Much of the focus this week leading up to the Redskins matchup against the Steelers on Monday night has centered on two players: Josh Norman and Antonio Brown. Arguably the best players at their respective positions, Norman will cover Brown a good amount of the game, but for the 'Skins defense, it's not just about that matchup.
"We will do some of that," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said of sticking Norman on Brown.
As the coach continued though it became clear Norman will not exclusively be on Brown. The Steelers do a "great job" of moving Brown around, from the left side to the right side and in the slot, that the gameplan would be too much for the rest of the secondary if Norman constantly mirrored Brown.
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"We’ll deploy a certain, different number of players on him, but they counter-balance that just by moving him around," Barry said.
What also helps Barry is the confidence the team has in Bashaud Breeland, who will be on the other side of the defense from Norman. Further, the entire secondary knows to watch for Brown at all times, but not zero in on him as to give other players better opportunities.
"I feel like they’re both great athletes, great competitors, they’re up for the challenge," strong safety David Bruton said of Breeland and Norman.
Bruton explained that the whole secondary group, including DeAngelo Hall and other corners and safeties that might come in for nickel or dime packages, know the threat Brown brings.
"He’s a guy who’s capable of making the big play, the big catch, and turning a small gain into a big one," Bruton said. "We're able to make adjustments based on where he is. We definitely have to know where he is at all times."
For all of his skill and speed, Brown does not throw the ball to himself. Defending Ben Roethlisberger presents a unique, difficult challenge as well.
"The most dangerous thing about any offense is when the quarterback and receiver are in sync," safety Will Blackmon said. "That's the thing that's tough."
Known for his ability to improvise when a play breaks down, the 'Skins must stay in their coverages longer against Roethlisberger.
"He’s able to make the unbalanced throws so well just because he’s so big and so strong," Barry said. "It’s absolutely something that we’ve shown our guys, we’ve talked to our guys, we’ve preached to our guys because he’s been doing it his whole career. Tough man to bring down."
Even without Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers have other weapons beyond Brown. Markus Wheaton has played in the Pittsburgh offense for a few years, and there is a lot of buzz about second-ear pro Eli Rogers. Further, DeAngelo Williams is much better than a normal backup running back, and rushed for almost 1,000 yards averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry.
"Just because we take away one playmaker doesn’t mean they don’t have any others," Bruton said.