08/25/2012 09:04 AM
Luck & RGIII Meet In Colts, Redskins Clash
The storylines for the next few seasons in Indianapolis and Washington were drawn before last April’s NFL draft, when the Redskins traded up with the Rams to move into the second position in the first round, right behind the Colts. That was just after Washington head coach Mike Shanahan failed in his attempt to get Peyton Manning to enlist in D.C.; instead, “The Shan” immediately turned his attention to the draft and Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as the potential savior for his wobbling regime.
Meanwhile, Indy rarely deviated from its commitment to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the top choice in the first round, which made Manning expendable to the Colts in the first place.
Thus inexorably linked for the remainder of their careers, Luck and Griffin get to face one another for the first time on Saturday afternoon at FedEx Field, hard against the D.C. Beltway in lovely Landover. Kickoff for this third preseason clash for both teams will be at 4:00 p.m. (ET), with TV coverage provided by NFL Network.
The Don Best Pro Odds screen notes the Redskins favored by 3½ points at the majority of Las Vegas wagering outlets, with the total mostly at 43½ around town.
To this point in the preseason, however, there has not been much comparison between Luck and RG III. Whereas Luck has appeared ready to step right into leading the Colts offense, Griffin has been mostly struggling as he adjusts to life as a pro quarterback.
Indeed, Luck’s performances have opened the eyes of many and created quite a buzz. His first pro pass, albeit only a screen to RB Donald Brown, resulted in a 63-yard TD in the preseason opener vs. the Rams. Perhaps more impressive was his work in last Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh; after being fooled by vet Steeler defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes and tossing a pick returned for a TD by Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor, Luck shook off his mistake with a smile, looked LeBeau back in the eye, and promptly led a pair of TD drives and the Colts to a 17-14 lead by the end of the first half.
It’s early, and the preseason is only halfway complete, but many NFL insiders suggest that Luck already looks as good as at least half of the starting QBs in the league.
The same cannot be said of the Redskins’ Griffin, who has mostly labored in his first two starts vs. Buffalo and Chicago. Griffin appeared especially rattled by the different blitzes and coverage looks that Lovie Smith’s Bears defense threw at him in the first half last week at Soldier Field. In fact, the 'Skins didn’t start to move offensively until Michigan State rookie QB Kirk Cousins led a wild rally in the fourth quarter, although by then it should be noted that Lovie’s Chicago “D” was deep into substitutions and was not throwing the kitchen sink at Cousins as it did at RG III. After conceding a trio of fourth-quarter TDs, the Bears needed a 57-yard FG by Robbie Gould in the final seconds to escape with a 33-31 win.
But when the smoke had finally cleared in Chicago, Griffin had completed passes worth just 49 yards, and been sacked three times, as the Redskins scored just three points in the first half with the Heisman winner at the controls. It was a step backward for RG III, who had looked a bit better when leading a first-quarter TD drive in the opening game against the Bills.
Look for Griffin to play into the third quarter this week, although many NFC East observers are wondering when Shanahan and his offensive coordinator, son Kyle, are going to open up the Washington offense and feature more of the spread formations they are likely to utilize with RG III in the regular season. The 'Skins employed a lot of “heavy jumbo” looks last week at Chicago, the 1-WR, 3-TE, 1-RB deployments that are mostly designed to run the ball but not expected to be the normal mode of operation with Griffin in the cockpit.
Shanahan, however, has other concerns, especially after watching his old QB, Jay Cutler, carve up the Washington secondary last week at Solider Field. The Redskins also have a growing injury list on defense, with key components LB Brian Orakpo (shoulder) and S Brandon Meriweather (knee) both KO’d at Chicago. Though their injuries are not deemed serious, both could be withheld on Saturday. Star LB London Fletcher also didn’t play vs. the Bears because of illness and his status is iffy for the Indy game.
Moreover, the offensive line, a point of concern for Shanahan entering training camp, has been struggling, and could not cope with the Bears’ blitz tactics last week. Minor injuries have not helped the forward wall’s progress this summer, and rookie Adam Gettis likely starts again at RG in place of the injured Chris Chester. Tackle Jamaal Brown remains sidelined after re-injuring his hip early in training camp.
On the plus side for Washington, Saturday might mark the debut of RB Tim Hightower, who was held out of the first two preseason games while finishing his recuperation from last season’s torn ACL.
Although the Colts have the same straight-up record (1-1) in exhibition play as the Redskins, Indy has looked more impressive in the first two games.
As for Luck, the rave reviews are flowing, but the Stanford rookie seems unfazed, having avoided signing any endorsement deals in order to better concentrate upon the football job at hand, and instead being critical of his own mistakes in the first two games. Through two games, however, Luck leads all preseason QBs with 363 passing yards while completing 26 of 41 throws, with two TD passes and two picks.
"He doesn’t play like a rookie," said Colts PK Adam Vinatieri to the AP after the Steelers game.
New Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will stick with the usual third preseason formula and play his starters, including Luck, well into the third quarter on Saturday.
Other developments of note in Indy’s preseason include the defense quickly adapting to the 3-4 looks that Pagano imported from his most recent coaching assignment as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, with sorts such as former DE Jerry Hughes (now an OLB in the 3-4) beginning to flourish. Pagano’s stop unit has endured some injuries at the LB spots but to this point has expressed no interest in re-signing Gary Brackett, who was released in the offseason.
Other rookies besides Luck are also making an impression this summer with Indy. Wideouts LaVon Brazill (Ohio U) and T.Y. Hilton (Florida International) have taken advantage of more snaps with Austin Collie limited by a concussion, and rookie TEs Dwayne Allen (Clemson’s Mackey Award winner who has been extremely impressive) and Luck’s Stanford buddy Coby Fleener have also contributed positively.
Note that these sides have had opposite pointspread success in the first two preseason games, with Indy covering both and Washington dropping each of its spread decisions to date. Shanahan, who fared well vs. the lien in preseason at Denver, is only 5-5 vs. the spread in exhibitions with the 'Skins, although note that his Washington teams have covered the third preseason game each of the past two years.
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