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The 5 O’Clock Club: How will Washington fare against the tired, frustrated and pissed off Steelers?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


The Steelers players and coaches were not happy following their victory over the Ravens on Wednesday.

Two headlines on the SB Nation website, Behind the Steel Curtain, read:

Steelers improve to 11-0 after win over the Ravens, and it really sucks

and

The best thing about the Steelers’ Week 12 game against the Ravens is it’s finally over

The Steelers, who rightfully had a reason to be angry at a lot of people considering the date of the game was moved three times from Thanksgiving evening to Wednesday afternoon, seemed to be looking in the mirror after the game because of the way they struggled.

Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t look pleased during his post-game press conference. Same could be said for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who seemed to be angrier at commissioner Roger Goodell for this scheduling fiasco as he spoke to NBC’s Michelle Tafoya after the game than he was his receivers—and he should have been angry at his receivers.

The Steelers are undefeated through 11 games. Tomlin was frustrated by what he saw on the field on Wednesday, and Roethlisberger was “livid” following the game. The Pittsburgh coaches and players may sit atop the league standings, but it’s happened despite a number of schedule adjustments that have forced the team to be highly adaptable.

Now they’ll host Washington at 5pm on Monday; the Steelers will be operating on 5 days’ rest while the burgundy & gold should arrive rested and restored, coming off of an 11-day break following their Thanksgiving victory in Dallas.

Advantage Washington?

Maybe not.

It’s true that the Steelers will be operating on a short week. It’s also true that they often looked sloppy in the game against the Ravens, but Mike Tomlin is the kind of coach who is likely to use that to motivate his players by reminding them that they need a laser-sharp focus to prepare for the next game.

Bud Dupree

The Steelers suffered a big loss on Wednesday when Outside Linebacker Bud Dupree was lost for the season to an ACL tear. Dupree was playing on the franchise tag, so the injury is a major setback for his hopes for a lucrative free agent deal for 2021 (though with the expected salary cap restrictions, the timing may not be as lousy as under normal circumstances), and it deals a blow to the Steelers defense. Dupree had registered 8 sacks and 15 QB hits in 11 games,

Dupree’s injury is the second season-ending injury to a star player on the defense. Earlier this season the team lost Devin Bush to a torn ACL, ending his second year almost before it even started.

Dupree’s absence will leave a huge void. His 8 sacks are second on the team only to T.J. Watt, and the team will now rely on a combination of Alex Highsmith and Ola Adeniyi to replace the highly productive OLB.

By the Numbers

Offensively, the Steelers have been both consistent and productive in 2020. Prior to the Ravens game, they hadn’t scored fewer than 24 points in a game all season, and they have topped 35 points three times in 11 games.

In fact, Pittsburgh ranks 6th in points per game, at 28.7, but — bad news for the WFT here — they average 30.8 at home this season.

They haven’t been jumping out to fast starts, but clearly, as the league’s only undefeated team, that hasn’t been a problem. They rank 14th in scoring in the 1st quarter, but they jump to 3rd in 2nd quarter scoring. They rank 19th and 12th in the 3rd & 4th quarters. This seems to be a team that takes control of games in the second stanza then continues to accumulate points in the second half as the defense smothers the opponents.

Defensively, Pittsburgh is #1 in the league in Points per Game allowed, giving up just 17.1 points per game. This is the heart of their team — the ability to keep a foot on the throat of the opposing offenses.

Here is a breakdown of the Steelers defensive ranking in points allowed by quarter:

  • 1st - #3
  • 2nd - #9
  • 3rd - #6
  • 4th - #2

This defense is relentless; they start strong and they simply don’t let up, and they seem to be toughest at the end of the game, allowing an average of just 4 points per game in the 4th quarter. There doesn’t seem to be any ‘garbage time’ with the Steelers defense.

What does it all mean?

Washington has had a nice run of victories and close losses as they’ve faced the Giants, Cowboys, Lions and Bengals, but on Monday the burgundy & gold will be on the road against the league’s only undefeated team. That team is #1 overall defensively in points allowed per game; their offense is #6 in points scored per game. Washington ranks 7th on defense (not bad) but 24th on offense for the season.

One bright spot is that Washington’s offensive scoring has spiked upward recently — the burgundy & gold rank 7th in scoring over the past three games, at 29.3 ppg, though that has come against the Lions, Bengals and Cowboys. Cincinnati is ranked 22nd in the league in scoring defense; Detroit and Dallas rank 31 & 32 respectively.

Based on what I saw in Wednesday’s game against Baltimore, the Steelers offense can be challenged, but then, that was their worst offensive performance of the year; the team was without running back James Conner (COVID reserve) and the receivers dropped an uncharacteristically large number of passes. The Washington defense is likely to have its hands full with the good blocking and quick passing game that has typified Pittsburgh’s 2020 offense, largely negating Washington’s greatest strength, its defensive line.

When Washington is on offense, veteran Alex Smith, who played 5 seasons in the AFC, is likely to be prepared mentally for the challenge of facing the Steelers, but his relative lack of mobility may hinder him against the Steelers pass rush (they are #1 in sacks; Philly & Washington are #2 & #3, respectively). Of course, with Bud Dupree out for the season, the pass rush may not be as fearsome, but T.J. Watt alone will still be a handful.

As mentioned at the start of the article, the Steelers will be playing on a short week, while Washington will have had more time than any other team in the league to recover from Week 12 going into its Monday afternoon game. Physically, this should favor Washington, but I fear that the Steelers may come into this game like a sleepy, hungry and grumpy bear that’s ready for a fight. The coach and quarterback were both pissed off at the end of Ravens game — at the league and at themselves. It seems very likely that they will spend 5 days preparing to take their frustrations out on Washington.

HIstory

As is true of all NFC-AFC matchups, Washington and Pittsburgh meet only one time every four years in regular season games. The last time these two teams met was also on a Monday double-header — that one was the season opener in 2016. As a fan, I felt that the Redskins had a decent chance in that game, as the first game of the season is often a true “any given Monday” scenario, with re-stocked rosters and months to game plan. Pittsburgh won that Week 1 matchup in a romp, 38-16,

I’m hoping for a much better showing than that come Monday.

Poll

How many points will Washington score against the Steelers on Monday?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    none
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    2 to 9
    (39 votes)
  • 32%
    10 to 16
    (264 votes)
  • 38%
    17 to 22
    (307 votes)
  • 18%
    23 to 28
    (148 votes)
  • 4%
    29 or more
    (37 votes)
802 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many points will the Steelers score against Washington on Monday?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    none
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    2 to 9
    (5 votes)
  • 7%
    10 to 16
    (54 votes)
  • 25%
    17 to 22
    (179 votes)
  • 44%
    23 to 28
    (317 votes)
  • 20%
    29 or more
    (148 votes)
713 votes total Vote Now