Report Card: Steelers earn a B+ against the Redskins
Ben Roethlisberger and Damon Jonnel Cromartie-Smith, both dressed in the team's throwback jerseys, talk during practice before the Steelers' game against the Redskins at Heinz Field.
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The most important thing Ben Roethlisberger did was engineer scoring drives on the first four possessions for the first time this season, giving the defense a cushion it might have needed against Robert Griffin III. He also threw three short TDs, didn't have an interception for the fourth time this season and had a passer rating of 121.0. He set the tone early when he completed 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards on the first possession that ended with a fourth-down TD conversion.
Jonathan Dwyer might be pushing someone out of playing time by becoming the first back in four years to post back-to-back 100-yard games. He rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries that included a 34-yard run to set up a field goal -- his third run of 20 yards or longer in the past two games. Rookie Chris Rainey continues to get chances in the offense, and he delivered with a 19-yard run on a direct-snap play that led to the third TD.
Mike Wallace led the way for the second game in a row with seven catches, but he looks more like a possession receiver after totaling just 62 yards and averaging 8.8 yards per catch. It was the fourth game this season he has averaged less than 9.5 yards per catch. TE Heath Miller continues to accumulate TDs and Antonio Brown had two of his four catches on back-to-back plays that ignited the 74-yard TD drive. Emmanuel Sanders continues to make big plays at key moments, like his 27-yard catch-and-run to set up a late FG.
All of a sudden, the line is playing with an attitude that has resulted in improved protection and a productive running game. Roethlisberger was not sacked for the second time in the past four games. And the line did a good job creating space in the run game, allowing the Steelers to rush for 140 yards on 27 attempts, a 5.2-yard average. It might not be a coincidence that rookie RT Mike Adams has played very well since replacing injured Marcus Gilbert.
The unit is starting to be noticed again because guys are making significant plays. DE Brett Keisel was very active for the second game in a row with three tackles, including one for a 7-yard loss. And NT Casey Hampton blew up a third-down running play on the first series to force a punt. Rookie RB Alfred Morris, the NFC's leading rusher, had 59 yards on 13 carries, but holding Griffin to just 8 yards on six carries was a big plus.
The Steelers didn't use any kind of special scheme on Griffin, relying on their 3-4 base defense to generate pressure and contain the rookie QB. ILB Larry Foote had the only sack on Griffin, but Lawrence Timmons had three pressures that forced hurried throws and also had a tackle for loss. Foote also had a big tackle for loss on the first series. James Harrison has been too quiet the past two games.
The defense was helped by seven drops by the Redskins, including three by WR Santana Moss, but they kept Griffin from making the big plays that have crippled other teams. S Ryan Clark led the team with seven tackles, but S Will Allen played his best game with the Steelers, breaking up three passes. CB Keenan Lewis continued his strong play with three pass breakups. It was the first time this season Griffin, who led the NFL with a 70.4 completion percent, completed less than half his passes.
Another penalty on a return wiped out what would have been a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown -- the second time that has happened to Brown in four games. But running backward into the end zone and getting a taunting penalty was unnecessary for Brown. Rookie Drew Butler punted once in the first half, and that was downed at the 1. Shaun Suisham kicked two more field goals to raise his season total to 16 for 17.
Dick LeBeau's ability to handcuff Griffin and hold him to 185 total yards -- his second-lowest total of the season -- was one of the keys to the game. The other was the offense scoring on the first four possessions and building a 20-6 lead that gave the defense a cushion it thought it might need against the Redskins, who had been averaging nearly 28 points a game.
First Published October 29, 2012 12:00 am