By Christopher DiMarino
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a big emotional win over the Cincinnati Bengals. That win might have been expected, because the season was virtually over if they lost, but it still meant a lot. The Steelers got some confidence back with that win. They also looked into the mirror and for the first time this season they liked what they saw. They executed defensively and continued their strong play on offense. Jonathan Dwyer was the surprise contributor in the rushing game. He looked unsteady at times, but when he broke the tackle of Domata Peko to rumble for a first down, it sealed the game late. Mike Wallace looked like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tight now. He was getting open in crucial times and made a few plays, but his drops were almost unforgivable.
The Steelers defensive backfield played well altogether. Whether it was Ryan Clark, Keenan Lewis or Ike Taylor, they were blanketing A.J. Green and keeping the other receivers in check. The special team units for the Steelers looked anything but special committing penalty after penalty and allowing sizeable returns. Heath Miller might not have had a big highlight reel, and he did let Chris Crocker steal a touchdown from him, but his consistency and blocking was superb. The Steelers need to carry this small semblance of momentum forward now. They haven’t had consecutive wins yet this season, and while the Baltimore Ravens now look weaker, they are still up by two wins.
You can reference my competition analysis to learn a little more about the competition below:
I redid the format of this analysis to make it more precise. I will cover how the Steelers passing and rushing offense and defense will matchup against the opposition. I eliminated the fantasy estimates as well because they were only conservative estimates. I will instead just rely on the recap area to make recommendations.
The Steelers passing offense is ranked 6th in the league and Ben Roethlisberger has looked sharp. Also, Todd Haley seems to be getting into the opposing defensive coordinator’s heads and is calling some great games. The Steelers will square up against the 32nd ranked pass defense of the Redskins (328.4 passing yards against per game). However, they are in the middle of the pack for sacks with 13, almost 2 per game, and tied for 3rd in interceptions with 10. They have allowed the 2nd most plays of 20 plus yards or more (29) and the most plays of 40 plus yards with 7, or one per game. Football Outsiders bumps the Redskins up to 16th against the pass. They are ranked in the middle of the pack against #1 and 2 receivers, and while they are 28th ranked against the tight end, they are in the top 5 against other receivers and running backs.
This defense lost a lot of its pass rush when Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo were placed on the injured reserve list. Ryan Kerrigan has been a solid player this year and leads the team with 3.5 sacks as no one else is over 1.5 sacks. All 5 of their top defensive backs have at least 1 interception, but they have struggled to stop the pass. This is a strong team against the run which only perplexes me further. The one thing that they are not short on is speed in this secondary. That being said, they do tend to gamble for the big play.
This secondary is a fantasy owners dream. Just check out the games other wide receivers have put up against them. A.J. Green, 9-183yds and 1 TD. Recently, Victor Cruz 7-131 yds and a TD. Percy Harvin, 11-133yds. Julio Jones 10-94yds and a TD. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson combined for 10-215yds and a TD. And of course Danny Amendola’s 15-160yds and a TD day. This spread shows that receivers get a lot of catches and a lot of yards. It also shows the inability to focus on one receiver or stop any specific type of receiver (speed or possession).
Teams do not rush against the Redskins well. The Steelers 26th ranked rushing attack (90.2 yards per game) will take on the 7th ranked rush defense (85.3 yards per game). They don’t give up many big runs and the Steelers, outside of last week, aren’t a team with big play runners. They have also recovered the 7th most fumbles (4), so ball security will be important. Football Outsiders downgrades the Redskins to a rank of 14th.
London Fletcher is the heart and soul of this run defense. While he is at the tender age of 37, his 59 total tackles is 7th in the league. He is questionable with a strained hamstring, and missing him could be the final nail on the coffin for this defense. Riley Perry has also played well and has mirrored Fletcher’s stats to a tee. Much like the Steelers 3-4, the Redskins defensive line doesn’t blow up on the stats sheet combining for just 36 tackles and 2 sacks.
I don’t think the Steelers will have a great day running the ball unless Fletcher is out. If he is indeed out, the Steelers may test the waters early. But with Robert Griffin III primed to put up plenty of points, I think unleashing the passing offense might be on the agenda for this one. If that’s the case, the running games average will likely increase, but its attempts will drop.
The Redskins made a bold move when they traded three first round picks (and a 2nd) to the St. Louis Rams for the 2nd overall pick which ended up being Griffin III. The move was bold, risky and will likely lead to a lull in the progression of the Redskins after this year. But, the move paid off, and while the Redskins are only 3-4 right now, they haven’t lost by more than a touchdown, and now have one of the most exciting and talented players in the NFL.
The Steelers pass defense is ranked 2nd in the league allowing only 184.8 yards per game. The Redskins come to town ranked 20th by averaging 228.6 yards per game. The 5 interceptions thrown by Griffin III is 2 off of the league lowest of Roethlisberger. While Griffin III has fumbled 5 times, only 2 have been lost. He has been sacked 16 times, which is ranked just outside the top 10 most in the NFL. His QB rating is the 3rd highest in the league at 101.8 because of a high completion percentage (70.4%), even though he only has 8 passing touchdowns.
The leading receiver on this roster, tight end Fred Davis, will not be available for the rest of the year. His 24 receptions and 325 yards lead the team. Davis suffered a season ending Achilles tear against the New York Giants last weekend. The Redskins other big weapon on offense is Pierre Garcon, but he is injured as well and will sit this one out. That will put a lot of strain on backups in the passing game. Santana Moss will be accompanied by Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan on the flanks. At tight end, it appears that the Redskins will try to use three different players in Logan Paulsen, Chris Cooley and Niles Paul.
I think Hankerson might be in for a big day on Sunday. Griffin III will pass for some yards and they have to go somewhere. Morgan isn’t a game changer and Moss will likely be bottled up by Taylor. Moss still might have a good game, but only because I think the rookie quarterback could possibly hit him deep with one. Hankerson is the only breakout candidate.
The Steelers always struggle against zone run blocking schemes. While the 92.5 rushing yards per game the Steelers allowed is ranked 9th in the NFL, they are going up against the 1st ranked running team that is averaging 177.7 rushing yards per game. The Steelers have looked vulnerable stopping the run at times, but the combination of a strong offense, along with its time possessing nature, have limited the extent of time that opposing teams have ravaged Steelers run defense. They did have a great bounce back against Bengals in the second half Sunday night after allowing the Bengals to run all over them in the first half.
Alfred Morris has been a pleasant surprise this season. After Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower failed to impress, the Redskins running game looked to be in jeopardy. Then hard running and explosive mentality of Morris enabled the Redskins to win some games. While Morris is averaging just under 100 yards per game, The 468 yards posted by Griffin III certainly helped this unit attain their premier ranking. The two have combined for 8 plays of 20 plus yards and 11 total touchdowns so far. Lawrence Timmons will need to be everywhere and ensure that Griffin III can’t get into the open field. The defensive line for the Steelers will also try to stay wide and prevent the rookie signal caller from escaping to the outside.
Very few teams try to run consistently against the Redskins. While few will abandon it, most star backs ended up with under 20 carries. Teams focus mostly on picking apart the Redskins passing defense as it is no stranger to big plays or star players. The Redskins are also particularly bad at stopping tight ends. I think Roethlisberger is capable of having a career day, especially if Griffin III puts up plenty of points. The Steelers quarterback should get good contributions out of Wallace and Antonio Brown, while Miller is a likely source of end zone success. I think the running game will be average at best, but I hope the Steelers are ready to play a high scoring game and let Roethlisberger run the hurry up offense to its full potential.
The Redskins have the NFL’s top ranked rushing offense. When you consider that Mike Shanahan can make anyone run the ball well, and that they are a team with a premier running quarterback, this isn’t a surprise. The injuries to their receiving options will force the Redskins to focus heavily on the run. Griffin III is always a threat to run which can open up passing lanes, but unless the Steelers can put up a lot of points, I think the Redskins will try to ground and pound. The Steelers haven’t been great at stopping the run, but few teams have been able to exploit it enough to win games. If the Steelers pressure can get to Griffin III, and he takes a few big hits, this game might get very basic from the Redskins.