Matchups to watch: Steelers vs. Redskins
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When the Redskins have the ball: Coach Mike Shanahan has installed an offense tailored to rookie QB Robert Griffin III that includes a lot of option plays. The result is an offense that averages 28.7 points, has two players among the top six rushers in the NFC and has allowed Griffin to lead the league in completion percentage (70.4) and yards per attempt (8.47). Rookie RB Alfred Morris leads the NFC with 658 yards rushing and he and Griffin are the reason the team leads the NFL in rushing (177.7 ypg) and pose such a challenge for a Steelers defense that ranks ninth in the league against the run (92.5 ypg). The Redskins use a lot of the zone-blocking schemes that Shanahan employed with the Denver Broncos. Griffin lost his two favorite targets to injury -- WR Pierre Garcon (foot) and TE Fred Davis (Achilles) -- but WR Santana Moss caught two TDs last week vs. the Giants. The offensive line is anchored by LT Trent Williams, a former No. 1 draft choice.
When the Steelers have the ball: Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who once held a similar role with the Steelers, basically is trying to cover up for the players he lost to injury or suspension. The Redskins use a 3-4 defense that Haslett ran with the Steelers, and there will be some similarities with players walking around before the snap in sub-packages. The season-ending injury to OLB Brian Orakpo was perhaps the greatest loss. It left OLB Ryan Kerrigan (3.5 sacks) as their lone sack specialist. Veteran LB London Fletcher remains solid in the middle and leads the team with 89 tackles and 6 passes defensed. But the Redskins rank last in the league in pass defense (328.4 ypg) despite the presence of CB DeAngelo Hall. In their defense, they have faced three of the top passing QBs in the league -- Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. They get another with Ben Roethlisberger. RB Jonathan Dwyer will again start because of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
Keep an eye on
TE Chris Cooley ... Two months after he parted ways with the Redskins, Cooley was re-signed last week after a season-ending injury to TE Fred Davis. Cooley played eight seasons with the Redskins and is the team's all-time leader in receptions (428), a number than ranks 20th in NFL history among tight ends. But he also has been used as an H-back/fullback in the offense, allowing him to create mismatches with linebackers.
The Redskins will be making only their third appearance at Heinz Field and have lost their past four meetings with the Steelers. They last won in Pittsburgh in 1991. Like the Steelers, they have been unable to stack victories, but two of their three wins have been on the road. ... This will be an important step for the Steelers, who have shown the resiliency to avoid back-to-back losses but not the ability to post back-to-back victories. The win against the Bengals was big on a number of fronts, because it kept them in range of the Baltimore Ravens. Now, it's time to make a move if they want to be serious contenders in the division. ... Roethlisberger is 22-7 against the NFC in the regular season.
To win, the Redskins must ...
1. Have RG3 be GR8. His ability to run with speed and throw with accuracy has allowed the Redskins to average nearly 28 points a game.
2. Cut 'em off at the pass. Despite their problems in coverage, the Redskins are third in the NFC with 10 interceptions -- seven more than the Steelers.
3. Use more of Morris. Balanced attacks are making a comeback in the NFL, and the Redskins have that with their rookie running back.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Pick their poison. Nobody does that better than Dick LeBeau, who has a 13-1 record against rookie quarterbacks.
2. Hail on the Redskins. They have to do that with passes against a secondary that allows almost 330 yards per game.
3. Not let Moss gather stones. He has become a favorite target for Griffin with injuries to Garcon and Davis and leads the team with four TD catches.
First Published October 28, 2012 12:00 am