Washington Redskins-Pittsburgh Steelers Week 8 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Washington Redskins-Pittsburgh Steelers Week 8 Preview
The Redskins (3-4) are coming off a disappointing loss to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, a game in which Washington had in hand. Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III led his offense to what was thought to be the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, only for Washington’s defense to surrender a 77-yard touchdown pass.
Unlike the Redskins, the Steelers (3-3) are riding high from a big divisional win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite the rough start, Pittsburgh are now in second place in the AFC North division, and are hoping to get over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
This week’s matchup will be crucial for both teams. With a win, along with losses by the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins will jump from fourth place to second place in the NFC East. The Steelers will need this victory to stay in their current spot in the AFC North, and to have any chance of making the postseason.
Out of all the things to focus on in this game, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks of both teams. On one side, there is a Heisman Trophy-winning rookie quarterback in RG3 who has wowed the league with his play. On the other side, there is Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion who is playing in the prime of his career.
As fun as it would be to pay attention to only the quarterbacks, there are other parts of this game that will be just as important. Let’s take a look and see which team has the upper hand in this week’s battle.
One of the most intriguing quarterback battles of Week 8 will be between Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III and Steelers veteran Ben Roethlisberger. Both quarterbacks are in the top 10 in some of the NFL’s throwing statistics. Griffin leads all starting quarterbacks with a 70.4 completion percentage. RG3 is on pace to braking the rookie record for completion percentage in a season, which is held by Roethlisberger. Griffin and Big Ben have quarterback ratings of 101.8 and 98.6 respectively, both of which are among the five best ratings in the league. However, as athletically gifted RG3 is, I believe that making plays when it really matters is what’s going to decide who has the edge in this matchup. Big Ben’s ability to convert on third downs 56 percent of the time this season gives him the slight advantage in this quarterback duel.
I feel that this matchup is a no-brainer. Pittsburgh’s running game has been arguably one of the worst in the league this season. Injuries along their offensive line and in their backfield haven’t helped the situation. Part of the Steelers’ win last week over the Cincinnati Bengals was credited to running back Jonathan Dwyer, who was the first back to rush for over 100 yards for Pittsburgh this season. Even though the Steelers were productive on the ground last week, they still have failed to show consistency running the ball. As for Washington, rookie running back Alfred Morris is tearing it up. Morris has rushed for the second most yards in the league through the first seven weeks of the season. In addition to Morris’ production, RG3 is 13th in the NFL in rushing with 468 yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown possibly could each have over 100 yards receiving in this game. Washington’s pass defense is dead-last in the league, giving up an average of 328.4 passing yards per game. With the injuries to the Redskins’ linebacking corps, tight end Heath Miller should still pose a threat on third downs and in the red zone. Washington’s Pierre Garcon is ruled out with a foot injury, and tight end Fred Davis, who leads the team in receiving yards, is out for the season. The Skins did re-sign veteran tight end Chris Cooley, but he’s buried behind two other tight ends on the depth chart for now.
The bad news for the Steelers is that starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss another game due to an ankle injury. The good news is that Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is listed as probable, and will more than likely start for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I still have some doubt about the consistency of the Steelers’ o-line. Unlike the Steelers, Washington’s offensive line has stayed healthy throughout the season, and has done a decent job in protecting their quarterback. The most glaring statistic is what the Redskins’ offensive line has done to help their running game become the number one-ranked running game in the NFL.
Looking at the defensive lines of the Steelers and Redskins, there isn’t much to say. Both teams play under a 3-4 defensive scheme, and both defensive line haven’t been putting up big numbers in the sacks category. The Skins’ defensive line has only recorded two sacks on the season, while Pittsburgh’s defensive line has gotten to the quarterback only three times. The Steelers appear to have a little more talent along the depth of their defensive front than Washington does, especially at the nose tackle position. Even after reconstructive knee surgery, Casey Hampton is still producing as their starter, while Steve McLendon has only gotten better in his three seasons in the NFL.
Pittsburgh seems to have gotten some stability in their linebacking corps, and should have some much-needed depth with the potential return of Chris Carter. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons will have their hands full in trying to not only stop Alfred Morris, but also Robert Griffin III in scrambling situations and on designed quarterback run plays. All of Washington’s success in their group of linebackers will rest on the performance of Ryan Kerrigan. Brian Orakpo is already out for the season for the Redskins, and veteran London Fletcher is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice for most of the week. Looking at what the Steelers have to stop, and what the Redskins are missing, it’s hard to figure which corps is better off. Overall, this comes down to who’s healthier.
Believe it or not, the Steelers’ pass defense is second in the NFL, surrendering an average of 184.8 passing yards per game. This has obviously been overshadowed by the continued absence of Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who will miss his third consecutive game due to a lingering calf injury. Last week’s good performance of Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor should carry over to Week 8 and help shutdown Washington’s Santana Moss. Safety Ryan Clark will continue to be the leader of Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield while Polamalu is on the mend. The Redskins’ secondary has six of the defenses 10 interceptions this season, but are giving up huge amounts of yardage in the air, which is why they are last in the NFL in defending the pass.
Steelers Rookie Chris Rainey showed some flash in the return game last week versus the Bengals, which should carry over into Week 8 for Pittsburgh’s return game. Former Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham is on pace to have the best season of his eight-year career. Suisham has only missed one field goal all season, and has connected on his other 14 attempts, including a career-long 52-yarder. The Redskins are putting their faith in second-year kicker Kai Forbath, who’s a perfect four out of four in the two games he has played this season. Forbath has replaced the recently released veteran kicker Billy Cundiff. Washington cut ties with Cundiff after converting on only 58.3 percent of his field goal attempts in the first five weeks of the season.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan both have great track records. Tomlin and Shanahan each have been to two Super Bowls as head coaches, with Tomlin winning one and Shanahan winning in both of his appearances. Shanahan has a reputation of having a great running scheme that has produced some high quality running backs. This scheme is proving to be still effective with rookie running back Alfred Morris. On the flipside, Tomlin has a great defensive mind, and with Dick LeBeau, one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, on his side Pittsburgh should be able to overcome whatever Shanahan has up his sleeve for this coming Sunday.