Neal Coolong of the Steelers SB Nation website, Behind the Steel Curtain, answered my questions about how the Redskins can win this game.
1.) The Redskins D is porous as we all know, but the Steelers have 3 losses including two to teams with losing records. What works best in slowing Big Ben and that PIT offense?
Neal Coolong: It's a cliche, but teams have to get Ben Roethlisberger on the ground. While the Steelers are still among the league's best in terms of third down conversions, letting a very athletic skill group attack in shorter 2nd and 3rd down situations won't end well. The Steelers look to work the clock, and they'll either run or pass in order to accomplish that.
It's a difficult offense to stop top to bottom, and running through those three games: Week 1 at Denver was their first game in offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense. Week 3 at Oakland they scored 31 points but fumbled back to the Raiders with two minutes left in the game. Week 6 at Tennessee had three offensive linemen go down - two, including center Maurkice Pouncey - were unable to return. Their top two running backs went down, plus it was a short week road prime time game.
Not to suggest those are excuses, but the Steelers offense is going to be very tough to stop in Pittsburgh, especially with Pouncey expected to play this week.
2.) The Redskins pass rush has been very ineffective since the loss of Orakpo. Are there any weak links along the Steelers OLine that make for favorable matchups for the Redskins (ie - that other teams are exploiting)?
Rookie Mike Adams will make his second career start Sunday at right tackle. While he's showing some positive traits in the run game, his pass protection isn't the best. Left tackle Max Starks hasn't exactly been Joe Jacoby, either, so protecting the passer off the edge isn't likely to be a strong suit of this team any time soon.
3.) The Steelers defense hasn't been putting up gaudy numbers with sacks or interceptions. Why is that and can we expect another 25+ point performance for RGIII?
One school of thought is quarterbacks (like Cincinnati's Andy Dalton in Week 7) threw off mostly three-step drops and they were one-read-and-throw plays. It's tough to get sacks out of that. There has been pressure on deeper drops, and the Steelers are second in the league in passing yards against right now (185 per game). How they're doing that without getting sacks (11 in six games) or interceptions (three in six games) is beyond me.
To be honest, I'd say is probably due to the fact their offense maintains possession so long. Overall, though, the defense just really isn't stacked with playmakers. There was hope they'd force more turnovers this year, but through seven games, it hasn't improved much from last year.
That being said, I'll point to the Steelers' track record against rookie quarterbacks under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau (he's 13-1 against them). Scheme still counts for something, even if nowadays it seems to be more based on forcing punts instead of turnovers.
RGIII will get his, but I think the Steelers defense will confuse him a bit more in his passing game than other defenses he's faced this year. I wouldn't be surprised if the headline Monday morning was something like "Redskins, RG3 Get It Done On The Ground."
4.) The Redskins rushing offense has been spectacular and Alfred Morris is 2nd in the NFL for rushing yards. The Steelers rushing D doesn't rank too highly...who are the weak links there?
I'm not sure I'd call being ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing defense (92.5 ypg) not ranking too highly. It's not top 5, no, but it isn't the Bills, either. It's not quite the same defense as it has been in recent years, though. Some of it, I think, is the instability along the defensive line. NT Casey Hampton is working his way into playing shape after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in January. He's improved a bit as each game has gone by, and my guess is he was in there from the start so he'd be in as good of shape as he could be at the end of the year, in time for, hopefully, the playoffs.
The absence of Troy Polamalu, too, has been especially detrimental, and not simply because a player of his caliber isn't in there. Both back-up safeties - Will Allen and Ryan Mundy - have struggled even filling expectations for a replacement player. Allen isn't playing like a strong run defender, and Mundy struggles in coverage, so much of the work of the deep secondary has to be done by former Redskins safety Ryan Clark, who's playing at a Pro Bowl level.
5.) What's your prediction and why?
I think the Steelers win 34-29, the depth and talent they have in the receiving game combined with Washington's lackluster pass rush is going to be too much for a strong running Washington team to overcome.
I so wish we had Ryan Clark playing for us this week.