What We Learned
Three things we learned from the Falcons' easy win
Updated: Saturday August 18, 2001 2:40 AM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
LANDOVER, Md. -- It may be only halfway through the preseason, but the Washington Redskins are struggling under new head coach Marty Schottenheimer. On the other side of the ball, the Atlanta Falcons looked closer to their 1998 Super Bowl form than to last season's 4-12 form. Here are three observations in the wake of Atlanta's 27-6 preseason defeat of Washington on Friday night at FedEx Field:
1. Jamal Anderson has his groove back. Not to mention his glide.
They say it generally takes an NFL running back between 18 months and two years to return from an ACL tear. That would put Anderson right on schedule. Atlanta's leading rusher played all 16 games last season, and at times played gallantly. He ran for 1,024 yards -- the fourth four-digit season of his seven-year NFL career -- scored six touchdowns, and caught 42 passes for 382 yards.
But he wasn't the old Jamal of Dirty Bird fame. In 1998, the Falcons rode Anderson's breakthrough 1,846-yard season to the Super Bowl. But when he went down with a devastating right knee injury in the second week of 1999, some wondered if he'd ever be capable of carrying an offense again.
It's still early, but Anderson's work Friday night against the Redskins gives you some real hope. Carrying 12 times in the first half, he gained 45 yards, and scored both of Atlanta's offensive touchdowns. On the first, a 1-yard plunge over left tackle, the powerful Anderson lowered his shoulder and ran over Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey to make it 10-0 in the first quarter.
Anderson then capped the first half scoring by gathering in a 5-yard screen pass from quarterback Chris Chandler, tiptoeing into right corner of the end zone to make it 24-6, Atlanta. In between, Anderson flashed the same great vision, gliding running style and ability to explode into tacklers that he featured before the knee injury. On his best run of the night, a 13-yard second-quarter romp through the Washington secondary, he exploded outside to the left and wound up driving rookie cornerback Fred Smoot into the Falcons' bench.
Last year, Anderson ran tenatively at times, stepping through holes as if the knee was still very much on his mind. Still, when he posted his only two 100-yard games in the course of the season's final six weeks, there were glimpses of his old fearless self. On Friday night at FedEx, Anderson looked all the way back.
2. Former No. 1 pick Ki-Jana Carter has all but won himself another shot in the NFL.
Anderson wasn't the only formerly broken down veteran running back stepping back into the spotlight Friday night.
Carter, who spent all of last season out of the NFL after being released by Cincinnati, basically wrapped up the Redskins' second-team running back job behind starter Stephen Davis. With Skip Hicks gone to Chicago, Carter has only the likes of Stanley Stephens, Kenny Watson and Robert Arnaud to beat out.
And beat them out he will. Fished off the scrap heap by Washington head coach Marty Schottenheimer late this offseason, Carter has showed himself capable of hitting a hole with some burst after years of bad luck injuries (he blew out his knee in the first preseason game of his rookie year in Cincinnati).
When he broke through the line of scrimmage and streaked through the Falcons secondary for a 38-yard touchdown run in the second quarter -- supplying the Redskins with their first points of the preseason after a five-quarter drought -- you had to feel good for a nice guy whose perseverance had finally paid dividends.
Later, in the third quarter, Carter showed some toughness, going airborne to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Falcons' 28 in the dying minutes of the third quarter. All told, in the game's opening three quarters, Carter gained a game-high 56 yards rushing on eight carries, and added two receptions for 1 yard.
Carter will never be the high-impact, big-time running back that he appeared to be coming out of Penn State in the mid-90s. But for one more night at least, he was a playmaker in an NFL game. For Carter, that's a start.
3. Here's a preseason prediction to file away: Washington rookie cornerback Fred Smoot will bump veteran Darrell Green to the nickel back role by the regular-season opener.
Don't run to Vegas and bet the mortgage on it, but keep a knowing eye on the situation.
Smoot was 4 years old when Green made his NFL debut in 1983. With 19 seasons of tenure, there is no more revered Redskin in Washington today. But Smoot is going to be hard to keep off the field on a full-time basis. In a preseason that has been dreadful so far, Smoot is one of the Redskins' few bright spots.
Washington's gabby second-round draft pick has exhibited superb coverage skills in camp, and last week at Kansas City he made several exceptional plays in the end zone against Chiefs rookie receiver Marvin "Snoop" Minnis. Smoot did nothing to hurt his building reputation against Atlanta, and is still in the running for the team's vacant punt returner job.
Wearing No. 21, like a certain talkative Washington cornerback before him, Smoot is a supremely confident young man who believes he was a steal lasting into the second round. So far, he's backing up the bravado.