Game preview: Patriots at Redskins

Game preview: Patriots at Redskins
August 7, 2014, 9:30 am
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What: Patriots (0-0) at Redskins (0-0)

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Thursday, 7:30

TV: Comcast SportsNet and NBC4

Pre and postgame: Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet at 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.: 

When the Patriots visit the Redskins for the preseason opener Thursday night, all eyes in Washington will be on a single player: quarterback Robert Griffin III.

The third-year signal caller will be playing in his first preseason game since 2012 and his first game of any sort since being benched late last season, a span of 242 days.

Here are some of the questions we’ll be asking:

  • Does Griffin look more comfortable in the pocket than he did in 2013, when indecision and holding onto the ball too long contributed to 25 sacks in his final five starts?
  • This offseason, Griffin turned to quarterback guru Terry Shea, who coached him coming out of Baylor, to restore his footwork and mechanics to their pre-injury form. Are those improvements apparent?
  • And finally, how does Griffin perform on that surgically repaired knee? He says it’s fine. He’s also ditched the cumbersome brace that restricted his explosiveness a year ago. Yet, until Griffin races down the sideline for a long gain or jukes a defender in space—things he did regularly as a rookie—there will be doubters.

Indeed, there will be much to study with regard to Griffin. But don’t blink because you may end up missing him. The starters, according to Coach Jay Gruden, will see only a handful of snaps.

“Probably 8-10 plays, tops” Gruden said Wednesday. “Maybe the [first] quarter, depending on my satisfaction.”

Also keep in mind that the offense Griffin will be operating won't be the offense you’ll see in the regular season. It will be a stripped down version of it.

“We’re not going to try to trick them and do any kind of crazy wildcat, pistol, any of that crazy stuff,” Gruden said. “We want to line up, see if our guys can come off the ball and block for the running backs, see if our running backs can run, break tackles, fall forward, make people miss. See if our receivers can get off the game and run some routes [and] see if our quarterbacks can stand in there and throw it.”

And, specifically, how one quarterback stands back there and throws it.

Griffin will be the biggest storyline. But he won't be the only one. Here are three additional areas the team at will be monitoring:

1—Injuries. The Redskins will be without several key players due to minor ailments. On offense, wide receiver Pierre Garçon has been ruled out due to a nagging hamstring strain that kept him out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Fellow wide receiver DeSean Jackson could also be out after twisting his ankle during Wednesday's practice. On defense, safeties Phillip Thomas and Ryan Clark, both of whom are nursing hamstring strains, will also be sidelined, Gruden said. That probably means we'll see a lot of second-year safety Bacarri Rambo. Secondary coach Raheem Morris said the other day that Rambo is still battling open field tackling "demons" and that he's got to prove himself this preseason. Rambo also got exposed by Brady on Tuesday after he replaced Clark on the first team defense. Fortunately for Rambo, Brady will sit out tonight's game, according to a report in The Boston Herald.

2—Defense. Although much of the focus will be Griffin and Gruden’s offense, it will be worth watching two areas on the other side of the ball: the pass rush and the secondary. Although the pass rush will be missing a major component—defensive end Jason Hatcher is still recovering from knee surgery—it will be interesting to see how much pressure the first team defense is able to apply to Tom Brady. Equally as important will be whether a depleted Redskins’ secondary is able to do a better job against Patriots wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, both of whom had their way with Washington’s pass defense during three days of joint practices in Richmond.

3—Special teams. With competitions at place kicker (Kai Forbath vs. Zach Hocker) and punter (Robert Malone vs. Blake Clingan), now is the time to start paying close attention. Making field goals and booming high, long punts in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game is another. Also keep an eye on the punt and kick coverage teams. Have those units improved under first year coordinator Ben Kotwica? We'll get our first look Thursday night.

4—Position battles. Quite frankly, there aren't as many starting jobs up for grabs as one might expect on a team coming off a 3-13 season. But one you'll want to keep an eye on all preseason is at inside linebacker. Third-year player Keenan Robinson has been the Redskins' starting 'Mike' linebacker since OTAs. And he's looked good. He's long, fast and has done a solid job of making checks at the line of scrimmage. But as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week, now Robinson has got to prove he can tackle someone without getting hurt. In fact, he's got 11 career tackles and two-season ending pectoral muscle injuries. Another position to keep an eye on is running back. Alfred Morris is the No. 1. It's TBD after that. Roy Helu Jr. figures to have the inside track on the No. 2 job because of his experience and versatility. But what about that specialty back spot that Gruden seeks? Chris Thompson and Lache Seastrunk are battling for that role and their performance in exhibition games could go a long way toward determining who wins it. And how about Evan Royster? Does he fit into Gruden's plans? It would appear that he'll need a strong preseason to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.  

RELATED: [Five things to look for in Redskins vs. Patriots]