Let's talk about Washington's defense against the Steelers on Monday Night Football. Or, to be more precise, let's talk about their crappy pass coverage.
I know most of the talk during the game was about the fact that cornerback Josh Norman, who Washington paid a shit load of money to bring into the fold this offseason after Carolina rescinded its franchise tag on him, did not follow Antonio Brown, the Steelers' All-World wide receiver, all around the field all night long. People seemed especially pissed off about this on social media and, considering the outcome, some of them really did have a point.
But first let's clarify what actually happened on Monday. While Norman didn't follow Brown all around the field all night long, he did end up covering him on 13 of the Steelers' 38 passing plays (before you try to correct me because Ben Roethlisberger had 37 attempts, please remember that one of the passing plays ended in a sack, now shut up). Of those 13 plays, the ball was thrown to Brown all of two times.
The first of those times, early in the second quarter, Norman broke up the pass on what looked like a little bend-in route by Brown on a play that Washington ended up challenging because they actually thought it was a catch and fumble instead. The second time, Roethlisberger tried to complete a pass to Brown while he was covered by Norman wasn't until there was just 8:33 left in the game and Norman damn near picked it off.
Unfortunately, Washington was already down 24-16 at that point and the Steelers eventually scored a touchdown on that drive to go up 31-16.
To recap: With only two balls thrown his way while covering Brown 13 times, Norman not only broke up both passes, but also almost came up with a turnover both times as well.
Yeah, I'd say that was a great argument for having Norman cover Brown more.
Also to be fair, Norman did line up on the right side of the defense three times, so it's not like he just absolutely refused to go over there or something. He was not covering Brown all three of those plays, but still.
However, that was not the only and maybe not even the primary issue with Washington's coverage on Brown that night, and I don't think it would have been a cure-all.
I wouldn't have minded Norman staying on the left side as much as he did and only covering Brown 13 times if Washington had done something to mitigate that, like sending help to Bashaud Breeland on the other side of the field. Seeing as how Breeland was seeing a helluva lot more of Brown than Norman was and that it wasn't going nearly as well for him in that matchup, I'd have thought doubling Brown at least a few times would've been a no-brainer.
Wrong! *Charlie Murphy voice*
I want casual fans who may not follow Washington closely to understand that Breeland ain't no punk, now. Dude is in his third season after being selected in the fourth round in 2014. He started 15 out of 16 games as a rookie and 14 out of 15 games last season. The guy has shown himself to be a pretty decent corner and somebody I thought of as an ascending player heading into season. So it's not like Washington had Yeoman Johnson over there on an island with Brown and just completely turned a blind eye to it. I imagine Washington thought heading into the game that Breeland could at least hold his own against Brown. It's just that that was a lie.
A really big lie.
And even though Brown was giving him the business, the coaching staff never seemed to figure that out and didn't do anything to help Breeland before the game got out of hand.
Most teams are going to find a way to double Brown on third downs at least. Like, it isn't practical to try to do that every play, but even if you have a top notch corner on your squad, Brown is not a guy that most folks can cover one-on-one more than a handful of plays in a game without getting embarrassed at some point.
Mistake No. 1 was that Washington didn't come into the game with a plan to double him at all, no matter who was covering him.
Mistake No. 2 was Washington deciding not to try to disguise its coverages for most of the night. I'm not quite sure who the hell they thought they were playing, but you can't just line up with one safety deep before the snap and expect Ben Friggin' Roethlisberger not to try to bomb your ass out of the stadium!
There were only three times where Washington lined up with two safeties deep and then had one try to rob the short middle of the field on the snap while the other went to the deep middle. That was pretty much the extent of their attempt at disguising coverage all game. Not once did they show a single high safety look before the snap then rotate the safety in the box back deep to try to bait Big Ben into throwing a deep ball into coverage.
Add that to the fact that they only played with two safeties deep after the snap on just 13 out of those 38 passing plays and you really gotta wonder what in the hell they were thinking. I know they decriminalized the WEEEEEEEEEEEDUH in D.C. recently, but come on man!
I could see if the Steelers were running the ball down their throats, which would necessitate keeping one of the safeties in the box, but 11 out of DeAngelo Williams' 26 carries came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were trying to bleed the clock. At the very least they could've switched it up a lot more prior to that.
I just can't think of a good excuse why, if Norman wasn't going to shadow Brown all game, Washington didn't at least keep a safety over the top of him on most passing downs, especially when he wasn't on Norman's side.
And let me also say that I'm not at all convinced that if Norman had been up in press on Brown with no safety help and Washington lining up one safety deep with no disguise, as was the case so many times with Breeland on Monday night, that he wouldn't have also gotten his ass toasted in much the same manner.
In fact, check out Brown at 12:53 in the fourth quarter running wide ass open up the sideline on a fade route after beating Norman at the line and with a single high safety in the middle of the field.
It just so happens that it was a play where Roethlisberger came off his primary read to his left away from Brown and then climbed the pocket, but instead of looking deep like he normally does, he dumped it short. Cuz otherwise?
All Norman would've needed was some butter and a lil bit of strawberry jam.
So, again, yeah Norman could've followed Brown around all game and maybe he would've made a few more plays on the shorter throws to him, but Washington's game plan sucked regardless. All things being equal, he would've likely been on that summer jam screen on those fade routes to Brown as well. Make no mistake, Breeland gave everything he had, he was just going against probably the top wide receiver in the league.
But in this particular case it didn't have to. At least not to that extent. I honestly have no idea what Washington's defensive staff was thinking.
Oh, and let me leave you with this final nugget, of those 13 plays when Washington did have two safeties deep in coverage, only two of them came after halftime.