First of all, I must tip my cap to the Steelers for their win on Sunday night against the Bengals. This team stepped when they needed to, and in spite of their numerous undisciplined mistakes, the “Black & Gold” still notched an important road victory. Yet as entirely awesome as that win was, Pittsburgh cannot rest on their proverbial “laurels” as they head into Week 8. On Sunday, the Washington Redskins come to Heinz Field, and they are led by the League’s most buzzworthy Rookie Quarterback: Robert Griffin III. While the Steelers’ Defense must be ready to stop Washington’s Offense through the air, Sunday’s most crucial battle will take place between both units in the trenches.
The Redskins Running Game (2012)
Just like any Mike Shanahan coached team/Offense, the Redskins’ running game is an efficient and well-oiled machine. So far this season, Washington ranks 3rd in Total Rushing Attempts (229), 1st in Total Rushing Yards (1,244), 2nd in Yards Per Carry (5.4), T-1st in Rushing Touchdowns (11), and 1st in Rushing Yards Per Game (177.7). Last weekend, the Redskins rolled up 248 Yards on the ground against the defending Super Bowl Champions! What makes these numbers even more impressive though is the fact that the Redskins have received so much productivity from two members of their most recent Rookie class.
Just like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, and pretty much every other late-Round Running Back drafted by Mike Shanahan, Alfred Morris has already become the next unlikely, yet successful. featured Back in the Shanahan Offensive system. To Morris’ credit, the Rookie from Florida Atlantic has shined this season to the tune of 138 Carries, 658 Yards, 4.8 YPC, and 5 Rushing Touchdowns, and proved himself to be quite the formidable Zone runner. Morris has performed so well this season that he currently ranks 2nd (behind Arian Foster 659 Yards) in the League in Total Rushing Yards .
Unfortunately for the Steelers, Morris is not the only running threat they must contain. Quarterback Robert Griffin III is a former track athlete with moves and speed to burn on designed runs. Griffin III will surely have some designed runs drawn up for him in the game-plan, and is a threat to break contain and turn what could be a Sack, into a positive play on the ground. Washington’s electric signal-caller rolling on some designed draws and play action bootlegs off of Zone fake handoffs with Morris scares me plenty. But what truly frightens me is if “RGIII” is able to break loose and turn up the field for a 76 Yard dash like he did against the Vikings two weeks ago. On the year, “RGIII” has tallied 468 Yards on the ground on only 64 Carries, and is just as adept at using his legs as he is using his arm (70.4% Completion Percentage in 189 Attempts).
The Steelers Run Defense (2012)
To be completely fair to the Steelers, their Run Defense has not been what one would call “statistically atrocious” so far this year. In fact, Pittsburgh has done a decent enough job against the run this season if one looks squarely at a couple of different statistics. The Steelers currently rank 6th in Total Rushing Yards Allowed (555) and 9th in Rushing Yards per Game Allowed (92.5). Yet as stout as those numbers seem, those specific statistics are a tad skewed once one considers the fact that Big Ben & Co. rank 2nd in Total Possession (34:49) per game. In addition, because so many Offenses are playing from behind against the Steelers in the 4th Quarter, they have found success against and attacked the Pittsburgh’s inconsistent Secondary (The Steelers have actually led in the 4th Quarter in all of their 6 games). When one looks closer at the stat sheet and the situational stats, Pittsburgh’s Defense actually ranks 19th in Yards per Carry Allowed (4.1), and as a unit have had their struggles so far this season against the run as age, undisciplined play, and solid Backs have burned them.
Let us not forget how much success Zone scheme runners like Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson had against the Steelers’ Defense over the past few weeks. I am sure that we all remember how McFadden lit the Steelers up for 113 Yards on only 18 Carries (6.3 YPC), and a 64 Yard Touchdown in Week 3. McFadden would have definitely racked up more Yards during the game on the ground, but as I stated before, since the Raiders were behind for most of the game and in the 2nd Half, his opportunities on the ground were limited. “CJ2K” had a nice game against the Steelers in Week 6 as he rushed for 91 Yards on 19 Carries. And just like McFadden, Johnson’s chances were also limited because the Titans Offense was forced to/found success through the air in the 2nd Half of the game when they attempted to play catch-up.
To win Sunday’s game, or at least have a legitimate shot, the Steelers must stop Washington’s running game, period. If Griffin III is allowed to be in 2nd & 5 or less and 3rd & 4 or less situations all game long, it could be an extremely long day for Pittsburgh and their Defense. Winning on 1st & 2nd Downs against the run is a task every Defense tries to accomplish on a game-in-game-out basis. But against the Redskins and their Rookie Quarterback, stuffing the run to create 2nd and 3rd & Long situations is an absolute “must” for the Steelers. This strategy in turn will help to lessen the blow of the play-action passing game off of the Stretch/Zone plays which are staples of the Shanahan Offense.
The last thing that the Steelers’ inconsistent Defense can stand to do is become undisciplined against the run, lose the Time of Possession battle, and subsequently allow the Redskins to not only force Big Ben & the Offense to sit on the sidelines and wait idly as “RGIII” & Co. finish extended drives (mostly on the ground) with 7′s and 3′s. The run game is the “bread ‘n butter” for this Washington Offense, and like it or not “Steeler Nation,” if Pittsburgh’s Defense loses in this area, things could turn sour in a hurry on Sunday afternoon.
Chime in Readers: Will the Steelers’ Defense step up against the Run this weekend? If so, why? Can the Steelers pull out a victory? Share your answers, as well as any other comments, questions, or concerns in the section below.