You have likely heard Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stress over the years the importance of tackling the catch as this is one of the main focal points of his defense year in and year out. The hidden yardage in football can certainly make the difference between winning and losing games.
On Sunday the Steelers will face a Washington Redskins offense that is led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has put together an impressive start to the 2012 season. The Baylor product has completed 70.4% of his passes so far and has only thrown 3 interceptions on his way to a traditional passer rating of 101.8. Griffin has managed to do this with a concentrated short passing game, which is evidenced by him only attempting 13 passes over 20 yards of which he has only completed 5. Roughly 75% of his pass attempts this year have traveled 10 yards or less.
What has helped the Redskins passing game so far this season is their ability to get yards after the catch, or YAC as it is often referred to Heading into the game against the Steelers the Redskins offense has registered 929 yards after the catch, according to stats.com which is 54.2% of their passing yards accumulated thus far this season. The Steelers offense measures in at 53.1%, if you are scoring at home, and that is also according to stats.com numbers.
When you break it down by completions and attempts, the Redskins are averaging nearly 6.75 yards after the catch on all completions, and well over 4.5 yards after the catch per attempt. That leads the league in both of those unofficial stats, according to the numbers I have to work with.
So what about the Steelers defense this year in regards to YAC? While I have not seen any numbers that can be regarded as official, or near official in this area, my own charting has the number around 4.0 yards per catch. It of course would be around 3.6 per catch if not for the long touchdown by Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas way back in Week 1, but you can\’t cherry pick the explosive plays out of the stats.
The difference of what the Redskins gain after the catch versus what the Steelers defense allows is roughly 2.75 yards. That is pretty significant and why tackling the catch Sunday at Heinz Field becomes extra important this week.
Despite that short passing game, the Redskins offense have still managed to produce 25 explosive plays through the air. The Steelers defense on the other hand has only allowed a league best 10.
Sure, Griffin presents problems to the Steelers defense outside of his short passing game, but cutting down his receivers yards after the catch, will go a long way towards the Steelers winning this game. I would expect LeBeau to dare Griffin to beat him with intermediate and deep passes over 10 yards this week, which could mean more cover-1 looks like they gave the Tennessee Titans a few weeks ago, in an effort to add another player in the box to help defend against Griffin using his legs.
Keep in mind that the Redskins are now without their leading pass catcher in tight end Fred Davis and wide receiver Pierre Garcon also will sit out this game as well. That leaves Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan to pick up the slack. The Redskins did resign tight end Chris Cooley this past week, but he is unlikely to be a huge factor in this game.
I will be looking closely at the YAC after this game as it should be easy to tell who won by looking at it and the explosive plays allowed.