By Christina Rivers
Never a team to back down from a challenge, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been preparing for their hosting of the Washington Redskins on Sunday, October 28. One area that has been a major focus is reducing the number of penalties the team incurs, even if it means that players listed at the top of the depth chart will not start the game. Another is keeping Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and the powerful Redskins offense contained.
Coach Tomlin praised two defensive players for their recent play; Casey Hampton and Ryan Clark. He said Hampton has to ability of “not being moved and maintaining an interior presence.” Regarding Clark, Tomlin said, “Besides his physical talent, he’s extremely sharp…he’s a great diagnoser of offensive formation and pre-snap clues…a guy that represents the last line of defense, if you will.” Clark has been playing for injured Troy Polamalu at the strong safety position for most of the 2012 season. Hampton gave a great performance against Cincinnati.
While the obvious focus in practice has been on correcting mistakes, especially on special teams, the defense has really been called into play. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had the Steelers’ defense spend more time in zone coverage against the Bengals, and it worked. While Pittsburgh wants a sound and square unit, they also want their defense to be prepared for every opponent. Against the Redskins, the Steelers will be looking for ways to stop option-like attacks by getting familiar with their offense overall.
The Steelers and Redskins have similar defensive schemes, but Tomlin said that the biggest difference for the Steelers is “from a positional standpoint in terms of the techniques that are taught.” He pointed out that both teams will gain from the 3-4 defense, but that most gains will be nullified when the other team takes the field, calling it “a wash.” It is another reason why emphasis is being placed on Steelers players to be smart in how they play defense.
The Steelers saw success in the running game against Cincinnati, and it appears that they are prepared to keep Jonathan Dwyer in place as Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman weren’t able to participate in practice and are questionable at this point as to how far their rehabilitation has progressed. Redman anticipates being able to participate in individual drills on Thursday, but said, “I don’t want to hurt (my ankle) any more than I already have. I am just trying to get healthy. It’s a long season. There’s no need to rush back.” He credits Dwyer’s performance against the Bengals as proof that the rushing game is still strong in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers could benefit from news that Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher is still reeling from a hamstring and head injury he received during the loss to the New York Giants. Maurkice Pouncey, who is ready to play, could get a good deal with a missing Fletcher. Pouncey told Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review, “We had a good day on Monday. A lot of the guys – all of the guys – balled out and knocking guys to the ground and running around…it was fun.”
The Steelers’ defensive backfield won’t have to worry about Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon (foot injury) who is expected to miss major playing time. With CB David Jones (achilles), S Brandon Meriweather (knee) limited Wednesday, the Steelers have time to prepare for cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Josh Wilson who are coming off of injuries of their own.
Roethlisberger answered a slew of questions following practice, including big ones about his counterpart, Griffin III. “He has a big arm and makes plays down the field. They have a very unique offense. They run the pistol and the wishbone…our defense is going to have its hands full. I will take our defense against anyone.” Roethlisberger called the Redskins defense a “takeaway machine”, but said that their abilities are “something I need to keep my eyes on rather than the big play being available.”
Clark said that the hardest part about defending RGIII is that, “you have to stay disciplined when you are chasing him…we understand where we need to be.” Clark added, “For us, it’s extremely important to know where we fit and know where we are supposed to rush him and not let him break containment.”The Redskins sit atop the NFL in rushing yards (per game) and are in the top five in the league in both points-per-game (28.7) and yards-per-game (406.3). They are ranked 20th with 228.6 yards-per-game passing. That means the number two ranked NFL Steelers defense has their work cut out for them, but linebacker Larry Foote said, “We’re going to have to make them one-dimensional.” He pointed out that the defense will have to get themselves ready to prevent both the run and the pass. Foote mentioned game highlights coach Mike Tomlin had shown them early Wednesday morning and said, “You come in Wednesday dragging a little bit and as soon as he popped those highlights in there everybody woke up and sat up. We have to get ready…we all know about (Mike) Shanahan and his reputation. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Six Steelers players missed practice Wednesday, including: Dwyer (not injury related), T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), Mendenhall (Achilles), Polamalu (calf), Redman (ankle) and LB Jason Worilds (illness). Linebackers Brandon Johnson (hamstring) and Adrian Robinson (concussion) were limited. Safety Will Allen and LB Chris Carter were back fully with the team. Kicker Shaun Suisham has a sore ankle.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.