By Christina Rivers
After a week of practice where fundamentals were reaffirmed, the Pittsburgh Steelers took on a look they haven’t seen much this season. Stepping onto Heinz Field in their 1933 throwback jerseys, the Steelers were ready to take Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins out of their element by using home-field advantage, balance and intensity. With the 27-12 win, the Steelers become the first NFL franchise to register 400 regular-season wins since the 1970 merger between the AFL and the NFL. The win also increased the Steelers’ win record at Heinz Field to 68; making it 10 wins in the last 11 games at home. The Steelers came out early in the game and played solid offense and defense to increase their record to 4-3. The Steelers receive high marks for an outstanding performance.
Ben Roethlisberger looked more comfortable as a quarterback in the NFL than he should be, opening up the offense by utilizing both the run and the pass. For the fourth time this season, Roethlisberger recorded a quarterback rating of at least 100.0 in the first half of a game. Against the Redskins, Roethlisberger had a rating of 120.4. The Redskins’ defensive backfield struggled to shut down the passing attack, and they didn’t fare much better against the run.
Third amongst active quarterbacks in the league, Roethlisberger is 25-8 as a starter in the month of October. Roethlisberger was able to complete 24-of-33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, making his total yards (passing) 1,987 on the season. In a game where Roethlisberger was nearly flawless, he kept himself under control and made good reads – all without throwing an interception.
Throughout the game, the Steelers used a bubble screen to set up many of their other plays. Whether it was Todd Haley’s intention all along or not, it worked. Jonathan Dwyer had his second consecutive 100-plus-yards game, running effectively and making himself tough to bring down. In only his 13th game played, it was the third 100-yard rushing performance of his career. Dwyer becomes the first Steelers running back since Willie Parker (in 2008) to record back-to-back games of at least 100 rushing yards. On 16 carries, Dwyer was able to finish against the Redskins with 107 yards, in part because of the efficiency of the offensive line. Willie Colon was fired up, and during a small scrum in which Ramon Foster and the Redskins defense got called on an off-setting unsportsmanlike penalty, Colon emerged from the bottom of the pile and went back to what he’d been doing all day; pushing people around.
The Steelers utilized three different rushers and nine targets in the passing game. Chris Rainey once again handled kickoff returns, but rushed four times for 26 yards and caught a pass that went for negative yardage. The ‘young money’ crew of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 14 receptions for a total of 156 yards between them. It was the tight ends who made the difference when it came down to touchdowns. In the opening half, Roethlisberger was able to find two tight ends to throw a touchdown to; Heath Miller and Leonard Pope. Pope’s catch was his first NFL-career touchdown, and Miller moved to six touchdown catches on the season. With his reception, Miller tied Elbie Nickel’s receiving touchdowns by a tight end record at 37 and passed Plaxico Burress to be placed at seventh overall in the franchise with 4,200 career receiving yards. Fullback Will Johnson also scored on a touchdown pass, the first of his NFL career as well. The Steelers had their offense running on all cylinders.
After the game, Antonio Brown said that the running game helped open the passing routes. “Having the safeties come down allows us opportunities to get behind defenders…each one compliments each other and allows us to make big plays not only on the ground, but through the air.” When asked about his touchdown catch, Johnson said, “It was the same thing,” referring to Pope’s touchdown, “play-action, and he got lost in the mix.” Johnson also pointed out that the Steelers offense “showed a lot of balance”.
It was obvious that the Steelers weren’t going to give much to Robert Griffin III, despite the hype before the game. They also clamped down on running backs Alfred Morris and Josh Morgan. In the first half alone, the Steelers showed determination as the Redskins entered the second quarter of play within 14 yards of the end zone and a score. Griffin worked out of the shotgun and the Steelers worked harder. An incomplete pass to Donnie Briscoe was partially knocked loose by Keenan Lewis who had an opportunity later in the game to grab an interception. That play was reviewed and ruled that the ball had touched the ground and was an incomplete pass. Morris was given the opportunity to get into the end zone, but gritty play by Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark contained him. Ike Taylor batted down a ball intended for Santana Moss and then, out of desperation, Griffin III tried to run it in himself. He was quickly grabbed by Lewis and Ziggy Hood. When the Redskins were finally able to score on a two-yard toss to Moss, Hood added some emphasis of his own by blocking Forbath’s extra point attempt, holding the Redskins to six points. Washington would only score two more field goals the entire game.
Griffin III was held to just 177 yards passing, completing 16-of-34 of those throws. He was hit at one point by James Harrison and coughed up the ball only to recover it himself for a seven-yard loss. It appeared as if Griffin III may have run into his own fullback to begin the play. The Steelers heard the word “contain” throughout the game from the sidelines, and for the most part did exactly that. Morris was held to 59 yards on 13 attempts on the ground. The Redskins weren’t effective in the run, but the passing game wasn’t much better due to a stingy defensive backfield of the Steelers. Morgan had five receptions for 46 yards, Moss logged four for 21 and Hankerson had one reception for 16 yards. The Steelers’ defense stepped out of the shadows and into the forefront once again. Larry Foote sacked Griffin III for a loss of eight yards on a third-and-out making his sack total three for the season.
LaMarr Woodley was proud of the way the defense played. “We played team defense…and I think our game plan was pretty good. I think, with their high-powered offense, that we did a great job with our defense. Here, we always do a great job of everybody running to the ball.” He added, “When (RGIII) got out of the pocket, everybody is running…we’re not going to let a quarterback beat us running. So we did a great job.”
For the second week in a row, kicker Shaun Suisham, who entered the game with a sore ankle, was perfect. He kicked two PATs and three field goals. Butler did well punting, only being asked to do so three times for a 39.3 yards-per-punt average (net).
The return game fared well, except for one eye-opening error. With 3:27 left in the third quarter, the Redskins were forced to punt. Antonio Brown caught the kick and returned in for a 78-yard touchdown. The play was nullified due to an illegal block by Curtis Brown and and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the returner (Antonio) for turning and running backwards into the end zone. When asked about the play after the game, Coach Tomlin said, “I didn’t see it. I was looking at the penalty on the other end of the field…Obviously, we’re not into that.” Whether that was an answer aimed at the press or he really didn’t see it, it will be seen in tape sessions and most definitely addressed to the team. Chris Rainey had a total of two kickoff returns and W. Johnson had one. A. Brown had three punt returns, his longest for 18 yards.
About those penalties
Mike Tomlin said that penalties would be addressed and threatened that those who continually committed infractions would see some time on the bench. The Steelers were penalized three times for a total of 20 yards. We know that C. Brown and A. Brown will get some major talking time because we saw them being ‘spoken to’ on the sideline after the big special teams error. Overall, the Steelers improved their discipline and it worked in their favor. The Redskins were penalized seven times for 55 yards, most coming from the offensive line, but some were due to the intense post-whistle activity toward the end of the game. Someone pick up that flag.
Overall Grade: A-
- A: Near-perfect execution at the respective position(s), near-perfect statistically and effective against the opponent.
- B: Few penalties, some execution flaws at the respective position(s), some statistical difficulties and a positive effect against the opponent.
- C: Penalized more than 5 times, acute execution flaws at the respective position(s), statistical difficulties and a neutral effect against the opponent.
- D: Costly penalties, major execution flaws at the respective positions(s), negative statistical results, negative results for the team and a sluggish effect against the opponent.
- F: Major penalties resulting in negative yardage, execution breakdown overall and at the respective position(s), nearly no effect against the opponent, communication breakdown as a team.
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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.