Monday Night Football is right around the corner and the Washington Redskins face a stiff test right out the gate going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many see the match up on paper and tell themselves Washington is no match for Pittsburgh, but there is definitely room for pulling the upset. Here are my keys to Washington getting off to a 1-0 start.
- Establish the presence of a running game. Washington was ranked 20th in rushing yards a game last year overall, however at home, they averaged 131 yards per game while attempting 30 carries per game. There is no doubt to many the passing attack will be the focal point of this team this year, however when facing a team like Pittsburgh, but Washington needs to be capable of showing they can at least get 3 to 5 yards if the situation calls for it. Pittsburgh rush defense on the road is slightly better than it is at home so don’t expect Washington to finish the game with outstanding rush numbers or attempts, but it will be a great sign if they finish this game averaging at least 4 yards per carry.
- Protect the ball. Washington did a great job at home last year protecting the ball at home, ranking 2nd in the NFL in total turnovers and Kirk was 1st in the NFL in interceptions at home. However penalties are an issue, an offense with many penalties in a game will likely be a key factor as to why they loss, because points are taken off the board. Not to mention Pittsburgh is an opportunistic defense, they got to the quarterback at least 2 times per game on the road which was 8th in the NFL. The pressure they create is unique and can confuse the best quarterbacks of the NFL, so it is vital for Kirk and the offense to recognize where pressure is coming from pre-snap and finding the hot read on the offense. In the 2016 wild card round, the Packers defense did a good job confusing Kirk Cousins in coverage while creating pressure with just their front seven. Kirk is lethal when defenses decide to send blitzes, however if you are able to get consistent pressure while having 6 or more defenders in coverage, Kirk may have a serious challenge picking apart a defense. Kirk has to show he is capable of being accurate and finding the open man when pressure is staring him down in the face.
- Stay Aggressive on both sides of the ball. Offensively Washington has an elite receiving group and a very capable distributor at quarterback. In order to come out on top against Pittsburgh, Washington must attack the weaknesses of Pittsburgh early and often. On the road Pittsburgh gives up 270 yards a game, on 25 completions per game, allowing a 67 percent completion percentage. Pittsburgh’s secondary was awful last year, with only two teams being worse so Washington needs to be focused on being successful in the short and intermediate throws. I expect Desean Jackson and Jamison Crowder to have exceptional nights versus the Steelers secondary on Monday. Jordan Reed is a wild card, not based on skill, but Pittsburgh does a good job defending tight ends. If Washington’s offense is able to connect on three to four big plays via the pass, I expect Washington to easily put up 24 points or more.
During the preseason, Washington’s defensive coordinator Joe Barry showed an aggressive approach. When the first team was in the game he did a good job creating pressure via the blitz, and the front seven themselves did a good job getting home. Joe Barry needs to continue that approach on Monday, sending additional help to stop the rushing attack of Pittsburgh who averaged 4.4 yards per carry on the road. With Barry sending pressure, Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland will get tested immediately by possibly manning up versus Antonio Brown & company more times than expected. The Steelers offensively gave up 2 sacks a game on the road, but one can argue that is actually on the quarterback Ben Roethlisberger trying to create. I expect Washington to send blitzes often, mainly edge blitzes, forcing Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quick or take a lot of hits. If Barry’s aggressive strategy is successful, the potent Steelers offense can be contained, giving Washington a chance at winning a likely high scoring affair.
- Capitalize off Steeler mistakes. Pittsburgh was a mere +2 in turnover differential, making the odds of getting a turnover or two somewhat favorable. However Washington may only get 1 or 2 chances to convert on a turnover Monday night, when the opportunity comes do not settle for field goals. The Steelers offense is capable of a home run at any moment of the game, if Washington scores field goals off turnovers versus Pittsburgh, we may be talking about how they can get back to .500 versus Dallas.
- Lastly, Stay Disciplined. Washington’s defense is facing one of the ultimate creators at the quarterback position of this decade, it is vital for defenders to stick to their assignments. Roethlisberger creativity and playmaking ability will keep a secondary in coverage well over 5 seconds, which is an eternity for a defender. Now no team can’t prepare for the unforeseen but the best way to do so is to stay disciplined, trusting your pass rushers to get home or create pressure and error.