LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 25: Alfred Morris #46 celebrates with Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during a preseason game at FedExField on August 25, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
With the Redskins' regular season opener now less than two weeks away, here are some of the key takeaways from Saturday's game.
The matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts started and ended with plenty of hype and intrigue, as rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck put their skills on display in the all-important third preseason game, most commonly referred to as the "dress rehearsal".
With the Redskins' regular season opener now less than two weeks away, here are some of the key takeaways from Saturday's game:
RGIII wasn't perfect, but he showed encouraging signs. The Redskins still ran a very vanilla offense Saturday, but you saw a few glimpses of why Robert Griffin III is considered a dual threat quarterback.
On his first third-down conversion, Griffin eluded a free blitzer who came up the middle. Griffin then broke the containment and ran down the right sideline and extended his arms for a first down. A few drives later, on another third down, he felt the pressure from his right, avoided the rush and rolled to his right to made a tight throw to Joshua Morgan for the first down. It was a prime example of why Griffin was so highly touted coming out of Baylor; he kept his eyes downfield while avoiding the rush, and looked to complete a pass rather than pick up the first down with his legs.
He wasn't perfect, however. Griffin missed on three deep throws; two to Pierre Garcon and another to Leonard Hankerson (who may have pulled up on the route). The deep passing game is something Griffin hasn't had the ability to showcase much this preseason, but it's something he says will develop with time.
"It will come," he said. "Those types of things and situations you have to get used to a guy's game speed. I talked to him while on the sideline and told him that those passes would come. Once we are in the season, and we get more reps at those deep routes, we will hit those like there's no tomorrow and we will have a lot of touchdowns and a lot of people celebrating."
In all, Griffin finished the game with 17 pass attempts against the Colts - more than any other preseason game - and was able to establish more of a rhythm than he did last week against the Bears.
On what he's improved on this preseason, Griffin said: "Timing and just feeling more comfortable, and getting in the flow of the game, and being able to play a little bit. I got a bunch of plays today and I thought everyone just clicked extremely well."
With the Colts game now in the rearview mirror, Griffin's preseason is over, as the starters will not play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday. He finished the preseason completing 20 of 31 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.2 quarterback rating.
Its difficult to glean much from Griffin's performances thus far. The Redskins did not show a lot of the offense that they plan to show once the regular season begins. But through three exhibition games, there appears to be a number of encouraging signs for the team's newest hope at the game's most important position.
"I think he keeps on getting better and better and more comfortable with the system, what we're trying to do," said Mike Shanahan. "I think with every game he will feel more comfortable."
Alfred Morris ended one roster debate, and started a totally different one. Starting his second consecutive preseason game, sixth round rookie Alfred Morris delivered a performance that in all likelihood clinched his spot on the 53 man roster. That's what a 14 carry, 107-yard day will do for you.
"I definitely [think I helped myself]," Morris said after the game. "I came in and I just said ‘I'm making this 53 man roster. I'm going to make it hard for these coaches not to keep me on this roster.'"
He's done more than make it hard for the coaching staff. With the injury surrounding the team's other running backs, he's made it near-impossible to leave him off the final roster.
The Florida Atlantic product once again showed the great vision and one-cut ability that's so vital to being a zone runner in Mike and Kyle Shanahan's scheme. He was patient on a lot of his runs, allowing his lineman to execute their blocks, and he was decisive once he picked a hole to run through. Last week against the Bears, showed off his physicality, particularly when he ran over seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs on his first carry of the game. Saturday against the Colts, he showed a shiftier side to his game, making men miss both at the line of scrimmage and in the open field.
But what was perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Morris showed well in pass protection, something the coaching staff puts a great deal of emphasis on.
"I knew what I'm capable of," he said. "I came from a small school, but I know my [work ethic]. I know my willingness and want-to to be great."
With his recent performance, the conversation has now shifted from Morris potentially making the final roster to him possibly opening the season as the starting running back, a seemingly unfathomable thought at the beginning of training camp.
"I've said this from day one: we have a very competitive football team and we're going to play the best players," Mike Shanahan said of Morris. "He may be the lonely soldier at the end. We might only have one with the way things have been going, but he did play well."
"At the end of the day," Morris added, "everyone wants to be the starter. Nobody wants to be a backup."
With the state of the Redskins offensive backfield, nothing's out of the question.
The Redskins clearly wanted to experiment with return options that are not named Brandon Banks. Despite having a 91-yard punt return last game against the Bears, Brandon Banks did not start the game as a kick or punt returner. Instead, tight end Niles Paul returned kicks and Santana Moss returned punts.
Shanahan has told Banks that he must be able to contribute as a wide receiver in order to make the final 53 man roster. Thus far, Banks hasn't been able to do that, and with the likes of Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe outshining him so far from a receiver standpoint, it's put Banks in a tough spot.
Since the last two receivers on the roster must play special teams, it was interesting to see the coaching staff go in a different direction at the return spots, opting to experiment with Paul -- a former return specialist at Nebraska -- and Moss, a thirteen year veteran.
"I'm always willing [to do it]," Moss said afterward. "I've been messing around saying ‘Hey man, if Banks ever stubs his toe, you can count on me'."
With just one preseason game left to play, and still plenty of competition for the last two receiver spots, there are bound to be a few tough cuts this coaching staff is going to have to make. Will Banks be one of them?
Tanard Jackson is making things interesting at safety. With Brandon Meriweather missing the remainder of the preseason with a knee injury, it was Tanard Jackson who got the start instead of Meriweather's listed backup, Reed Doughty.
The stat sheet says that Jackson finished the game with three tackles and two assists, but he was much more active than the numbers suggest. Jackson laid big hits on receivers, forcing drops or (at worst) negating the potential for yards after the catch. He also flip-flopped positions with fellow safety Madieu Williams, toggling between free safety to strong throughout the game.
Perhaps his highlight play came at the end of the first half, when he jarred the ball loose on a vicious hit to a Colts receiver on a hailmary attempt. It was a lick that had secondary coach Raheem Morris hooting-and-hollering as the team went back into the tunnel for halftime.
The former Bucs safety started off training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and clearly lagged behind the other safeties in the days after he was cleared to practice. But since then, he's adapted quickly and performed well when given the chance to play, a trend that continued against the Colts Saturday.
It'll be interesting to see if Jackson plays Wednesday against his former team in a game in which the Redskins do not plan to play their starters.
"I don't know [if I'll play Wednesday]," he said after Saturday's game. "With Meriweather obviously being out the rest of the preseason, I guess I am the starter right now. I don't know if I'll play or not."