Nations: Redskins’ victory no thing of beauty

Well, that wasn’t pretty.

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion following the Washington Redskins’ 24-23 preseason victory over the Cleveland Browns at FedEx Field.

That cuts both ways, too. Cleveland didn’t exactly look ready for prime time and did little to solve its quarterback competition between nondescript veteran starter Brian Hoyer and hotshot rookie Johnny Manziel, who did manage one notable lowlight when he flipped the bird to the Redskins’ bench during the proceedings. Not exactly Heisman stuff, that, or even a grown-up response to what was no doubt some “spirited” banter Manziel was on the receiving end of all night.

So yeah, the Browns didn’t look so hot. That’s Cleveland’s problem.

Washington didn’t look much, if any, better and that’s an issue which strikes much closer to home. The Redskins, who thoroughly dominated a fairly disinterested New England Patriots squad for a 23-6 win in last week’s preaseason opener, needed to turn back the Browns’ last-second two-point conversion try to secure the victory on Monday night.

The Redskins’ defense looked good — or were the Browns just that inept? Hard to say, but still that’s encouraging. Washington held the Browns to just 286 yards of total offense, much of that coming when the third-string units were on the field, and the Skins’ defense also delivered five sacks and forced a fumble.

New coach Jay Gruden’s decision to retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has looked wise, so far at least.

Washington put up 429 yards of total offense, with backup Kirk Cousins doing the most once more against the Browns’ second-string defense. Cousins was 12 of 21 passing for 145 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but that’s hardly reason to start clamoring for a quarterback change. Cousins still looks every bit like the backup quarterback, capable of making an occasional play and managing the offense but not a player to build an offense around.

That role still firmly belongs to third-year pro Robert Griffin III, who is still trying to shake a disappointing sophomore campaign marked by inconsistency after his standout rookie season.

Watching Griffin on Monday night, it is apparent there’s still much work to do. Although he seems to move better in the pocket this season, Griffin needs to continue to tone down his penchant for scrambling out and taking hard hits on the run. He exited Monday’s game with another painful lesson, a bruised thigh, on why he needs to improve his sliding technique. Griffin didn’t lead the Redskins’ first team offense on a scoring drive en route to completing 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards and an interception — another of those maddenly poor throws he unleashed at times last season. He also ran four times for 24 yards, with precious little but that bruise to show for it.

This is the time for learning, though — for RG3 to master the art of self-preservation, and for Gruden to establish the ground rules to make sure his starting quarterback does just that.

The Redskins turned the ball over three times, with one interception each by Griffin, Cousins and third-stringer Colt McCoy, and committed 11 penalties. These are not numbers to make any coach happy, but perhaps the Browns did Gruden a solid favor by exposing some of those shortcomings now. Gruden vowed afterward to put an increased emphasis on ball security and eliminating penalties, and that could only help an offense that had plenty of problems with both last season.

The Redskins have a short turnaround to get ready for the next preseason test on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens. Washington got through the Browns’ game without any major injuries, always a plus in the preseason. Keeping everyone upright and unharmed — especially a certain risk-taking quarterback — remains the priority heading into the fast-approaching regular-season opener on Sept. 7 when the Redskins visit the Houston Texans.

So while it wasn’t pretty, a win beats the alternative. Washington has now won seven straight preseason games, for what that’s worth. Seeing results is secondary right now. Improving some of the flaws exposed Monday night would go a much longer way toward helping Washington fans rest easy than another meaningless exhibition victory.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com