The preseason is more baffling than the federal tax code for the Washington Redskins.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington went 4-0 during exhibition games in 2013 before enduring a 3-13 season. This time, the Redskins are showing no offense during a 2-0 start, despite being expected to rank among the NFL leaders, and a suspect defense has posted two strong showings.
What's next? Special teams playing well?
Coach Jay Gruden isn't holding back the offense as much as penalties, turnovers and poor execution, which saw the starters exit without scoring against Cleveland Aug. 18, despite two long drives and a 49-yard reception. Washington was stuffed on the goal line, while an interception and lost fumble ended other drives.
Meanwhile, the defense set up Washington's first touchdown on a fumble recovery and made the Browns' quarterbacks race between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel look like Dumb and Dumber during the Redskins' 24-23 victory. Indeed, Browns third-stringer Connor Shaw was the best quarterback on the field.
One moment, Gruden is in the locker room telling players not to commit turnovers and penalties. Then, the Redskins suffer both.
"We had four turnovers," Gruden said. "We had some key penalties and some stopped drives. We had second and goal at the 2 [yard line], and tried three runs in a row. I thought we moved the ball effectively, but you have to finish drives, and you have to protect the football.
"Part of my pregame speech was about eliminating penalties and protecting the football. We did neither [of those things]. We have to continue to monitor those things. That is a very important part of the game -- penalties and turnovers. It can cost you a lot of football games if you are not careful. I have been preaching that and coaching that, but we have to do a much better job as a staff. Our players have to be much more accountable when they have the ball -- quarterbacks and runners."
In a word, the game was sloppy. Officials seemed willing to make a statement on the "Monday Night Football" telecast over new penalties involving defensive contact and quarterback head movements for offsides. Overall, 21 penalties for 154 yards were called, the Redskins getting 11 whistles for 100 that coupled with turnovers saw starters exit scoreless after 28 snaps.
At least the defense stifled the Browns tandem of quarterbacks, Hoyer and Manziel, who used one finger to respond to the Redskins sideline razzing and wasn't claiming to be No. 1.
Washington gets its biggest preseason test at the Baltimore Ravens Aug. 23, when the starters should play at least the first half. It's not about worrying over the Ravens as much as themselves. If the Redskins play cleanly, eliminate turnovers and penalties and improve the red zone offense, they can win regularly this fall.
But it's a work in progress, and so far not enough progress has been made.