Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Saturday’s Redskins-Ravens preseason showdown at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Redskins-Ravens: 4 Keys To The Game” is presented by Papa John’s.
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STOP THAT RUN
The Ravens might have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Joe Flacco and a stable of talented – and proven – wide receivers, but it appears first-year offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is making sure Baltimore will set the tone as more of a smashmouth, pound-the-rock type of team.
The Ravens have averaged an NFL-best 194 rushing yards per game through two preseason contests this year, and are averaging 4.9 yards per carry. That rushing average, by the way, is 69 yards per game more than any other team in the league.
Leading the way is rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, a physical runner who is leading the NFL this preseason with 130 rushing yards on 29 carries in Baltimore’s two wins over San Francisco and Dallas. Behind Taliaferro is Bernard Pierce, who has 17 rushes for 92 yards.
Ray Rice is also back this year, although he has battled some injury issues and attempted just five rushing attempts for 38 yards.
The Redskins, meanwhile, have been stout defending the run so far this preseason, allowing just 63 rushing yards in their two preseason wins – good enough for third in the league.
Redskins middle linebacker
“Haz [defensive coordinator Jim Haslett] has stressed to us to stop the run, stop the run, stop the run,” Robinson said. “Before you stop the pass, you stop the run, because if they can run the ball on you, they can do whatever they want.”
“I’ve talked to coach [Jay Gruden] about it,” Griffin III told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s a continual process of getting better at everything. That’s one of them. I’m aware of that.”
Griffin III took off on the run three times during Monday night’s game. On the first attempt, he attempted a late, awkward slide on a bootleg play in the middle of the field; on the second attempt, he was hit hard by three defenders as he tried to get out of bounds; and on the third play, he executed a better slide after gaining two yards on a 3rd and 17 play.
“I slid correctly on the third time,” Griffin III said. “The second time, I got hit back in bounds and on the first try I slid too late. I don’t know what else I can say about that. I’ll get better.”
Griffin III – who suffered a minor thigh bruise during the Browns game – said he went over all three plays with Gruden, a former quarterback who understands Griffin III will “have to take his risks” – just not during the preseason.
“He's the quarterback – he'll make those decisions, and they're not always going to be right,” Gruden said. “He's a young kid. He has a lot of energy so we have to deal with it and continue coaching him. It's an issue if he gets injured. It's not an issue if he doesn't.”
Hatcher on Aug. 9 was cleared to practice with the rest of his teammates, and he’ll finally make his Redskins debut in Saturday’s game vs. the Ravens.
“He’s fired up and ready to go,” Gruden said Wednesday. “I think he is another bona fide defensive lineman that can play, rush the passer and run sideline to sideline. Anytime that you have a big man that can get after the quarterback, it’s a huge bonus for you.”
The first-year head coach said Hatcher’s presence can only mean positive things for his fellow defenders.
“It just makes your defense better,” Gruden said. “He plays with a great energy, he’s a great leader, he plays hard, but he is a dominant pass rusher inside and that is an added advantage for the Redskins.”
Gruden said he expects his starting offense and defense to play at least the entire first half against the Ravens on Saturday. The increased snaps are obviously positive, and give those units more opportunities to see what’s clicking – as well as a good look at what they need to work on in order to be at their best Week 1 when they take on the Houston Texans.
It’s fair to say the Redskins have certainly had worse luck with major injuries in preseasons past, but don’t want to be in the position of looking at any player on the current roster and wondering, “What could have been?”
Cofield, who had soreness in his groin, is fine for Saturday’s game, Gruden said. Thompson (ankle) and Porter (hamstring), meanwhile, are more in the questionable-doubtful areas vs. the Ravens. Sharpton (ankle), meanwhile, is “probably still doubtful.”