Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 8 Analysis Versus Washington Redskins

By Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Washington Redskins at Pittsburgh Steelers

What: Week 8 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Heinz Field

When: 1:00 EST Sunday October 28th, 2012

How: FOX

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
WRPierre GarconIndianapolis ColtsWashington RedskinsStarter
WRJosh MorganSan Francisco 49ersWashington RedskinsStarter
OTJames LeeTampa Bay BuccaneersWashington Redskins1st String Backup
OLBBryan KehlSt Louis RamsWashington Redskins1st String Backup
LBJonathan GoffNew York GiantsWashington Redskins1st String Backup
LBChris WilsonPhiladelphia EaglesWashington RedskinsDepth
CBLeigh TorrenceNew Orleans SaintsWashington Redskins1st String Backup
CBTrent MorganJacksonville JaguarsWashington RedskinsDepth
CBCedric GriffinMinnesota VikingsWashington RedskinsStarter
STanard JacksonTampa Bay BuccaneersWashington RedskinsStarter
SMadieu WilliamsSan Francisco 49ersWashington Redskins1st String Backup
SBrandon MeriweatherChicago BearsWashington Redskins1st String Backup
KNeil RackersHouston TexansWashington RedskinsStarter
QBJohn BeckWashington RedskinsHouston Texans1st String Backup
WRJabar GaffneyWashington RedskinsNew England PatriotsStarter
OTSean LocklearWashington RedskinsNew York Giants1st String Backup
MLBRocky McIntoshWashington RedskinsSt Louis RamsStarter
CBChris HortonWashington RedskinsNew York GiantsDepth
SLaRon LandryWashington RedskinsNew York JetsStarter
SOJ AtogweWashington RedskinsPhiladelphia EaglesStarter
FBMichael SellersWashington RedskinsCUT1st String Backup
WRDavid AndersonWashington RedskinsUFADepth
WRMalcolm KellyWashington RedskinsUFADepth
MLBKeyaron FoxWashington RedskinsUFA1st String Backup
CBPhilip BuchanonWashington RedskinsUFADepth
CBByron WestbrookWashington RedskinsUFA1st String Backup

The Washington Redskins had the best free agency out of any time I\’ve looked at so far. They didn\’t have many big losses; offensively, the only key loss may have been Jabar Gaffney. John Beck was given his chance last year and when he failed it made him expendable. On dfense, the Redskins will be without two starting caliber safeties and two linebackers, including Keyaron Fox. The Redskins will also be without Byron Westbrook, who got on the field quite a bit in a backup role last year and was just entering his prime.

Washington was clearly looking to get better offensively and they signed two young and rising wide receivers in Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. A few backups were added  at the cornerback and linebacker positions as well. Cedric Griffin will probably see the field a lot as a defensive back next season. Leigh Torrence was primed to do the same but was cut. The final important addition is safety Tanard Jackson. His addition was made necessary with the two safeties gone and he has been a starter before in Tampa Bay so he should be able to contribute immediately.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
PositionNameRoundCollegeHeightWeight
QGRobert Griffin III1.2 (2nd)Baylor6\’2223
GJosh LeRibeus3.8 (71st)SMU6\’3312
QBKirk Cousins4.7 (102nd)Michigan St6\’3214
OLBKeenan Robinson4.24 (119th)Texas6\’3242
GAdam Gettis5.6 (141st)Iowa6\’2293
RBAlfred Morris6.3 (173rd)Florida Atlantic5\’9219
OTTom Compton6.23 (193rd)South Dakota6\’5314
DBRichard Crawford7.6 (213th)SMU5\’11191
CBJordan Bernstine7.10 (217th)Iowa5\’11205

Washington made one of the biggest moves in NFL history when they traded up to draft Robert Griffin III. This move provided them with a highly regarded prospect at quarterback, who should be able to start for a long time. The cost for him was high as the Redskins had to give the St. Louis Rams three 1st round picks and a 2nd. Accordingly, the rest of the Redskins draft was lackluster. A key addition was Kick Cousins in the 4th round. He needs work and can learn a lot in a backup role to Griffin. The question is whether this choice was in disbelief to Griffin\’s success in the NFL or as an injury replacement.

Two of Washington\’s top five picks were spent on guards. There is clearly a desire to evolve this offense. Adding Griffin as the centerpiece gave them a player to build around. Adding two new quick receivers to go along with Santana Moss and tight end Fred Davis gives him a few weapons. The two remaining components are protection and offsetting the pressure with a run game. The offensive line didn\’t change much through free agency and I don\’t think a 3rd and 5th round prospect is going to spark a big transformation.

Coaching Staff:

The Redskins put a lot of stock into Mike Shanahan as a head coach. He will be entering his third season and is getting the pieces he needs to develop a franchise. He has been at his best with a good quarterback in the past like John Elway, and currently has two Super Bowl rings to show for it. His biggest strength is his ability to establish an effective running game with almost anyone at running back. He is still regarded as one of the best coaches currently in the league (154-108 overall record), but needs to backup his current reputation by turning Washington around.

The offensive coordinator for the Redskins is his son, Kyle Shanahan. I don\’t want to shout nepotism, but he it is what it is. One thing that I can\’t deny, is that he appears to have earned the position. He worked his way up the Houston Texans coaching staff to become their offensive coordinator for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. During those seasons, aside from a few injuries, the Texans offense was quite good; Matt Schaub was efficient and grossed a lot of yards. He is the youngest coordinator in the NFL at only 32 years of age and became a Coordinator at 28. This young man will have big shoes to fill this season.

Jim Haslett returned to the NFL to be the defensive coordinator for Shanahan\’s team in 2010. He was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers from 1997-1999 before getting hired as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. I respect the win/loss records he was able to achieve with a New Orleans team, that was not very strong in my opinion. I think he is better suited as a defensive coordinator and is likely considered a top 10 coach in that area.

Talk about coaching changes. Every coach but one on the Redskins has no more than two years experience on the Redskins. Both assistants are newer than that, and the secondary and wide receivers coaches are brand new. The only coach who has a longer tenure with the Redskins is special teams coordinator Danny Smith. So while many of us still look at the Washington as the same old Redskins, the reality is that this team is quite different.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
OFFENSE
StatRedskinsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game336.716372.312346.8
Points/Game182620.32122.2
Pass Yards/Game235.814253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game100.925118.914117.1
First Downs/Game19.51521.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)2429151716
Interception Rate4.06%262.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)1122132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)4121422337
Sack Rate6.94%197.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession30:09:001732:33:00230:00:00
DEFENSE
StatRedskinsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game339.813271.81346.8
Points/Game22.92114.2122.2
Pass Yards/Game222.112171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game117.81899.88117.1
First Downs/Game18.41216.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)1322112416
Interception Rate2.55%222.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)82443010
Sacks (2011)4110351737
Sack Rate8.06%86.60%186.82%
SPECIAL TEAMS
StatRedskinsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For8.92110.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against7.8108.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For22.12725.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against20.8223.71623.8
Field Goals Made75.61%2974.19%3182.89%
EFFICIENCY
Turnover Differential-1430-13280
3rd Down % Offense36.99%1545.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense37.38%1638.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense30.77%2637.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense40.00%1061.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense41.18%2950.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense43.86%554.84%1752.18%

The Redskins were not great on offense last year and their defense was in the same boat. In fact, their special teams and efficiency were also quite poor. The Redskins didn\’t rank in the top 10 for anything on offense and only in sacks on defense. The silver lining is that Washington wasn\’t ranking in the basement of the league in many categories, but being in the NFC East, they will need to greatly improve to compete.

The Redskins offense only ranked in the top half of the NFL in passing yards and first downs. Quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Beck threw a lot of interceptions, and a 25th ranked run game also was a factor. The other glaring stat for this offense was the amount of points scored (26th). While passing yards, total yards and first downs were close to average, this didn\’t translate into points scored. To work on this, the Redskins will need to increase their ability in the red zone and limit their turnovers.

Washington did not have a good year on defense. Like their offense, they were good at limiting yards allowed and first downs, but were not able to carry this strength into points allowed. The Redskins biggest success was their ability to generate sacks. However, this was offset by their inability to generate turnovers.

Special teams was far from special for the Redskins last season. Brandon Banks did a great job returning and was particularly good on kick returns as he ranked 2nd in the NFL. Unfortunately, Washington was awful in every other facet of special teams. They were not good at covering, and Graham Gano did not have a good year kicking. Gano was only 31 for 41 (75.6%) and wasn\’t even 100% on extra points. Efficiency was questionably the team\’s biggest opportunity. The Redskins had one of the worst turnover differentials (-14) and the offense underperformed on 4th downs and in the red zone. On the defensive side, the Redskins were actually a top 10 unit on 4th downs and in the red zone.

Final Remarks:

Washington has a tough road ahead. The Redskins are trying to shake their poor reputation and reclaim the glory they had in the 80\’s and early 90\’s. There is no doubt that drafting Griffin III was the first step in that direction. While drafting a star quarterback is the easiest fix in the NFL nowadays, this comes at a big cost. Trading two additional 1st round picks and a 2nd to move up a few spots will severely cripple the Redskin\’s next two drafts. These two 1st round picks will most likely be top 10 picks. This will lead to the Redskins becoming active in free agency to fill in gaps. The Redskins were active this year and had questionably the strongest free agency in the NFL this past offseason.

I think that Griffin will succeed in the NFL as the Redskins have a great coaching staff to develop him. I do worry about the running game though. They will need to use Griffin in the running game to open up passing avenues, but Griffin is not a hulking runner like Cam Newton. Nothing will end Washington\’s season faster than losing their new quarterback to injury.

I worry about this Redskins defense as well. It was not good last year, and only appears to have gotten worse. Washington does not have too much cap room, so being without a pair of early draft picks, it will require solid drafting to add impact defensive players. The depth is there, so if some players step up, there is a possibility this defense could improve on 2011. If not, the likely path for this defense will be to slowly decline.

Before I go too crazy debating what this team will look like in 2012, I need to wait and see how the coaching staff utilizes the skill set of Griffin to see just how far this team can soar.

Key Stat:

Dick LeBeau vs. Rookie Quarterbacks. In 2011, Newton and Andy Dalton had breakout years against the odds. Both in my opinion were equally surprising. While Newton was able to run successfully against NFL defenses, he was also capable as a passer. On the other side, Dalton was good quarterback in college at TCU, but looked like a great quarterback in the NFL last season. 2012 is the year of Andrew Luck and Griffin. If you look at all four quarterback\’s final year in college you can get an idea of what to expect. Griffin had the most passing yards, highest completion percentage and least amount of interceptions. Add in that he had 10 rushing touchdowns, and he looks statistically like the best of the four.

2011 College Stats
NAMEPassing YardsCompletion %Passing TDsInterceptionsRushing YardsRushing TDs
Robert Griffin III429372.437669910
Andrew Luck351771.337101502
Cam Newton285466.1307147320
Andy Dalton285766.12764356

The week 8 matchup seems like a cakewalk, but if Griffin lives up to expectations, it could be anyone\’s game. The saving grace for Steelers fans is LeBeau. You probably remember this story from last season when Dalton was set to square off against the Steelers as a rookie. LeBeau, since returning in 2004, has only lost to one rookie quarterback and that was Troy Smith ironically enough. This PDF is from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the only stats it\’s missing are the 24-17 and 35-7 victories the Steelers had over Dalton last season. The key stat is that in more than half of the games against rookie quarterbacks, the Steelers defense allowed less than 10 points.

Follow me on twitter @chrisdimarino