Washington Redskins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers will be missing what could have been one of the best chess matches in football: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Labeau and safety Troy Polamalu. Griffin and Labeau will be there. Polamalu will not suit up due to a calf injury that has bothered him for most of the 2012 season.
Together, Labeau, Polamalu and the Steelers defense has made a living off of outwitting opponents. Rookie quarterbacks have been treated especially tough by Pittsburgh. In 15 games against first year quarterbacks, Labeau and the Steelers are 14-1. The only loss was a meaningless season-ending contest in 2007 to the Baltimore Ravens and Troy Smith.
If Pittsburgh had Polamalu and were healthy, Labeau would come up with a scheme to slow down, if not stop, Griffin. Without Polamalu, linebacker James Harrison still recovering from knee surgery and Lamarr Woodley slowed by a hamstring, Pittsburgh and Labeau will have to do it with mirrors.
The problem that the Steelers face is Griffin’s mobility. Pittsburgh has had trouble in the past with mobile quarterbacks. Michael Vick had a pretty good game against them with the Atlanta Falcons in 2002. Steve McNair used to give them problems when he quarterbacked the Tennessee Titans.
Pittsburgh’s defense is based on getting to the passer and showing him different looks in the secondary. The Steelers play a lot of man to man and trust that their front seven will force a quick pass or sack. Pocket passers with little mobility are sitting ducks for Pittsburgh’s zone blitz.
Griffin is a pocket passer with more mobility than anyone the Steelers have seen since Vick. He has the ability to keep a play alive with his feet until a receiver breaks open. If no one does, Griffin can tuck it and run for huge gains. In many ways, he is Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with much more speed and quickness.
It would have been nice to see Griffin match wits with Polamalu. One would assume that Polamalu would have been used somewhat as a spy on Griffin. The Steelers probably would have moved him up into the box to help stop the run and shadow the quarterback. With safety Ryan Clark picking up the slack down field, Polamalu would have been able to play aggressively around the line of scrimmage.
Now, Pittsburgh will have to find another way to stop Griffin. Labeau will have to do it without Polamalu.
The guess here is that the Steelers will still be aggressive with Griffin. Pittsburgh will try to disguise where the pass rush is coming from and make the Redskins offensive line guess. Then whoever comes free is going to be expected to get Griffin down or force him into someone else.
Despite, their injuries the Steelers defense is the best that Griffin has played this season. They are a veteran group that has seen it all. Pittsburgh will take nothing for granted. They learned their lesson with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow in the AFC playoffs last year. The Steelers underestimated Tebow’s ability to throw and got burned. They will not make the same mistake with Griffin.
Pittsburgh had better not. The Steelers would have had their hands full with Polamalu. Now, they have a major task on their hands in Griffin without him.