This Monday, the Washington Football Team will challenge the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. These next three games against the Steelers, San Francisco, and Seattle will tell us what we need to know about this current Washington team. What they have not done this season is defeated a team over .500. This Pittsburgh game has "signature win" written all over it. A win against a team the caliber of Pittsburgh not only will give Washington confidence heading into the last portion of the season, it gives them reassurance that everything head coach Ron Rivera has done leading up to this point has had a purpose. A win against Pittsburgh is the type that could instill a whole new level of trust across the board.
The only way Washington will have a chance this week is to play mistake free football while causing Pittsburgh to make some mistakes. Washington will need to be the better coached team this week and that will be a tough task going up against Mike Tomlin who has never had a losing season as Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach. Many believe that the Steelers' record is overhyped considering the quality of teams they have faced this season. On one hand, I can understand people being unimpressed, but on the other hand, folks clearly don't recognize how difficult it is to win a game in the NFL. They have won close games and blowouts so they can beat you in many ways. Offensively, Pittsburgh can throw the ball 50 times or they can commit to the run and gash you consistently if you don't stop them.
Washington's defense is going to be the key to them winning this game. They will need to be disciplined from all facets whether it be the defensive backs staying in their zones, the linebackers filling their lanes, or defensive linemen staying in their gaps. Pittsburgh has too many weapons like wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster, rookie Chase Claypool, and James Washington who can all make you pay if you get caught sleeping or don't make the initial tackle. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will take what the defense gives and just move the football, so the Washington defense will have to get creative in the schematics to make him hold the football a little longer than he would like to. They have to make Roethlisberger uncomfortable and keep him off balance. If he gets in a rhythm, their offense becomes almost unstoppable and Washington does not want to find themselves in a shootout against a team with a formidable defense like Pittsburgh.
Speaking of Pittsburgh's defense, they will be without one of their best defenders in linebacker Bud Dupree who suffered a leg injury against the Ravens. That said, the Steeler defense still has talent everywhere from the secondary all the way down to their defensive front seven. They are quick and physical, but have also shown that they can be run on if you have early offensive success. The key for the Washington offense is to have a quick start so that they do not have to become one dimensional. Washington's offense has not proven they can win by just throwing the football without having the balance in the run game. An early lead could go a long way in setting the tone for the remainder of the game. Washington's offense will need to control the tempo by staying on the field and getting first downs. Punter Tress Way will be even more important this week because Washington will need to win the field position battle. Ideally, Washington won't be needing his services very much, but when they do, he will need to show out and keep Pittsburgh's starting field position inside their own 20 yard line.
The word for this week on defense is DISCIPLINE; understand your job, and execute it effectively. The word for this week offensively is BALANCE. Do not become one dimensional, and always put yourself in position to call what you "want" to call, and not what you "have" to call. The running game has continued to get stronger. Lean on it, and allow it to be Alex Smith's security blanket. This game is not a "make or break" game for Washington because if they lose, they are still right in the middle of the NFC East division race even at 4-8. It will serve as a test to see how much the team has grown throughout the course of the season.
How much better is the offense?
Is the defense ready to take the next step towards establishing itself as elite?
Can the coaches prepare a team with extended rest to play?
All these questions and much more will be answered Monday against the Steelers. I believe Ron will have the team ready to play and you will see the focus of a team that is finding its way. The Steelers will be ready too because like all great teams, they are treating last week's win against the Ravens like a loss, considering the circumstances. Washington should be anxious to get on the field and impose their will on a team that's looking to make short and easy work out of them. We shall see. As you were...
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team