After digesting the Washington Redskins’ 38-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, Jay Gruden said there were two sideline coaching decisions he’d like to have back.
The first came on the opening drive of the game, when the Redskins faced fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 40-yard line. Rather than going for the short-yardage pickup, Gruden elected to punt.
As Gruden explained his thinking, the hope was that punter Tress Way would pin the Steelers deep in their own end for their opening drive of the game. Way’s punt only made it to the 13-yard line. The Redskins defense forced a Pittsburgh three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but Washington had already squandered an opportunity to score early in a game where they desperately needed points.
“As a coach, that’s the one I regret the most,” Gruden said. “I think I should have gone for it on the first drive of the game. I think you go for it there. If you don’t get it, worst case they get the ball at the 40. That’s a 15-, 25-yard swing.
“I hadn’t seen my defense yet, I was excited to see our defense play and I wanted to back them up and make them go the long way. I will second-guess that one.
Later in the second quarter, Gruden and the Redskins faced fourth-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 38 while trailing, 7-6. This time, the Redskins opted to go for it. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had to settle for a check-down pass to running back Chris Thompson, who was tackled a yard short of the first-down marker. That one didn’t sit too well with Gruden, either.
“I decided to go for it there just because I thought we had a good call and we wound up having to hit the checkdown. They disguised their coverage and Kirk had to check down for a half a yard short. Wasn’t good. Two bad decisions after I look at them.”
It was easy for Gruden to second-guess things on Tuesday afternoon less than 24 hours after so much went wrong for Washington in its first game of the regular season. Among those things he didn’t question, though, was the decision to not shadow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown with cornerback Josh Norman.
Throughout the game, Norman stayed on his side of the field. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland was tasked with covering Pittsburgh’s marquee wide receiver and the results weren’t pretty. Brown hauled in eight catches for 126 yards for touchdowns.
At times, Brown and Ben Roethlisberger flexed their pedigree and just made plays the Redskins could not defend, like when Brown hauled in his 29-yard touchdown catch in double coverage against Breeland and free safety DeAngelo Hall. Other times, Breeland couldn’t keep up with Brown, who hauled in a 26-yard score.
Entering the game, Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the team was going to mix up the coverage against Brown, who moves freely throughout the Steelers’ varied formations, rather than stick Norman on him. After the game, Gruden defended the team’s decision to do so and he expanded on it Tuesday.
“It could be,” Gruden said when asked if there was merit to sticking Norman on an opponent’s top wide receiver. “The issue is you like to not show your hand in man-to-man all the time and so every time he travels, it’s man-to-man. Then you have issues with pick plays and all that stuff. That’s something that we can look at, but we still feel like Breeland can cover a lot of people in the league, man. He just had a couple rough plays and a couple unbelievable throws and catches by Ben and Antonio, man. Hats off to them.”
Hardly lacking confidence, Breeland took his lumps with his head high on Monday night and pledged to be better next time the opportunity arises. It won’t be against Brown and the Steelers, but it will likely be as early as Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys and wide receiver Dez Bryant visit FedEx Field.
The Redskins aren’t losing any confidence in Breeland, either, which Gruden reiterated on Tuesday.
“We felt like he was in a good position to be a very good corner this year, and we still think that,” Gruden said. “He just got beat by a great player a couple times. I know there are some plays he wishes he had back. I think he was looking for the ball, trying to make plays on the ball when he should have just been studying Antonio [Brown] and staying with Antonio. He lost sight of him a couple of times, lost track of the ball a couple times, and missed a couple tackles that he normally makes.
“It wasn’t his best performance, obviously, but he was going up against the best in the National Football League, one of the best. It was a good learning experience for him, but we’re not going to give up on him and I know he’s not going to give up on himself.”