The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Washington Redskins in one of the highlight matchups in Week 8 of the NFL. The Steelers seemed to right the ship last Sunday night, picking up a win in the AFC North on the road. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times behind a re-shuffled offensive line, but running back Jonathan Dwyer broke out for the first real sign of a Steeler rushing attack this season. With the Ravens hit hard by injuries, Pittsburgh has a chance to reassert its position in the division and make a push in the second half of the season.
That push will start with a Sunday matchup against the most exciting player in the NFL, Robert Griffin III. The Redskins rookie quarterback pulled off some more incredible highlight plays last week in a fourth-quarter shootout against the defending champion Giants. But Eli Manning took advantage of a porous Washington secondary, dropping the Redskins one game under .500. RG3 will now face another blue-blood franchise of the NFL, and a defense that's holding opponents to 184.8 passing yards per game, second best in the NFL. Chris Cooley, a fan-favorite in Washington, should make his return this week, filling in for Fred Davis, who was lost for the season.
Meet the Steelers
Steeler fans exhaled last week when Mike Tomlin's group converted what many felt was a must-win in the first half of the season. Now they have a chance to get right back in the division race with another win Sunday. While Roethlisberger critiqued the "dink and dunk" style of offense implemented by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers currently have the sixth-best passing attack in the league. Expect Big Ben to constantly fire away at his weapons on the outside as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown make up one of the most dangerous pass-catching duos in the league.
The Pittsburgh offensive line should get anchor Maurkice Pouncey back from a knee injury he sustained when Marcus Gilbert fell on his league against the Titans. Gilbert, who was injured later in that same game, was ruled out which means rookie tackle Mike Adams will likely get more time on the right side. Rashard Mendenhall, nursing an Achilles injury, is also not expected to play.
Without Mendenall, it was Dwyer who did all the work on the ground against the Bengals. The third-year back from Georgia Tech sat out nearly a month when Mike Tomlin benched him after he fumbled in the loss to the Raiders. But he busted loose for 122 yards last week, averaging more than 7 yards per carry. Isaac Redman should be back for the Steelers, but expect Dwyer to get the lion's share of the carries when Roethlisberger's not picking on Washington's secondary.
Meet the Redskins
The Redskins are once again at the bottom of the NFC East standings, but this is a completely different team than the one that's struggled in two seasons under Mike Shanahan. Led by Griffin III, they've instituted a new style of offense that's put them in every single game they have played. While the dynamic rookie committed two turnovers against the Giants, he rushed for nearly 10 yards per carry and added 258 yards through the air. He was incredible yet again, and both he and fellow rookie Alfred Morris are a huge reason why the Skins have the top rushing offense in the league.
Morris is an unheralded first-year back who's rushed for over 100 yards in three of his past four games. He got his shot in the preseason because of injuries, and he instantly took advantage, earning a roster spot and emerging as the go-to rusher once the regular season arrived. The Steelers boast a top 10 pass and rush defense this season, but Griffin will present a challenge that Dick LeBeau's group has not yet faced. Their matchup against Michael Vick (2012 edition) could not prepare them for the dual-threat abilities of RG3.
Now, Washington will just have to hope their defensive backfield can at least get a couple stops and give Griffin a chance. That position group has been exposed on a weekly basis, and Manning's game-winning 77-yard bomb to Victor Cruz in the final two minutes last week was just the latest sample.
Local Takes: Steelers
Neal Coolong from Behind The Steel Curtain addressed some of the things LeBeau's defense might do to stultify the Redskins dangerous rookie quarterback:
Expect a lot of movement in pre-snap from the Steelers' front seven, negating Griffin's key read on the play. He's often going off the outside linebacker, but the trick with the defense he's facing is showing the pre-snap intention. the Steelers had an interception off Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck by confusing his pre-snap look, and the Steelers will look to do a lot of that Sunday.
Local Takes: Redskins
Steve Shoup of Hogs Haven writes about what kind of impact Cooley can have against the Steelers' stout pass defense:
While [Fred] Davis's blocking had improved this year, he still had his fair share of miscues (many of which cost the Redskins some negative plays) so far. Cooley, while never a good blocker, has shown more consistency and effort that Davis in the past, and that could be the key. Cooley is also better at being a safety blanket for the quarterback. Davis for all his strengths didn't really fight back to quarterback when Griffin was scrambling around in the pocket. Davis was his least effective on third down this year and part of that has to do with Griffin not trying to force throws. By working his way back to the quarterback, Cooley could help convert more third downs, and hopefully take away some extra hits from Griffin.
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@MarkKaboly_Trib - Steelers beat writer
Mike Wallace not quite tossing out glowing complements to the Redskins sulia.com/my_thoughts/3b…— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) October 26, 2012
@Rich_Campbell - Redskins beat writer
RGIII leads the NFL with a 70.4 percent completion rate, and at 8.4 yards per attempt, it's more than just the byproduct of dink and dunk passing. He also has 468 rushing yards and six touchdowns, putting him on pace to challenge Cam Newton's rookie record for rushing scores. Nobody knows what to make of the Steelers, but all the bulk mail from AARP arriving at the training facility tells you something. Mike Tomlin's team has won nine straight home games against NFC opponents.
The pick: 31-21, Steelers
The Steelers opened as four-point favorites at home against the Skins, and that's gone up a half-point in most places.
The Steelers will stay in the NFC East, traveling to New York for a marquee matchup against the Giants. The Redskins will return home and host a struggling Carolina Panthers team.