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Game preview: Redskins at Steelers

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Game preview: Redskins at Steelers

What: Redskins (3-4) vs. Steelers (3-3)

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox WTTG-5

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet noon and 4.

When the Redskins visit Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers on Sunday, the focus figures to fall on the same issue that’s plagued Washington throughout the season’s first seven games: the defense’s inability to prevent big plays and/or stop opponents in the clutch. 

Last week, the Giants snatched away a near certain victory in the final moments when wide receiver Victor Cruz sprinted 77 yards – untouched! – for the type of touchdown the Redskins' beleaguered secondary has yielded all too often in 2012.

The Redskins’ pass defense, in fact, is tied for the most passing touchdowns allowed with 16. Six of those scores have come from 33 or more yards out, and two have come from 73 or more.

It’s the biggest reason the team’s pass defense ranking has plummeted from 12th to 32nd in the span of a year. It’s also the biggest reason the Redskins sit a game below .500 as they approach the season's midpoint.

The dramatic drop off has defensive coordinator Jim Haslett searching for answers. 

“We gave up 222 yards a game in the passing game last year,” Haslett said this week. “We’re giving up 328 right now, which is crazy. But you add those two or three [big] plays every game, you get 100 yards. It’s the same scheme, the same players. We’ve just got to execute better.” 

The Redskins' task gets no easier with Roethlisberger under center Sunday. The 30-year-old, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback is off to one of the best starts of his nine-season NFL career as he directs a revamped offense he recently described as “dink and dunk,” which contrasts sharply with the Steelers' vertical passing game of yesteryear. 

Roethlisberger ranks fifth in passer rating (two spots behind the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III), 10th in passing touchdowns (11) and is tied with Griffin for fewest interceptions (3) among quarterbacks who’ve started all of their team’s games. Roethlisberger is also fifth in passing yards per game (294), while the DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams-led  secondary is yielding 73 more passing yards per outing than the mid-pack Raiders. 

Pittsburgh’s plan of attack could be to pick apart the Redskins’ vulnerable backend with short and intermediate, quick release throws from Roethlisberger to wide receivers Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as well as tight end Heath Miller. Then again, given their opponent's struggles against the big play, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see new offensive coordinator Todd Haley take a shot or two downfield, either.

At 3-4, the Redskins still have time to turn around their season. To do that, though, they’ll need to find some consistency on defense and win a game or two that, on paper, they shouldn’t.

This is one of those games.

Here are three more storylines the crew at www.csnwashington.com will be monitoring Sunday:

1-Although London Fletcher (hamstring, head) had not been ruled out as of Friday morning, it’s possible the veteran’s iron man streak will come to an end at Heinz Field.

Fletcher has played in 231 consecutive games -- the longest among active players -- dating to his rookie season in 1998. If the 37-year-old is sidelined, Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber will take sole possession of the streak. Barber suited up for his 231st game in a row Thursday in Minneapolis.

Fletcher did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday because of the right hamstring strain he suffered against he Giants and balance problems he began complaining about Monday. He spent several hours with a neurologist Thursday. 

Coach Mike Shanahan is expected to give an update on Fletcher’s status Friday afternoon. 

2-Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. But this is getting ridiculous. 

On defense, the Redskins have lost linebacker Brian Orakpo (shoulder) and defensive end Adam Carriker (knee) for the season, while safety Brandon Meriweather has yet to play because of a knee injury.

On offense, the team will be without leading receiver in tight end Fred Davis, who tore his Achilles’ last week, and No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who figures to be sidelined for the fifth time in eight games with a plantar plate tear in his right foot. In addition, right tackle Jammal Brown (hip) hasn’t taken a single snap all season.

There’s a limit to the number of starters a team can lose before the effects are obvious. One has to wonder if the Redskins, depleted by an $18 million salary cap penalty, have crossed that threshold.

3-Another key matchup: The Redskins' top-rated rushing offense vs. the Steelers' rushing defense. Behind Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, Washington leads the NFL in rushing yards per game with 177.7. Pittsburgh, meantime, is yielding only 92.5 yards per game (ninth). Something's got to give. And if it's the home team's defense, the Redskins ought to have a decent shot at pulling off an upset on the road becuase the Steelers are 0-3 when allowing 94 or more rushing yards in a game. 

4-Tight end Chris Cooley, a fan favorite who rejoined the Redskins this week, will play in an NFL game for the first time since Oct. 16th, 2011. 

Shanahan said Cooley, who was released in training camp, has looked to be in good shape during practice this week. But the coach also handed the No. 1 tight end responsibilities to Logan Paulsen -- for now, anyway.

So it remains to be seen how Cooley will be deployed. But keep in mind that his role could evolve/increase in the coming weeks as the 30-year-old gets readjusted.

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How the Redskins survived Thanksgiving with the Giants

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How the Redskins survived Thanksgiving with the Giants

The Redskins' survived a Thanksgiving night scare from the New York Giants in Week 12 at FedEx Field.

Here are my observations during the Redskins’ “a win is a win” 20-10 victory.

— Jamison Crowder made a diving, reaching catch that gained all of two yards. But it got the Redskins their initial first down of the game after two three and outs so it is noteworthy.

— But the series ended when Josh Doctson went out of bounds just before converting a third and 15. It looks like he could have and the other yard. Then Doctson dropped the fourth and one pass and the Giants took over at their own 41. The mistakes continue to mount and the Redskins continue to allow the Giants to stick around.

Brian Mitchell does not like the flow of the Redskins’ offense.

RELATED: FedEx Field turf gets ripped by Internet

— The Giants used a third and 15 conversion and a fourth and one conversion to drive to the first points of the game. There really is no excuse for the third and long as the Giants are severely depleted at receiver and on the offensive line.

— Crowder got lost behind the Giants secondary on third and eight and hauled in a Kirk Cousins pass for 39 yards to the New York 38. It was the first Redskins’ offensive jolt of the day.

— Redskins get first offensive jolt of the day with Cousins to Crowder for 39 yards to the Giants 38, converting a third and eight. But then he dropped a potential third-down conversion and the Redskins had to punt. Again, someone needs to make a play or the season will be over before we eat the first leftover turkey sandwich.

— The Redskins do dent the scoreboard but it’s only a field goal, set up by a pass interference penalty. A sack led to a red zone failure and they settled for three. At least they got to the red zone.

— After catching a 33-yard pass from Cousins, Crowder scored for the first time this year. Kudos to Cousins on the play for scrambling on third down and keeping it alive long enough for Crowder to get open. Redskins 10, Giants 3

— The Redskins are playing some good defense but the Giants offense is making plenty of mistakes. Manning has missed several open receivers. Evan dropped a third-down pass that was on the money. They are showing why they are 2-8.

—  It looked like Cousins’ toe got caught in the turf as he tossed a pass in the direction of Byron Maxwell. The field is not looking too good and that good be responsible for Cousins’ footwork problems. In any case, the ball bounced off of Byron Marshall’s hands and Janoris Jenkins turned it into a game-tying pick six.

— The Redskins got a drive going and moved from their own 10 into Giants territory. But the Giants’ fifth sack of the game ended it and Tress Way came in and punted.

— The Redskins lined up to punt on fourth and one at the New York 40 with about 10 left in the fourth quarter. But apparently Jay Gruden reconsidered and they called timeout and sent the offense back out. But the play clock expired while they were lining up and they had to punt. This is known as not having your act together.

— The Redskins finally untied the game. A holding call bailed them out of a third-down sack and then Cousins converted the next third down on a pass to Crowder. The touchdown was a thing of beauty, a well-timed left-shoulder pass from Cousins to Doctson.

— A fourth-down sack by Junior Galette, his first of the year, gave the Redskins the ball deep in Giants territory. Nick Rose came in and nailed the field goal from 33 yards out.

Fan analysis

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Kirk Cousins threw an interception and people are blaming the field conditions

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Kirk Cousins threw an interception and people are blaming the field conditions

You may have noticed that the grass on Fedex Field looks ... different ... tonight. 

The area between the hash marks looks more yellow-brown compared to the outside green, and it's causing some issues. 

Specifically, this one:

It wasn't the wisest throw of the night from Cousins, but his foot clearly gets caught up under him. 

Noted Sports Fan and cook book author Chrissy Teigen summed it up best: