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Redskins switch tactics late, use Josh Norman to cover Dez Bryant

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins preferred to keep their corners to a side, not wanting to confuse everyone else in coverage. That was the word late last week. But late in the Redskins’ 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, they made a switch they had been reluctant to make. They ordered corner Josh Norman to go wherever Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant went.

They made the move in the fourth quarter, after Bryant had caught six passes for 81 yards in the first three. He finished with seven catches for 102 yards.

“He moved around a little bit,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Norman. “I feel good about our corners. We just have to get the defense fixed up. Too many guys were wide open. Easy throws and catches. We got to challenge them, push them, play a little more coverage.”

Much was made after the opener about how Norman stayed on the left side and Bashaud Breeland stayed on the right. That left Breeland matched up much more often on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown; Breeland gave up two touchdowns. Considering the Redskins handed Norman $50 million in guaranteed money in April, not having him matched up on Brown became a big topic.

But that’s not always what Norman had done in the past. It also was something defensive coordinator Joe Barry said he didn’t always like doing because it could lead to confusion by others in the secondary, if it caused their jobs on a play to change at the last second.

But Sunday, both Breeland and Norman said they were told going into the fourth quarter about the change.

“I’m trying to win a game any way possible,” Breeland said. “If you want to put us in a good position to win the game, I’m all for it.”

But, Breeland said, he did not feel he needed to be moved off Bryant.

“No, I didn’t,” he said.

And, he said, he didn’t follow any discussion about his opening game against Antonio Bryant leading into this game.

“Man, I don’t follow that,” Breeland said. “That don’t bother me. I come play ball every day, do my job every week. They can go to hell for all I care.”

Breeland did cover Bryant at least once in the fourth quarter. And it’s not as if Norman always covered him -- he did do so once when Bryant was in the slot. But on Bryant’s 21-yard catch, he was aligned in the slot across from corner Dashaun Phillips, beating him off the line and with no help inside. Later in the quarter, with Norman covering him in the slot, he stripped a pass for an incompletion.

“I’m just as good on the right as I am on the left,” Norman said. “I did it all last year. I do what the coaches asked me to do. It’s simple. That’s what soldiers do when they’re in the Army. They do what they’re asked to do. Their commanders are in front of them for a reason. I just don’t want to break rank.”

While Breeland defended several fades to Bryant in the end zone, he also surrendered a handful of catches, in man and zone coverages. But at times he was playing off and behind Bryant, suggesting he was expecting help underneath. It didn’t always happen.

“The way they were running the ball, and with play-action, the hook dropper didn’t get his proper depth,” Breeland said about whoever was responsible for covering a particular area, “but other than that I didn’t make the play.”

Breeland said it wasn’t hard on them to make the adjustment.

“If you have guys who are smart and can play the game, you can do that on the fly,” Breeland said. “It doesn’t really change much because we do the same thing on each side. ... I play all sides, play in the slot. I play it all, so I don’t have a preference.”

The focus on who covers which receiver will intensify this week with the Redskins playing at the New York Giants -- and receiver Odell Beckham, whom Norman had a celebrated match-up with in December.

But Norman said he won't be listening to outsiders about what he should or shouldn’t do.

“Those people don’t employ me,” Norman said. “The Washington Redskins do. If they want me to pick up trash, I’m gonna do that. You do not pay my salary and you don’t write my check. The Redskins do. ... I don’t care about nobody else and what they have to say. I’ll do what they ask me to do and if you don’t like it? Deuces.”