect to keep a sixth cornerback, which would be primarily for special teams purposes, the choice would be between Jerome Murphy and Ryan Mouton, the Titans’ nickel corner last season who has been hampered by a strained left hamstring for the past two weeks.

The flip side of Crawford’s injury is the need for a punt returner. While Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall have done so in the past and were considered the emergency specialists, Mike Shanahan would be hesitant to use a key player in that role for an extended period of time. Thompson hadn’t returned a punt since high school before he did it against the Bills, but can he do it well enough in practice and in the fourth preseason game on Thursday to give the Redskins confidence to go into the season with him back there? Or does someone like Dawson now assume a roster spot that would have gone to a sixth cornerback?

* The fast-paced, up-tempo no-huddle offense run by the Bills was of no particular challenge to the Redskins, but they really only saw a glimpse of what that style could be during a four-minute period early in the first quarter. Kevin Kolb, battling with injured rookie E.J. Manuel to be the Bills’ Week 1 starter, was only on the field for 14 plays before showing symptoms of a concussion and leaving the game. That left the offense in the hands of undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who didn’t have the experience or the comfort to run the offense adequately.

New head coach Doug Marrone wants the Bills to snap the ball with 24 seconds remaining on the play clock, and on their second drive, they were in that general timeframe. After Redskins cornerback David Amerson grabbed receiver Robert Woods’ facemask with 8:45 to play, the Bills rattled off seven plays. My incredibly unofficial times, in seconds, from whistle to snap between plays: 19.1, 25.3, 21.2, 20.8, 25.8, 21.2. That’s an average of 21.6 seconds between the end of one play and the next snap – not bad for a team that wants to be in the high-double digits in plays this season.

Compare that with the times from whistle to snap of the Redskins’ 10 plays during their opening possession, which ended in a Rex Grossman-to-Pierre Garçon touchdown pass: 30.1, 30.5, 31.0, 29.0, 31.7, 40.0, 33.0, 31.4, 31.4. That’s an extra 10 seconds saved by the Bills – and an extra play per minute. At an average time of possession of 30:04 last season under Chan Gailey, when the Bills ran 61.4 plays per game, they could routinely be running more than 80 plays a game.

All that, though, comes with this caveat: If a team can’t move the ball, it can’t convert, and all the speed is useless. And for the Redskins, who showed no demonstrable problems substituting during that drive (though the Bills did go 66 yards and score a touchdown, Woods was stopped short of a first down on third-and-12 when Amerson was called for the facemask), it’s a respectable start heading into the season against Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ offense.

* It was shaping up to be a long afternoon when Pat White entered the game with 11:26 left in the second quarter, but he and Grossman, after playing three drives each, alternated through the rest of the game. White finished 7-for-14 for 96 yards and ran three times for 26 yards in his first extended playing time after cameos in the first two preseason game.

White has demonstrated considerable improvement since he first joined the Redskins for offseason workouts during the spring, which is to be expected considering he spent the last three seasons out of the league. But I can’t, for the life of me, see a player who was so good in college fitting on this team as a fourth quarterback. Ideally, he’d find a place where a team could take a chance on him and develop him, but that’s a hard sell because he doesn’t have practice squad eligibility.

He can run the read option well – and he should – but he still needs to work on his throwing. Consecutive throws at the end of the second quarter demonstrated his range: On first-and-10 from his own 20-yard line, he hit Aldrick Robinson in stride on a 15-yard slant that the receiver coolly took for five more yards. Roy Helu gained three yards on the next play, and then White wildly overthrew tight end Logan Paulsen in the right flat. (He later did the same thing when Eric Kettani released into the right flat with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter, and Kettani was much more open).

If this were Shanahan’s first two years in Washington, when the Redskins had flexibility to bend the roster numbers to get the right personnel, I could maybe see him keeping White as a fourth quarterback on the active roster. But Grossman isn’t going to lose his job to White, especially given Griffin’s uncertainty, and keeping four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster is asinine.

* There’s no question that Helu will be the Redskins’ No. 2 running back this season now that he’s proven he’s healthy. His extended run against the Bills also shows the variety of talents he brings to the offense. The 21-yard gain he had on a wheel route on the Redskins’ fourth play from scrimmage is something neither Alfred Morris nor Evan Royster could do (nor could they pull off the highwire balancing act Helu tried just to stay in bounds).

When Helu made his return in the preseason opener against the Titans on Aug. 8, he was running 100 miles per hour and didn’t have the patience to let his teammates set up his blocks. Because his vision sets him apart from the other running backs, he needs to let that happen. Once it does, he’s able to follow his tracks, read the blocks and find the holes. He’s also very cognizant of the angles defenders take when he’s in the open field, which gives him an added boost. He’s not going to lower his shoulder and bowl anyone over like Morris will – instead, he’ll use his awareness to take an extra yard or two when it’s given. As he showed Saturday, and several times late in his rookie season, that works.

* The metamorphosis of the Redskins’ defense in passing situations continued against the Bills when they unveiled a look that included three outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage and no actual defensive linemen on the field. Brandon Jenkins, Darryl Tapp and Ryan Kerrigan, from left to right, were in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage, with Brian Orakpo standing up to Kerrigan’s right. It’s a look that the Redskins can use during the course of the season to create a faster front.

Washington used the package sparingly, but it was most effective when it was used the first time – a third-and-7 with 14:27 left in the first quarter. Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Colin Brown and center Eric Wood went left to block Orakpo and Kerrigan, while right guard Kraig Urbik held off Tapp and right tackle Erik Pears tried to do so against Jenkins. Ultimately, Jenkins got to Kolb, who was so uneasy in the pocket on that play that he practically ran into the sack. Jenkins initially fell while battling Pears, and the right tackle failed to hold him down, allowing Jenkins to get back to his feet and grab the quarterback by his legs.

It’s a possibility the Redskins could face another tough start in the defensive backfield, with two rookies expected to see heavy playing time and another – strong safety Brandon Meriweather – not yet showing he can handle live situations as he recovers from December surgery to fix a torn ACL in his right knee. If they can routinely pressure the quarterback as they did in the last two preseason games, that’ll be a tremendous help.

* It looks like Forbath has sewn up his hold on kickoff duties. He had four tries against the Bills, with the opening kickoff sailing nine yards into the end zone, another downed for a touchback, a third at the goal line and a fourth at the 3-yard line.

Poor John Potter. It looked he would have his first opportunity to kick a field goal with two minutes left in the game, but instead the Redskins went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Bills’ 8-yard line and Keiland Williams failed to convert by barely getting back to the line of scrimmage.

* Offensive snap counts (81 plays): Kevin Matthews 61, Adam Gettis 59, Josh LeRibeus 53, Tom Compton 50, Tony Pashos 50, Pat White 46, Jordan Reed 40, Donté Stallworth 37, Dezmon Briscoe 35, Rex Grossman 33, Roy Helu 31, Aldrick Robinson 27, Logan Paulsen 23, Chris Thompson 23, Joshua Morgan 22, Leonard Hankerson 20, Kory Lichtensteiger 19, Niles Paul 18, Will Montgomery 18, Chris Chester 18, Tyler Polumbus 18, Fred Davis 18, Trent Williams 18, Keiland Williams 17, Darrel Young 15, Eric Kettani 15, Nick Williams 15, Jeremy Trueblood 12, Tevita Stevens 12, Xavier Nixon 12, Emmanuel Ogbuehi 10, Santana Moss 10, Pierre Garçon 9, Alfred Morris 8, Lance Lewis 3, Chip Reeves 3, Skye Dawson 2.

* Defensive snap counts (49 plays): David Amerson 34, Jordan Pugh 34, Bacarri Rambo 34, Chase Minnifield 33, Darryl Tapp 26, Bryan Kehl 25, Vic So’oto 19, Will Compton 18, Reed Doughty 18, Jose Gumbs 18, Reed Doughty 18, Jose Gumbs 18, Perry Riley 18, Brian Orakpo 18, London Fletcher 18, Josh Wilson 18, DeAngelo Hall 18, Ryan Kerrigan 18, E.J. Biggers 17, Jarvis Jenkins 17, Brandon Jenkins 16, Rob Jackson 16, Chris Baker 16, Nick Barnett 16, Stephen Bowen 15, Phillip Merling 14, Kedric Golston 13, Jerome Murphy 12, Ron Brace 11, Marvin Burdette 9, Dominique Hamilton 9, Chigbo Anunoby 8, Chris Neild 8, Ricky Elmore 8.

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