LANDOVER, Md. — When the Washington Redskins went three-and-out on the first two drives of their third preseason game, players feared they’d get an earful.
“We didn’t want to make coach Gruden more upset than he already was,” running back Chris Thompson said.
Jay Gruden was plenty upset about the pattern of slow starts and addressed it in the locker room after the Redskins’ game against Cincinnati. Washington’s first-team offense eventually got it together for a long touchdown drive, but stalling out of the gate is something that’s more than a little concerning with the regular-season opener against Philadelphia less than two weeks away.
“Nobody wants a slow start,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “But it’s one of the demons we’ve got to overcome. It’s been haunting us for a little bit. We’ll work through.”
In 15 preseason possessions, quarterback Kirk Cousins and Washington’s offensive starters went three-and-out seven times, twice had four-play drives of zero or negative yards that included a field goal and had an interception returned for a touchdown. Even a strong second quarter bounce-back Sunday against the Bengals wasn’t enough to assuage fears that the Redskins are slow starters.
“We just got to figure out something new, maybe eat a different pregame meal or something,” Gruden said. “But we’ll get it right. I think the guys will come out with a little bit more energy, more urgency hopefully come Philadelphia. They have to. We can’t start like that in the NFL consistently and expect to win a lot of games.”
After red zone and third-down woes contributed to the Redskins missing the playoffs last season, they don’t want slow starts to be part of their identity in 2017. Even though they haven’t yet played a game that counts, players acknowledge slow starts are a problem but want to look at some film before offering up any possible solutions.
“I really don’t know what it is,” receiver Jamison Crowder said. “We don’t want to start slow like that. Me personally, I think we just got to get everybody out there and just kind of get to gelling a little bit and I think that we’ll be fine.”
The Redskins got tight end Jordan Reed back from a toe injury but were without second-year receiver Josh Doctson against Cincinnati because of a sore hamstring. Free agent signing Terrelle Pryor made just two catches in the preseason, so the process of integrating him and replacing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon is ongoing.
Cousins said developing chemistry with Prior is “a work in progress” and knows there isn’t a lot of time left to figure it out. But he cautioned it might take some time to get everything right.
“I don’t think really we know what kind of team we have until maybe October,” Cousins said. “I think it’s always evolving, you’re learning, but we’re going to have to be ready. We don’t have a choice.”
Starting fast is easier said than done, including on the defensive side of the ball. Not helped by the offense’s brutal beginning Sunday, the defense allowed a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive on its first series.
“We need to start faster — not just as a defense but as a team,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “We can’t have these long drives to start out the game.”
Offensively there’s one potential solution: Rely on Robert Kelley and the running game more early. Once Kelley got churning along against the Bengals, the Redskins offense started clicking, so that may be an adjustment that’s necessary even in a pass-happy league.
“Last year I was feeding off of the receivers,” Kelley said. “They were making plays, and it opened up for me. … (This year) I feel like it’s more the running game that opens up the passing game.”
Gruden, who took over the play-calling duties when offensive coordinator Sean McVay left to coach the Los Angeles Rams, suggested switching up the first 15 scripted plays. The offensive linemen would be fine with those featuring a stronger emphasis on the running game.
“Beginning of the game, everybody’s 100 percent energy, so the plays, they don’t work as well when everybody over there’s revved up and on their keys,” Williams said. “You want to be a balanced offense, so you’ve got to wear people down. Sometimes it takes a little time.”