Debugging the Skins - Pittsburgh

Linebacker LaVar Arrington hustled into the locker room, helmet in hand, and announced to everyone and no one in particular: ''We'll take it any way we can get it.'' They'll take it because it's a win. The Redskins rallied to win, coming from 24 points down to beat Pittsburgh, 35-34. So why didn't it feel like a victory?

Maybe it's because the defense surrendered too many big plays in the first half. Maybe it's because the quarterbacks couldn't generate much of anything against Pittsburgh's starters. Or maybe it's because Sunday's first half is more indicative of what kind of team the Redskins are.

The Steelers led 17-0 at halftime, courtesy of Redskins mistakes on both sides of the ball. And they stretched it to 24-0 before Washington finally awoke. By then the Steelers' starters were on the sidelines celebrating a strong performance, something the Redskins' starters couldn't do.

Not even after Sage Rosenfels threw a five-yard pass to Darnerien McCants with 2:11 remaining in the game, completing the comeback. Rosenfels threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. But does that erase the struggles he faced in the second quarter. His night was like his entire summer: he looks promising at times, but needs more time to grow. Rosenfels has shown enough to keep him on the roster, but that would require four quarterbacks making the team.

He hangs in the pocket well, but he too often delivers the ball late. Forget the comeback, that's what we take away from this one. He throws the ball after the receiver makes his break. More often than not, he needs to throw it before. It's the difference between a completion and an interception. It's not that Rosenfels can't do this, it's just that he's not fully comfortable in the offense.

Danny Wuerffel had the worst numbers (2 for 5, 24 yards), but I'd like to see him more. Wuerffel also had the worst field position, with his best starting point at his own 20. Wuerffel made one ill-advised throw, throwing one up for grabs from near his own end zone, resulting in an interception. But it turned out to be like a long punt.

Thing is, all the quarterbacks made silly mistakes. Shane Matthews threw an interception trying to throw away a pass, landing the ball in a lineman's gut.

''It looks like you don't know what you're doing when that happens,'' Matthews said.

He completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Matthews must throw the ball before the receiver breaks and he usually does. But when he doesn't, it's an incompletion or worse. On one play, receiver Derrius Thompson broke open but Matthews threw late. And the Steelers easily broke up the pass.

But the Redskins' defense surrendered too many big plays. Again. They allowed five plays of 20 yards or more in the first half one week after giving up two such plays against Carolina. Part of the problem is Washington's over-aggressiveness, which Pittsburgh exploited.

That's how the Steelers ran the screen so well, particularly a 36-yard one to running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. There's not much discipline at times when the Redskins rush the passer. Also, the Redskins lack a safety who can come up and limit those plays to minimal yardage. Later on that series, the Redskins completely bit on a play-action fake at the 1, enabling at least two Steeler wideouts to be uncovered in the end zone (linebacker LaVar Arrington appeared to be one of the fooled players).

Another time, safety David Terrell allowed receiver Plaxico Burress to get behind him in zone coverage. Terrell took a bad angle and that led to a 35-yard gain from the 1. Such plays ruin games.

``It's just mental lapses, not being in the right place at the right time," cornerback Fred Smoot said. ``That comes with playing football and playing through the preseason. But it'll get better, believe me."

``Everyone just has to worry about their own assignment," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. ``You can't give up big plays. You can give up five, 10 yards here and there. But when you give up big plays, it'll cost you."



SIZZLE

. . . Derrius Thompson has earned a starting spot, even if it's only for one preseason game. Thompson caught eight passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

. . . Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson had a strong first quarter, breaking up double teams and allowing middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter to race to the ball untouched. Just imagine what Wilkinson and Daryl Gardener could do if the latter stays healthy.

. . .Receiver Chris Doering caught seven passes for 73 yards. He, too, deserves more of a look. All Doering does is get open and catch the ball.

. . . Justin Skaggs finally made a big play, catching a 49-yard strike from Sage Rosenfels down the middle. Is it enough to keep him around? No. But his two plays on special teams might be. Skaggs made a tackle on the opening kickoff and later downed a punt at the 1.

. . . Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. The more we see him the more we like him. And we love his instincts. On one run, end Ladairis Jackson got shoved inside, creating what should have been a huge hole. But Trotter quickly filled it, limiting the gain to one yard.

. . . Receiver Rod Gardner. His best outing of the preseason, he caught three passes for 35 yards versus Pittsburgh's starters. Gardner also had a 19-yard catch called back. With his size, Gardner could be an excellent receiver on the deep routes over the middle, where he'll face serious collisions.

. . . Corner Mark Washington. He dropped two interceptions, but was in place to get them.

. . . Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete. He intercepted a pass, made a big hit and seemed to be in the right place most of the time.

. . . Tight end Leonard Stephens caught a 23-yard touchdown pass.

FIZZLE

. . . Corner Champ Bailey. Was beaten on underneath routes too often. That's what Plaxico Burress' size can do against even the best corners.

. . . Receiver Reidel Anthony. In a tight race, can't drop balls and Anthony did.

. . . Safety David Terrell. Took a bad angle on 35-yard pass from the Steelers' 1-yard line, allowing a momentum-changing play. Our opinion: Terrell is too slight to be a playmaker. He simply doesn't do much back there and it's time to look at Ohalete.

. . .End Ladairis Jackson. At least against the run. He gets turned in and turned around and until that stops he won't progress. But his athleticism makes him intriguing against the pass.

. . . Pass protection by the first offensive line. A few cracks forced negative plays. Tackle Rod Jones was beaten by linebacker Joey Porter on a blitz, leading to a fumble. But Jones played better than we expected. The Redskins weren't sacked on 51 passes, but they were forced into at least two interceptions and a holding penalty because of the pressure.

. . . Receiver Kevin Lockett. We're waiting for him to do something. He's supposed to be dangerous on underneath routes, but it hasn't happened yet.


LUKEWARM

. . . All of the quarterbacks. They finished strong, but started poorly. What matters more? They showed they're mentally tough by playing well late, but they showed how little margin for error they have against top starters.


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