ATLANTA - Sure the Redskins lost Thursday night to the Falcons, but don't be confused into thinking the final score matters. Washington's preseason debut mattered for certain players and was a good chance to see the team back in action, but the takeaways from this game are not confined to wins or losses.
Walking through the tunnel after the game, Redskins GM Scot McCloughan summed up the action well, saying simply of the game, "some good, some bad." With a nod to McCloughan's analysis, let's look at what stood out.
- The most important thing that can happen in the preseason: No injuries. Though the Redskins had a scare when Niles Paul limped off the field in the first quarter, head coach Jay Gruden said following the game that Paul should be fine, and the tight end could be seen leaving the locker room without any noticeable limp. Considering Paul was lost for the year in the first game of the 2015 preseason, it would be a shame if he suffered another injury in the 2016 preseason opener.
- Getting out of Atlanta injury free had to be the team's top priority, but after that, Redskins brass wanted to see a sharp performance from Kirk Cousins. And they got it. In a very short appearance - he took just eight snaps - Cousins completed all five of his passes for 39 yards. Showing his accuracy and ability to spread the ball around, Cousins had the Redskins offense moving the ball only to be undone by penalties. While Cousins did not show much, after a somewhat rocky offseason dominated by contract discussion, it was good to see the QB back on the field running a crisp offense.
- Rookie Su'a Cravens looked like a playmaker, both with the second team defense and on special teams. With four tackles, two for loss, and an impressive play in punt coverage, Cravens made the case for more opportunities. Speaking after the game, Cravens explained he has never played inside linebacker, and in his first game at the position, he impressed.
- Lightning round: In limited snaps, OLB Preston Smith looked like a player that could control the line of scrimmage. LG Shawn Lauvao dominated on the second unit, and it's only a matter of time until he's back with the starters. Tress Way dropped great punt after great punt, rewarding him for a ton of work on coffin corner kicks in Richmond. LB Will Compton made a nice tackle early in the first quarter, showing tremendous burst to close a hole. CB Greg Toler nearly made an athletic interception in the end zone, breaking up a would-be TD instead.
- The run game. All of it. Don't be fooled by better stats in the second half, there was little to be encouraged by the Redskins ground attack. The team averaged 3.3 yards per carry for the game on 24 carries, worse than the already bad 3.7 YPC from 2015. Some of that will be helped when Trent Williams returns and Lauvao works his way back from injury to the starting O-line, but Matt Jones, Keith Marshall and Chris Thompson - the 'Skins top three runners - looked hesitant at times Thursday night and the line gave them little room to run.
- Special teams as a whole weren't bad - Way punted great and Dustin Hopkins made a field goal - but giving up a 101-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half was bad. Real bad. Kick coverage has long been a problem for Washington, and Thursday night was not the start Washington needed in that department.
- Lightning round: CB Quinton Dunbar had a tough night in coverage, twice getting beat by former Skins WR Aldrick Robinson. S Will Blackmon looked like a guy learning a new position, which is fair because that's what he's doing. It's one thing for RT Morgan Moses to kill the first-team offense with a hold, but it's another for Moses to argue the call when it was very clear. It's tough to say anybody was bad in the first preseason game - the games are designed to work back into game shape, so take the criticisms for what they are.