After coming off a Wednesday afternoon football game against the Ravens, the Steelers will stay in Pittsburgh for a Monday matchup versus the Washington Football Team. As it currently stands, the Steelers still hold the best record in the NFL at 11-0 and a three game lead in the AFC North. Washington is 4-7 but tied for first place with the New York Giants in the NFC East. Despite their poor record, the Football Team will come into Heinz Field winning three out of their last five games. It will be by no means an easy game at all for the Steelers as Washington has had five extra days of preparation and rest. This due to the constant postponement of the Steelers Ravens game and Washington’s Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys. Here is what Pittsburgh must do to come out with the victory on Monday.
- Continue to excel in pass protection
Even though the Steelers offense can be wildly inconsistent too often, one area that has remained a strength has been the pass blocking up front. The Steelers offensive line has given up less than one sack per game which ranks 1st in the NFL. They also haven’t allowed a single sack in the last four games. Washington poses the biggest challenge of the year in this department. They rank inside the top five in total sacks and quarterback hits for the year. Chase Young and Ryan Kerrigan have been menaces with 10 sacks combined.
When it comes to who’s in and who’s out, Maurkice Pouncey was placed on the COVID list and missed the Ravens game. It’s unknown whether he will return for this game. This true strength vs strength matchup will be a determining factor for this game’s outcome.
- Take the deep shots late
One trend that hasn’t been working out for this team is the predictable deep shot on the first drive of the game. Usually Ben tries to connect with Claypool but it’s rarely worked early in the game. Even more curious, it’s most of the time a play action pass. Not only does play action this early in the game make no sense because they can’t establish a run game but it’s not like the Steelers have a great rushing offense to begin with. The runs and deeper passes result in stalled drives for the most part.
Only during the middle of the game do Ben and company finally go to more empty sets and bunch formations and get to work. The Steelers should start out like this, as it will lead to more success in the deep ball later in the game. In both the Cowboys and Browns games, James Washington was able to score on long touchdown passes because of the short passing game working on the previous plays. Ben to Claypool is a great connection but it must be used better and smarter.
- Hold their playmakers to under 100 yards
As a whole, Washington’s offense isn’t something to ride home about. But they do have two studs in particular that have been absolutely dynamic for them. Terry McLaurin is having a breakout sophomore season and is 5th in receiving yards. Even more impressive, he’s done it with subpar quarterback play in Haskins, Smith and Allen. In the running game, rookie Antonio Gibson is tied for 12th in rushing yards with 645 on the season. Frankly, they’ve carried the offensive load and been the primary reason this Washington offense has put up good numbers in their wins.
This is why it’s crucial that the Steelers defense holds them both to under 100 yards a piece as it will virtually ensure a win for Pittsburgh. The Steelers haven’t revealed their game plan against McLaurin but it will most likely be Joe Haden on the outside and Cameron Sutton in slot coverage.
For Gibson, the Steelers run defense has been a group effort all season with the entire front seven collapsing gaps. Getting Stephon Tuitt back from the COVID list would be huge as he’s been the Steelers most productive defensive lineman and is great at stuffing the inside run. Washington’s offense runs through their playmakers so the Steelers must limit them.
- Embrace the next man up mentality
This has been and must continue to be a theme for this team the entire season. This marks the third torn ACL for a Steelers player this season with Bush and Banner being the first two. Chuks Okorafor came in for Banner in week one and has only given up one sack since then. Robert Spillane has replaced Devin Bush for over half the season and all things concerned he’s done well. He’s not as good as Bush, but he’s exceeded exceptions in both fit and production on this team.
Once again it must be embraced as Dupree will be out for the season and rookie Alex Highsmith must fill in on the edge. Dupree hasn’t missed a game since 2017 so it will be tough to prepare without him on a short week. With the Steelers pass rush down to just one premier pass rusher, opposing teams will be able to game plan for TJ Watt easier than before. Not that anyone should expect him to drop off, as Watt leads the NFL in sacks, QB hits, tackles for loss, and total pressures. Highsmith has done quite well in his limited action with a sack and an interception, but we’ll see if he can adjust quickly to the increase in snaps.
If the Steelers don’t hurt themselves with self-inflicted wounds and can execute on these keys, I think they get the win and secure a playoff spot at 12-0. A win combined with a Browns loss make them the winners of the AFC North.
Official prediction: Steelers over Washington by a score of 26-17.