Although Steelers receiver Antonio Brown didn’t threaten to break any statistical records during his team’s win over the Redskins, he still had a solid night, catching two touchdown passes and making a few other clutch catches. He caught eight passes for 126 yards.
As the game unfolded and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger kept finding Brown every time he needed a key play many wondered why the Redskins were not defending the receiver with cornerback Josh Norman. The Redskins gave Norman a contract worth $15 million per season to help defend premiere receivers such as Brown.
But the game plan called for Norman to stay on the left side of the defense with Bashaud Breeland on the right side. It seemed like most of Brown’s big plays, including a 29-yard touchdown reception on fourth and one, came against Breeland.
“He’s a good corner and he got best by a great player today and some great passes that I don’t know what corner could defend.” head coach Jay Gruden said of Breeland.
For his part, Norman was not about to question the game plan.
“No, man. Like I said, our faith is trusting coach [defensive coordinator Joe] Barry, [secondary] coach Perry Fewell,” said Norman when asked about shadowing Brown. “That’s why the guys brought me here. Faith in me to do my job and not question one thing in the game plan.”
While it may be easy to take shots at the defense, considering that the Steelers put up 38 points, a couple of things should be pointed out here. For one thing, defenses rarely have their cornerbacks change sides to put a particular player on a particular receiver. As Barry explained, doing that confuses the assignments of all of the other defensive backs in the game and can often create more problems than it solves.
Also, it wasn’t like Breeland was blowing assignments and getting beaten badly. As Gruden noted, in many cases it took perfect throws and/or great catches for the plays to work. There may not have been much that Norman could have done, either.
“I mean, he’s the best in the business,” said Breeland of Brown. “I don’t take this as running under the cover. I take that as just improvement.”
Indeed, Breeland did not take cover after a rough day. He stood at his locker and answered questions from reporters for as long as they wanted him to.
The good news is that the Redskins won’t face many more QB-wide receiver combinations like Roethlisberger and Brown. There should be better days ahead but with another game coming up in just six days they need to get ready. In this league 0-2 is a disaster and a team trying to build on a positive 2015 season can’t afford that.