Grading the Redskins: Defense picked apart in Pittsburgh

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Grading the Redskins: Defense picked apart in Pittsburgh

Defense

Grade vs. Steelers: D 

Comment: Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers produced all the points they would need on their first three drives. In fact, the Steelers scored on four drives in a row to start the game, opening a 20-6 lead before halftime.

Roethlisberger passed for 173 of his 222 passing yards in the first half as he used an array of short and intermediate passes to pick apart the Redskins’ maligned pass defense.

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said Roethlisberger’s short drop, quick release passes – and the Redskins’ inability to get to the veteran quarterback – were the key to the Steelers’ victory. Roethlisberger was not sacked and was only hit once while attempting a pass, according to NFL stats.

“He was throwing the ball quicker than you would think,” Kerrigan said. “That was a bit of an adjustment for us. We’re used to him scrambling around a lot. That’s what we’ve seen on the film, but he was able to do more three-step drops.” 

The Redskins’ run defense didn’t fare much better against reserve tailback Jonathan Dwyer. Washington had held its previous five opponents under 100 yards, but the Steelers racked up 140 – 107 of which were accumulated by Dwyer, who started because of injuries to Rashard Mendehall and Isaac Redman.

Missed tackles hurt the Redskins. But so did the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, who kept Washington’s defenders guessing – up front and on the backend.

“They had us kind of off balance, between the runs and the passes,” veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall said afterward. “They called a great game.”

When the Redskins host the Panthers next week, they’ll be one of only five teams yielding 400 or more yards per game. They’ll also rank last in passing yards (314.3) allowed per game and passing touchdowns yielded (19).

Redskins' Norman tops Pro Football Focus' list of offseason acquisitions

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Redskins' Norman tops Pro Football Focus' list of offseason acquisitions

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman has been named No. 1 on ProFootballFocus.com’s list of 20 “offseason additions likely to make an immediate impact.”

Norman was PFF’s top-rated corner based on QB rating allowed (54.0 percent) last season.

Overall, the football analytics website graded the 28-year-old as the game’s sixth best corner in 2015 (tied with Arizona's Patrick Peterson).

RELATED: DEANGELO HALL WANTS KEVIN DURANT TO COME HOME

Norman, of course, signed a five-year, $75 million contract in Washington on April 22, just days after Carolina rescinded its franchise tag tender to the All-Pro corner. Now, he’s the Redskins’ best player on defense and, arguably, their best player on either side of the ball. 

“[Norman] should be a dramatic upgrade in Washington,” PFF’s John Breitenbach concluded in an article posted Wednesday.

Breitenbach added: "New Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry improved the defense in 2015, but had an obvious hole in the secondary opposite Bashaud Breeland. Chris Culliver struggled last season, allowing a QB rating of 134.8 (surrendering four touchdowns on 35 targets)."

That hole, obviously, will be filled by Norman, who is set to start opposite Breeland, the 2014 fourth rounder who's coming off a breakout sophomore season.

Culliver, meantime, was released on May 2.

Norman’s new teammates, meanwhile, couldn’t be any more pumped about Norman's arrival.

"I was excited, just adding another piece to the defense," four-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams said recently. "It’s extremely tough to come [up with] good corners. So to get one of his caliber is extremely exciting."

Defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois added: "He’s going to help us a lot. I feel like a lot of quarterbacks won’t really try to throw at him. And if they do, they are going to have to gameplan him. Just to have a solid corner and [other] veterans in your secondary, that should make Joe B’s job a lot easier. He can call blitzes. He can man-up. I know a lot of people say we’re good [in] zone, but with a corner like that, you can man-up and send that front after somebody."

During the NFL’s interminable offseason, there are lists ranking anything and everything. If this one turns out to be correct, though, the Redskins' defense could make a significant leap in 2016.

RELATED: SAFETY DEPTH CHART PREVIEW

Seven months after switch, Redskins vet DeAngelo Hall is settling in at safety

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Seven months after switch, Redskins vet DeAngelo Hall is settling in at safety

Although he’s already played half a season at safety, DeAngelo Hall anticipates taking a significant step forward in the coming months.

Why?

He’ll benefit from an entire offseason of first team reps at his new position, rather than attempting to master a new job on the fly, as he did late last season. 

"I’m still learning some different things, but I’m having a blast," Hall said. "I enjoyed being able to get a little taste of it last year, and [now] starting from scratch this year."

Hall, 32, made the switch to safety last November in part because, well, he had to.

He had toyed with the idea of making the transition for a couple of years, but upon returning from toe injury in Week 10, the longtime corner found himself in need of a place to play with Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland entrenched as the starters.

And so, at long last, Hall officially began following in the footsteps of Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson and Ronde Barber—all of whom made a successful, late-career pivot from corner to safety.

Indeed, after playing his first 11 seasons exclusively at corner, Hall played the final seven games of 2015, including the Wild Card loss to the Packers, at safety. Although the transition went as smoothly as possible, changing positions in the middle of the season, much less during a pressure packed playoff push, is never ideal.   

Now, though, Hall’s finally getting the opportunity to really sink his teeth into his new role, which, he recently revealed, will feature a key tweak.

"I’m pretty comfortable," Hall said. "It’s a little different; last year, I played a little more strong than free, and this year I’ll play a little more free than strong. But in our defense you have to be able to do both. You have to be able to interchange. [The offense] can motion one guy, and the free safety becomes the strong safety and the strong safety becomes the free safety. You got to know them both. So, to say I’m free safety really doesn’t mean much because, like I said, one motion and I’m the strong safety in the defense."

During the only OTA practice open to the media last week, Hall, who is entering his ninth season in Washington, lined up as one first string safety. Newcomer David Bruton Jr., meantime, was the other. And while Bruton could face some competition, it's probably safe to pencil in Hall as a Week 1 starter.

"It’s been fun,” Hall said. "That’s probably the best word I can use."

RELATED: WHO STARTS AT SAFETY IN 2016?

Redskins' Kirk Cousins consults current and former NFL starters for advice

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Redskins' Kirk Cousins consults current and former NFL starters for advice

A year ago, Kirk Cousins spent the spring and summer months competing for a job on the Redskins’ roster.

This offseason, he’s working to refine his routine as the Redskins' starting quarterback.

And that work, he revealed recently, has included reaching out to current and former NFL quarterbacks and asking them about their approach to the seven months between games.

"Basically, I’m trying to figure that out still,” Cousins said. “I feel like I’m still in [that] process."

"I’ve called a few of the starting quarterbacks around the league, a few of the retired guys who had great careers," he added, "and just asked them what worked for them in the offseason."

Cousins didn’t specify which quarterbacks he’s called. But he didn’t need to. The simple fact that he’s consulting them is interesting. And telling, even for a guy known for his meticulous preparation. (Last December, Cousins said he parsed each day into 15-minute increments using a color-coded spreadsheet.)

So what did Cousins ask? A little bit of everything, from football to family.

"What was their rhythm in January, February, March?" Cousins said. "When they went back in April, May, June, what’s their rhythm? What’s their rhythm in the summer? How do they handle family? How do they balance travel and opportunities?"

Seeking information from vets who’ve handled one of the most pressure-packed jobs in sports is a wise move for the 27-year-old Cousins as he navigates his first offseason as the Redskins' most important player. Because in addition to facing increased pressure and scrutiny on the field in the coming months, there no doubt will be more people vying for Cousins’ time, as well.

More media appearances. More marketing opportunities. More, well, everything. Dealing with the increased pressure and blitz on his time will be paramount, and the fact that Cousins has gotten out in front of it all should help.

"I’m still figuring that out, so I don’t know that I have a great answer," he said. "I’m trying to get to a routine that works for me and my wife and our family. Once we start in mid-April and go ‘til mid-June, football’s a huge priority and I’m trying to get as much done here as I can."