Three days ago, I listed five storylines to follow during Sunday’s showdown against the Steelers in my preview on www.csnwashington.com. Now it’s time to examine how those keys to the game played out at Heinz Field, where the Redskins suffered an ugly 27-12 loss.
1—Ben Roethlisberger vs. the Redskins’ pass defense. As we mentioned, Roethlisberger recently described the Steelers’ air attack under new coordinator Todd Haley as “dink and dunk.” And true to form, Big Ben and his talented crew of receivers picked apart the Redskins with short and intermediate passes.
In fact, of the Steelers’ first 17 plays, 10 were short passes by Roethlisberger, including a one-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope. Roethlisberger used five different receivers on those first two drives, which resulted in a 10-0 lead the home team would not relinquish.
Roethlisberger finished the game with a 72.7 completion percentage and three touchdowns of 1, 7 and 1 yards, respectively.
2—London Fletcher’s status. It was clear from pre-game warmups that he intended to suit up and extend his streak of consecutive games to 232, the longest among active players.
Fetcher missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with hamstring and balance issues. On Sunday, he and Ryan Kerrigan were the only defensive players to take every snap (61). Although the 37-year-old linebacker was not at his sharpest, he finished with six combined tackles, including a big hit on Chris Rainey on a screen pass that resulted in a five-yard loss in the third quarter.
Fletcher acknowledged that he played through some discomfort, but declined to put a percentage on his health, saying, “I was well enough to play.”
Shanahan, meantime, said Sunday he would not grade Fletcher’s performance until he had an opportunity to watch the film.
3—When will all the injuries become too much to overcome? That time might be approaching, if it hasn’t already arrived for a team saddled with an $18 million salary cap penalty.
On Sunday, the Redskins were missing tackle Jammal Brown, linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive end Adam Carriker, wide receiver Pierre Garçon, tight end Fred Davis as well as safeties Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson – all of whom had been penciled in as starters or major contributors during the offseason.
Overall depth is better than it’s been in recent seasons. Everything, though, has its limits. Consider: Much of the blame for the loss was laid at the feet – er, hands – of the Redskins’ receivers, who dropped 10 passes according to Coach Mike Shanahan’s subjective count.
Of course, there’s no way to know if having the team’s No. 1 and 2 passing options on the field instead of the sideline would have helped. But you can’t convince me that Garçon would have dropped the ball that Leonard Hankerson did, or that Davis wouldn't have made a difference.
Shanahan is usually very measured in his postgame remarks but he did not mince words when asked about the drops, issuing this stern warning to his receivers, “I don’t care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hand, you better catch it or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long."
4—Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris vs. the Steelers’ run defense.
The Redskins entered the game averaging a league-leading 177.7 yards per game on the ground. Against the Steelers, they amassed a season-low 86 yards. The lowest previous output was 129 against the Falcons.
The Redskins’ 21 rushing attempts tied for a season low (Falcons). Against the Giants, they attempted 38 runs.
Alfred Morris’s 13 carries, meantime, were a career-low for the standout rookie.
5—Chris Cooley’s first game in 53 weeks. Cooley didn’t expect to get much action and, indeed, it was limited. The tight end played 19 snaps – 37 fewer than Logan Paulsen.
It will be interesting to see if their roles change in the coming weeks as Cooley works his way back into football shape after sitting out the season's first seven games.
“It was a pretty emotional day for me,” he said. “It felt great to get the start. I had so much adrenaline pumping through me.”