So What Have We Learned?

Joe Gibbs is back. The Redskins won the opener. And the sun is shining in Washington. Life for Redskins fans couldn't get any better -- unless, of course, they had just whipped Dallas. Lets take a look at what went right and what went wrong against Tampa Bay.

Defensive standout: Matt Bowen had two sacks and caused a fumble, but we're going with Antonio Pierce. We had questions about him entering the season and one game does not a career make. But he was steady and showed good speed covering in the flat. More importantly, he knew how to adjust. At least five times coordinator Gregg Williams couldn't get a play call in because the Bucs went with a no-huddle or a quick huddle. On those occasions, it was up to Pierce to make a decision on the field what to run -- and he did so to Williams' liking. And there was that little interception there, too. Can't forget about that one; it turned the game back toward the Redskins.

Offensive standout: Running back Clinton Portis, with a nod toward his line. But Portis made the line look better because of his cutback runs and excellent vision. He made such a quick decision on his touchdown run that he raced through the hole while it was still huge. Portis also made a couple wise moves near the end of the game, staying in bounds and settling for five yards when he could have gained a couple more and run out of bounds. Heady stuff.

Little things award: to receiver James Thrash. He helped spring Clinton Portis with an excellent block of safety Dwight Smith. Later, his crackback blocks on the Bucs' ends were very helpful. That's why this guy is around. And did you notice Mike Sellers pulling at times from the h-back position?

Giving help: The Redskins did another good job of helping right tackle Kenyatta Jones, using Walter Rasby on his side often. They rarely put Jones in a situation where he had to block solo -- one of the few times he did he was flagged for holding.

Still kickin': Tom Tupa proved to be a nice backup in his first game. Not only did he average 49.6 yards per punt, but his directional kicks were good, often pinning returner --- Schroeder along the sideline. That's a key reason he averaged only 4.2 yards on five returns. Of Tupa's seven punts, five were 50 yards or longer.

Good timing: One thing I like about Gregg Williams is he knows when to use players, and what role to place them in. He doesn't ask players to perform roles they can't. He also got the most out of players such as tackle Jermaine Haley and end Ron Warner. Haley played sparingly yet had a huge pressure that led to an interception. And Warner rotated for a couple series and came up with half a sack -- his first in the NFL.

Trouble spots: Quarterback Mark Brunell was not sharp. His passes lacked zip and his deep balls were underthrown. He didn't lead his receivers very well. There were also more problems on the center exchange, a problem all summer long.

Trouble spot II: The kick coverage needs repair. After a summer of extra work on these units, they should not have allowed as many long returns as they did.

Perfect opponent: Tampa Bay was a good team for Washington to open with. The Bucs have a revamped line, but they were banged up during the summer. Communication is key when facing a pressure defense and that comes from experience. The Bucs line had little time together. They also lack receivers who can hurt you and that made the corners job easier (though Joey Galloway was open for a touchdown and dropped the ball). That's why, as upbeat as people should be about the defense, they weren't facing an explosive offense.

Getting physical: Corner Fred Smoot was very good, making tackles and taking on blockers. What I also liked was that he defended a double move well, something he hasn't always done in the past.

The best part: The players' attitude. This is an extremely tough-minded bunch, something the Redskins haven't always been. In my 11 years covering the Redskins, I'd say there was one team that could match this mindset and that was in 2001 under Marty Schottenheimer. But that was only for 11 games. This group is that way from the start. It stems from the trust and belief they have in the coaches, not just Joe Gibbs but Gregg Williams. During a 16-game season bad things will happen. But it's the teams that can handle adversity who win.


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