Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
Missed Plays, Dropped Passes Magnify Redskins’ Road Loss To Steelers
PITTSBURGH – There have been plenty of times this season when the Washington Redskins have been able to make even the most difficult plays look routine. A flick of the wrist or a jab-step from Robert Griffin III often left defenders wondering how to respond.
For as spectacular, and easy, as the rookie has made football seem over his first seven games, none of it would be possible with a complete lack of fundamentals. That’s what Washington found out Sunday, where when one dropped pass after another continued to add up and the Redskins fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-12, in a constant rain at Heinz Field.
“You want to go out, be successful, execute plays and have everything work for you,” Griffin said. “When you have a day like today where almost nothing worked for you, it’s very frustrating.”
The Redskins, all told, dropped at least 10 passes from early in the game until late. Leonard Hankerson dropped a ball at the two-yard line on the second-to-last play of the first quarter and Dezmon Briscoe dropped a ball in the end zone two plays later, setting the tone by settling for a field goal.
Santana Moss, Joshua Morgan, fullback Darrel Young and tight end Niles Paul also felt the ball roll off their fingertips by the end of the afternoon, preventing the offense from gaining any momentum.
Griffin, otherwise, completed 16 of 34 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. His accuracy was not always perfect – on one drop by Morgan early in the fourth quarter, without a defender within five yards, Griffin threw the ball behind him – but a few more catches could have helped the Redskins (3-5) stay in a game they were otherwise never in.
“I don’t care where the placement is,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it, or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long.”
Pittsburgh (4-3) set the tone early behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers threw the ball early and often against the Redskins’ porous secondary, with Roethlisberger completing nine of his first 10 attempts on two scoring drives that pushed the advantage to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Roethlisberger averaged 9.3 yards per completion and 6.7 yards per attempt, sprinkling in the variety of screen passes and quick slants that have become a staple of the offense since Todd Haley took over as defensive coordinator prior to this season.
And when the Redskins adjusted in the second half to cramp down a bit on the passing game – Roethlisberger had only 49 passing yards after the break – Pittsburgh deferred to its trademark running game, with rookie Jonathan Dwyer picking up 107 yards on 17 carries to keep pushing the lead.
“They had some quick passes, screens, rockets, rocket screens, tight end delay, things like that,” said linebacker London Fletcher. “Really, I thought their passing game was more the issue coming into this game. [Dwyer] rushed for over a hundred yards, but I don’t think that was the reason why they won the game today.”
The Redskins had achieved much of their success during the season by running the ball, easily surpassing 125 rushing yards over the first seven games. Pittsburgh, which allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards entering the game, held Griffin and running back Alfred Morris to just 86 yards.
They never had time to get a running game going; Griffin found Moss on a two-yard touchdown reception with 11:33 to play in the second quarter – a play where the ensuing point after was blocked – but the Steelers continued to pull away.
They led 20-6 at halftime behind two touchdown passes and two field goals, and two field goals by Kai Forbath in the second half were all the Redskins could muster.
Morgan, despite the drops, led the Redskins with five catches for 46 yards. Tight end Logan Paulsen, stepping in for the injured Fred Davis, had four catches for 43 yards, and safety Madieu Wiliams had a team-high nine tackles for a defense that didn’t intercept a pass for the first time this season.
Shanahan said he was pleased with the team’s effort, given the circumstances. The execution, though, was off.
“You’ve got to keep pushing forward,” Griffin said. “None of these guys are going to show up tomorrow if they feel defeated or if they feel like they want to throw the towel in. I would tell them don’t show up if you feel that way. I don’t think anybody feels that way. We’re ready to go.”