Due to a pair of injuries suffered last week the Washington Redskins are heading into Pittsburgh, likely without two of their top players. One of which, tight end Fred Davis, is not only out for this week, but will miss the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles. London Fletcher's status for Sunday hasn't been clarified yet, but in addition to dealing with a sore hamstring, which pulled him out of Sunday's game, he has balance issues to contend with. Given that he had to see a neurologist for the balance issue and missed practice time, it doesn't sound all that promising that he'll play. That means that the Redskins will need some serious contributions from both Chris Cooley and Keenan Robinson if they hope to beat Pittsburgh this Sunday.
Now Logan Paulsen may be getting most of the reps to start, but don't be surprised if Chris Cooley gets his fair share of opportunities. Cooley will need to show that he can get separation on those quick play action passing routes that Robert Griffin III has been eating defenses alive with. Cooley will also need to show that he can stretch the field some (though not a major part of the Redskins game plan), to open up things underneath.
The big question facing Cooley is his ability to gain yards after the catch. Davis this year has led all Redskins pass catchers in yards after the catch, and turns a number of 6-8 yard receptions into 12+ yard gains. 18 of Davis's 24 receptions were thrown 10 yards or less (4 of those behind the LOS), yet Davis has 209 yards to show for it (11.6 ypc). Can Cooley get that extra 2-4 yards that Davis was capable of getting? That is the big question for Cooley (and the rest of the tight ends) going forward.
The good news is Cooley does help in some other areas. While Davis's blocking had improved this year, he still had his fair share of miscues (many of which cost the Redskins some negative plays) so far. Cooley, while never a good blocker, has shown more consistency and effort that Davis in the past, and that could be the key. Cooley is also better at being a safety blanket for the quarterback. Davis for all his strengths didn't really fight back to quarterback when Griffin was scrambling around in the pocket. Davis was his least effective on third down this year and part of that has to do with Griffin not trying to force throws. By working his way back to the quarterback, Cooley could help convert more third downs, and hopefully take away some extra hits from Griffin.
Robinson has perhaps even bigger shoes to fill than, Cooley, since London Fletcher remains the heart and sould of this defense (even in a down year). Robinson who has 24 snaps to his name for the season will need to be prepared to play 60-70 snaps on Sunday.
One area where it could be a bit of a blessing is in pass defense, an area where London Fletcher has struggled this year. He's been the Redskins primary defender against tight ends (which shows a bit of where the team believes Perry Riley is as a pass defender), and just can't match-up. And that is with Fletcher still having impeccable instincts, he just doesn't have the size and speed to run with these guys. Robinson at 6'3" with much better natural speed. Now he will likely still make some rookie mistakes, and not always know where to be, but his size and speed should prove to be a tougher match-up overall.
The biggest question facing Robinson going forward is run defense. Fletcher has struggled (for him at least) to be as consistent this year, and has allowed an abnormally high number of broken tackles (again for him). That being said, he still is among the best at positioning himself in the hole and reading the play. Robinson will need to be more decisive than what we saw from him in preseason, if he doesn't want to be costing the Redskins in run defense Robinson will need to make this a focus this week (hopefully Fletcher can coach him up from the sideline).
How do you see Chris Cooley and Keenan Robinson impacting the Redskins this week (and beyond)?