Redskins rewind: A look back at Friday's preview

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Redskins rewind: A look back at Friday's preview

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.”

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."