- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH — The Washington Redskins’ erratic punt coverage stumbled again yesterday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antwaan Randle El posted back-to-back returns of 60 and 43 yards in the first half at Heinz Field. Those big plays set up 10 points as Pittsburgh went up early and sweated little in a 16-7 victory.

Coach Joe Gibbs afterward gave most of the credit to Randle El, who is known as one of the NFL’s most dangerous return men despite doing little on punts this season.

“The guy is phenomenal,” Gibbs said. “We knew it coming in, put real effort into it. It wasn’t something we didn’t expect. … We just weren’t good enough to get him down.”

Washington’s punt coverage has been inconsistent this season — struggling early, seeming to solidify in early November and then getting roughed up the past two weeks. Pressed on what the unit might have to change to get “good enough,” Gibbs revealed little.

“We’ll take a look at it and see what we think as far as our personnel,” he said. “We’ve been covering punts. Our punting game’s been excellent. I think we were just up against somebody real good today.”

Washington’s James Thrash had the best shot at Randle El on the first return but overran the play. Randle El then made Ethan Albright and Mike Sellers whiff before finally getting run out of bounds. Pittsburgh kicked a field goal three plays later.

The second return was less tricky.

Tom Tupa’s punt was low and to the left side of the field. Randle El fielded it on a bounce and sped up the sideline, mostly untouched until Tupa pushed him out of bounds.

“He’s definitely a special returner,” Thrash said. “He does a great job of just hitting it, getting up the field. Then, being as elusive as he is, he can make people miss. He showed that today.”

Taylor’s latest foul

Safety Sean Taylor picked up a personal-foul penalty for the second straight week when he shoved center Jeff Hartings after the whistle and away from the play.

Pittsburgh would have had third-and-4 at the Redskins’ 34 if not for the rookie’s foul. Instead, the Steelers got a first down at the 19 and kicked a 36-yard field goal three plays later, going up 13-0 late in the second quarter.

Last week’s incident, an elbow to the head of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, also occurred after the whistle and away from the play.

The week before that, Taylor was accused of spitting in the face of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The NFL, however, couldn’t find enough evidence for a fine.

“We talk about it all the time,” assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams said. “[Taylor] plays with an awful lot of emotion, but we just can’t have those kinds of things that hurt the football team. We’ll review it.”

Taylor, who hasn’t spoken to the media in several weeks, declined to comment.

Out of nowhere

Ryan Boschetti and Chris Clemons made their NFL debuts yesterday, and both had an impact on the Redskins’ defense.

Boschetti, who was signed off the practice squad Friday after kicker Ola Kimrin was released, recorded four tackles and saw significant playing time all over Washington’s defensive line.

He spent the bulk of his time at right end when starter Demetric Evans sprained his ankle, but he also played left end and defensive tackle.

An undrafted rookie from UCLA, Boschetti said he was undaunted by his first live game action. He simply approached Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field like it was a weekday afternoon at Redskin Park.

“I’ve been treating Wednesday and Thursday [practices] like live games,” said Boschetti, who stuffed Jerome Bettis for a 2-yard loss on one play. “This week, I just got to take out a little revenge against a different color, that’s all.”

Clemons, meanwhile, recorded his first career sack four days after joining the Redskins’ roster for the first time this year.

Clemons was cut by Washington at the end of training camp. He spent the season on Cleveland’s practice squad but was plucked away by the Redskins on Wednesday after linebacker Mike Barrow was placed on IR.

“There wasn’t much to learn. It’s the same stuff we were running in the offseason. For them to come back and give me another opportunity, I’m thankful for it.”

Dirty dozen

For a unit that has played exceptionally well all year, the Redskins’ defense made an egregious error during the second quarter when they were penalized for having too many men on the field.

The flag came at a most inopportune moment: With the Steelers facing fourth-and-1 at the Washington 30. It appeared that Jerome Bettis had picked up the first down without the infraction, but Pittsburgh accepted the penalty to ensure a fresh set of downs.

Three plays later, Bettis burst into the end zone to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead and Gibbs a headache.

“We had 12 men on the field, and that shouldn’t happen to us,” Gibbs said. “We have a lot of packages on defense, and we got caught in one there.”

Top target

Rookie H-back Chris Cooley led the Redskins in receiving yesterday with seven catches — although just for 31 yards — and a touchdown.

“Going in, I thought I would catch a few more balls than normal because our main package had two tight ends and I was more involved in the passing game, running a lot of the receivers’ routes,” said Cooley, who caught 13 passes in the previous 10 games.

Two of Cooley’s catches were memorable.

The first came 6:33 into the third quarter when he held onto a 12-yard grab at the Pittsburgh 33 after being hammered by linebacker James Farrior.

The second was a 2-yard scoring toss from Patrick Ramsey just into the end zone on fourth-and-goal that completed that 13-play, 79-yard drive.

Cooley has four of Washington’s 13 offensive touchdowns this year.

“On the first play, the guy played me hard outside so I started rolling back inside and the second the ball hit me in the hands, the guy just clobbered me,” Cooley said. “It was a good shot, but I wasn’t going to drop it. A lead block on a linebacker is way worse than that.

“On the touchdown, I had the option to go either way and since I had two guys sitting outside of me, I drifted a little bit inside. It was an easy play for me and an easy play for Patrick.”

Gibbs’ proteges

Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm played for Joe Gibbs during his first tenure with the Redskins.

Whisenhunt, a tight end, played for the Redskins in 1989 and 1990. Grimm, an original Hog, played all 11 of his seasons for Gibbs and began his coaching career under him in 1992.

Grimm remained in Washington until he wasn’t retained when Marty Schottenheimer became the team’s coach in 2001.

When Gibbs returned to Washington in January and began re-assembling much of his old staff, he didn’t pursue Grimm.

Grimm was a finalist for the Chicago Bears’ coaching vacancy at the time, and he planned to stay put in Pittsburgh if he didn’t get that job.

The Steelers promoted Grimm from offensive line coach to assistant head coach to ensure he would remain.

Extra points

Leading receiver Laveranues Coles caught six passes, raising his team-high total to 58. However, he twice limped off the field with an injured hip that could limit him in practice this week. …

Defensive end Demetric Evans sprained an ankle. Offensive lineman Jim Molinaro suffered a stinger and running back Clinton Portis a bruised chest. …

Injured linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee), defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin), guard Randy Thomas (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jermaine Haley (knee) were listed as inactive for yesterday’s game, as were third quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, defensive end Ron Warner, offensive tackle Vaughn Parker and kick returner Antonio Brown.

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