Quick Links

Game preview: Redskins at Steelers

haslet_sideline.png

Game preview: Redskins at Steelers

What: Redskins (3-4) vs. Steelers (3-3)

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox WTTG-5

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet noon and 4.

When the Redskins visit Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers on Sunday, the focus figures to fall on the same issue that’s plagued Washington throughout the season’s first seven games: the defense’s inability to prevent big plays and/or stop opponents in the clutch. 

Last week, the Giants snatched away a near certain victory in the final moments when wide receiver Victor Cruz sprinted 77 yards – untouched! – for the type of touchdown the Redskins' beleaguered secondary has yielded all too often in 2012.

The Redskins’ pass defense, in fact, is tied for the most passing touchdowns allowed with 16. Six of those scores have come from 33 or more yards out, and two have come from 73 or more.

It’s the biggest reason the team’s pass defense ranking has plummeted from 12th to 32nd in the span of a year. It’s also the biggest reason the Redskins sit a game below .500 as they approach the season's midpoint.

The dramatic drop off has defensive coordinator Jim Haslett searching for answers. 

“We gave up 222 yards a game in the passing game last year,” Haslett said this week. “We’re giving up 328 right now, which is crazy. But you add those two or three [big] plays every game, you get 100 yards. It’s the same scheme, the same players. We’ve just got to execute better.” 

The Redskins' task gets no easier with Roethlisberger under center Sunday. The 30-year-old, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback is off to one of the best starts of his nine-season NFL career as he directs a revamped offense he recently described as “dink and dunk,” which contrasts sharply with the Steelers' vertical passing game of yesteryear. 

Roethlisberger ranks fifth in passer rating (two spots behind the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III), 10th in passing touchdowns (11) and is tied with Griffin for fewest interceptions (3) among quarterbacks who’ve started all of their team’s games. Roethlisberger is also fifth in passing yards per game (294), while the DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams-led  secondary is yielding 73 more passing yards per outing than the mid-pack Raiders. 

Pittsburgh’s plan of attack could be to pick apart the Redskins’ vulnerable backend with short and intermediate, quick release throws from Roethlisberger to wide receivers Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as well as tight end Heath Miller. Then again, given their opponent's struggles against the big play, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see new offensive coordinator Todd Haley take a shot or two downfield, either.

At 3-4, the Redskins still have time to turn around their season. To do that, though, they’ll need to find some consistency on defense and win a game or two that, on paper, they shouldn’t.

This is one of those games.

Here are three more storylines the crew at www.csnwashington.com will be monitoring Sunday:

1-Although London Fletcher (hamstring, head) had not been ruled out as of Friday morning, it’s possible the veteran’s iron man streak will come to an end at Heinz Field.

Fletcher has played in 231 consecutive games -- the longest among active players -- dating to his rookie season in 1998. If the 37-year-old is sidelined, Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber will take sole possession of the streak. Barber suited up for his 231st game in a row Thursday in Minneapolis.

Fletcher did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday because of the right hamstring strain he suffered against he Giants and balance problems he began complaining about Monday. He spent several hours with a neurologist Thursday. 

Coach Mike Shanahan is expected to give an update on Fletcher’s status Friday afternoon. 

2-Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. But this is getting ridiculous. 

On defense, the Redskins have lost linebacker Brian Orakpo (shoulder) and defensive end Adam Carriker (knee) for the season, while safety Brandon Meriweather has yet to play because of a knee injury.

On offense, the team will be without leading receiver in tight end Fred Davis, who tore his Achilles’ last week, and No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who figures to be sidelined for the fifth time in eight games with a plantar plate tear in his right foot. In addition, right tackle Jammal Brown (hip) hasn’t taken a single snap all season.

There’s a limit to the number of starters a team can lose before the effects are obvious. One has to wonder if the Redskins, depleted by an $18 million salary cap penalty, have crossed that threshold.

3-Another key matchup: The Redskins' top-rated rushing offense vs. the Steelers' rushing defense. Behind Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, Washington leads the NFL in rushing yards per game with 177.7. Pittsburgh, meantime, is yielding only 92.5 yards per game (ninth). Something's got to give. And if it's the home team's defense, the Redskins ought to have a decent shot at pulling off an upset on the road becuase the Steelers are 0-3 when allowing 94 or more rushing yards in a game. 

4-Tight end Chris Cooley, a fan favorite who rejoined the Redskins this week, will play in an NFL game for the first time since Oct. 16th, 2011. 

Shanahan said Cooley, who was released in training camp, has looked to be in good shape during practice this week. But the coach also handed the No. 1 tight end responsibilities to Logan Paulsen -- for now, anyway.

So it remains to be seen how Cooley will be deployed. But keep in mind that his role could evolve/increase in the coming weeks as the 30-year-old gets readjusted.

Quick Links

Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

The Redskins will host Tim Hightower for a visit on Wednesday, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported. Bringing Hightower in at this point represents an impressive story far beyond a mundane free agent visit.  

If his career ended today, Tim Hightower's story would already be remarkable. Hightower - a DMV native that played his college ball at the University of Richmond - played for the Redskins in the 2011 season. That season, he tore his ACL, and was limited to five games.

While torn ACL's happen frequently in the NFL, what happened next for Hightower was anything but ordinary. He missed the next three seasons with an undiagnosed infection, before incredibly returning to the NFL in 2015 with the Saints. 

His last two years in New Orleans, Hightower has been a solid contributor behind starting RB Mark Ingram. He's rushed for more than 900 yards, gained another 330 yards through the air and hit the end zone nine times in 24 games for the Saints. 

In Washington, Hightower would join a backfield of Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. It will be interesting to see if Washington adds any other backs through the draft in April as well. 

Born in Waldorf, Hightower went to high school in Alexandria before playing college ball at Richmond. Playing with the 'Skins in 2011, Hightower quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his local ties. 

The Redskins run game has not been particularly strong for a few seasons, and questions remain if the current stable of runners will be enough to improve. Hightower doesn't necesarily equal a significant talent boost, but perhaps coaches and front office staff are looking at the group.

Be aware, however, this could be nothing more than a visit. Triplett reported it remains possible Hightower returns to the Saints. He also visited the 49ers last week, and new San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was running the 'Skins offense in 2011 when the team originally acquired Hightower.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

DON’T MISS OUT - #REDSKINSTALK PODCAST PARTY APRIL 5 AT PENN QUARTER SPORTS TAVERN!

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

Quick Links

Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 36 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players the Redskins will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how they might fit in Washington.

Isaiah Ford

Wide receiver
Virginia Tech

Height: 6-1
Weight: 194
40-yard dash: 4.61

Projected draft round: 3-4

What they’re saying

Ford looks the part of a speed merchant with a tight-skinned, athletic frame, including long limbs. He glides off the line of scrimmage, accelerating fluidly to force defenders to respect his ability to go deep and shows very good balance to sink his hips, as well as burst out of his breaks to create separation. Ford shows the initial quickness and lateral agility to avoid defenders in press coverage, occasionally mixing in a hesitation move to get opponents off-balance. He is willing to run across the middle and cut back inside on quick screens, showing the toughness to absorb big hits and still hang on to the ball. Ford was asked to play outside as well as in the slot

Rob Rang, CBS Sports

How he fits the Redskins: The top of the Redskins’ depth chart at wide receiver looks good with Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor. But depth is a concern, especially with Doctson’s durability a question mark. On top of that, Pryor is there on a one-year contract so there must be some succession planning at the position.

Ford was a very productive receiver at Virginia Tech, the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. He has the knack for making the sensational catch and he isn’t afraid to go across the middle.

At 6-1 he has the height that seems to be the trend on the Redskins’ wide receiver corps lately. Ford could be a good mid-round pick for the team to develop in 2017 and be ready to be a full contributor in 2018.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs. Pitt

Ford is not afraid to run slants over the middle and is willing to cut back to the center of the field after catching bubble screens.

His run blocking ranged from unimpressive to bad with the caveat that it’s hard to evaluate on the TV camera angles. This is an area that can be improved with NFL coaching. Adding a few pounds to his 194-lb. frame could help, too. It also sometimes appears that he could use more bulk to help him use his height when fighting for a ball.

The good and the bad of Ford was on display in the span of a few minutes during the Pitt game. He made a spectacular catch on a tipped ball that bounced off of both him and the defensive back (view here) while they were on the ground. Ford had the awareness to scoop the ball off the chest of the defender and secure it to make the catch. A little while later he was in a great position to made a catch for a first down but he bobbled the ball as he was falling out of bounds (view here) and the pass was incomplete.

In the games I reviewed Ford showed a good knack to make back shoulder catches, something the Redskins don’t seem to like to try. But the ability is there if they draft him and want to try it.

Potential issues: Ford looks skinny, almost fragile, at 194 pounds. If he does add weight he needs to do so without losing much speed. He ran a 4.61 in the 40 at the combine. Against college defensive backs he looks fast enough but that will be a different story in the NFL.

Bottom line: The Redskins can’t go into the season with a very green Maurice Harris and a very pedestrian Ryan Grant as their backup wide receivers. They need a player who can provide depth in 2017 and be able to step up to have a legitimate shot at starting in 2018.

There will be several prospects in the third- and fourth- round range who could be the guy. If the Redskins think that Ford can add a few pounds without sacrificing speed and brush up on his run blocking a bit, they could take a serious look at him.

In his own words:

On how the coaching change from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente helped him:

I think it simplified everything for us. It limited the amount of routes that I ran - slants, outs, fades and posts; my first two years, I was running digs, post curls, comebacks, things like that - that was fine. I'm comfortable doing both. The route-running was never a problem for me because I feel that's what I do best. Being able to play primarily 'X' last year, winning those 50-50 balls and running those routes, it helped me.

Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.