By Christina Rivers
With a Week 8 return to Heinz field on October 28, 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3 – 3) will be playing a Washington Redskins (3 – 4) team that is coming off of their second straight road game. While the Steelers come into the game having beaten the Cincinnati Bengals 24-17 last week, Washington is coming off of an incredibly tough 27-23 loss to the New York Giants. The last meeting between these two teams happened in November of 2008 (in Washington), where Pittsburgh won 23-6. Understanding the complex reputation of coach Mike Shanahan and the offense threat of quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Steelers will have some key positions they will have to control to get the win.
Against the Giants, the Redskins were sunk by turnovers. Committing four overall, Griffin was responsible for two of them (an interception and a lost fumble). The Giants were able to get a late touchdown and the lead in the game due to a forced fumble and recovery on wide receiver Santana Moss. It was the Redskins’ final drive and they had no time left to make up for the lost ball error.
While Washington running back Alfred Morris dangerous, the Redskins’ offensive line may having trouble fending off elite linebackers LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and James Harrison. The ‘fearsome foursome’ have a combined tackle record of 102. Foote leads the group with 44 tackles (29 solo/15 assists). Between them, they have logged 5.0 sacks, defended four passes, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Woodley logged his first interception of the 2012 season against Andy Dalton of the Bengals.
The Steelers rank ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The anchor of that defensive front is Casey Hampton. His counterparts, like Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel and Jason Worilds, aren’t shy about sticking a hit or driving the offensive line backwards and into the quarterback. Even if Morris and Griffin III are able to get loose, the defensive secondary is quick to limit running gains.
Without Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer will be called on once again to take most of the carries for the Steelers’ offense. Dwyer made his first career start in Cincinnati, and ran off 122 yards. This week, he’ll have Maurkice Pouncey front-and-center (literally). Against the Bengals, the offensive line fared well, even without Marcus Gilbert and Pouncey. Heath Miller proved that he can be just as effective in blocking as he is receiving with Ben Roethlisberger using screens and end-around plays to receivers and backs. The pounding ground game opened up the passing and allowed the Steelers a more two-dimensional offense than earlier in the season.
Robert Griffin III is really the core of the Washington offense. The organization has created a team built around him, having Griffin III run the pistol and wishbone-type offense. While Morris will be used heavily, Evan Royster may also see time at running back. He will be without one big target in Pierre Garcon who has a torn ligament in his right foot near his send toe. If surgery is required, he’ll miss the rest of the season. That means that Santana Moss will be asked to step up even more. Through Week 7, Moss has caught 19/27 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Leonard Hankerson is listed as ‘possible’, so the Steelers’ defensive backs may see more action from Josh Morgan. Morgan has caught 18/22 passes for 217 yards, has one fumble and no touchdowns this season.
While the Redskins rank dead last in defending the pass, the Steelers have the honor of being ranked second in the league, anchored by cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Clark. After a week of practice where penalties were addressed, it should prove difficult to get much past either player. Known for tight coverage, the Steelers benefited from some zone coverage in Cincinnati, but it is likely they will stick mostly to man against Washington. Clark has 37 tackles, one forced-fumble, four passes defended, two stops-for-loss of eight yards and an interception for a return of 26 yards. While Taylor has been used heavily to mirror opponents’ top receivers, he has 18 tackles, six passes defended and a stop for a loss of two yards. He is hungry for his first regular-season interception and could jump a route if Griffin III gets antsy out of the pocket and tries to float a ball.
The matchup this week will be exciting, but could be a bad one for Washington. They may have no answer for the ever-elusive Roethlisberger and his compliment of targets: Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Miller, David Paulson, Emmanuel Sanders and even running back Chris Rainey and Dwyer.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1. The Steelers will be wearing their 80th season (1933) throwback jerseys.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Steelers news, see CBS Sports Pittsburgh
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.