Four things to watch in Sunday's game between the Redskins and the Steelers…
1. Can the Steelers slow the Redskins ground game? This will be critical to everything else Washington wants to do offensively. Because if they can control the line of scrimmage and stay out of 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations, the Steelers won't be able to bring the exotic blitz packages that routinely flummox veteran quarterbacks, never mind rookies appearing in their eighth NFL game. The conversation starts with rookie running back Alfred Morris and ends with Robert Griffin III. One interesting tidbit, courtesy of the Washington Post's Brian Burke: "Griffin’s scrambles tend to be more productive than his designed runs, but they also have another benefit which may be considerably more important in the long run. On his scrambles, Griffin made it out of bounds 17 of 20 times. On designed runs he got there just 8 of 38 times."
2. Who will step up with Garcon and Davis out of the lineup? This remains the great mystery. Santana Moss is the 'Skins' highest-rated wide receiver, according to Football Outsiders, and he comes in at 46th. And while Chris Cooley has returned to the roster, Logan Paulsen will get first crack at replacing Fred Davis, who was quietly having a fantastic season. Paulsen had four starts last season and caught four passes for 43 yards. But he's a valuable blocker which can't be undersold when facing the Steelers. Also important: The 2012 Pittsburgh D isn't nearly as tenacious as previous iterations, which means there will be opportunities for big plays, even with Washington's two biggest downfield playmakers on the sidelines.
3. How will the defense overcome the loss of London Fletcher? As long as RGIII is on the field the Redskins have a chance to score points. A defense without London Fletcher, however, is a huge issue. Fletcher, who has had balance issues following last week's Giants game, would be replaced by Lorenzo Alexander.
“I know the defense pretty well,” he said. “The biggest thing is knowing what the opposition is going to do and having the experience like London has, recognizing what they're trying to do and getting guys in certain positions. … Guys are able to jump things and play with leverage depending on what the call is.”
Fletcher's streak of 231 consecutive games played is in jeopardy, but more than that, Washington could be without their field general, which puts a lot of pressure on the other 10 guys charged with slowing down of the NFL's most consistent passing offenses.
4. How will the secondary handle Pittsburgh's young WRs?This will decide the outcome of the game. Everything mentioned above is important, obviously, but if the 'Skins can't slow up Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller, they won't have a chance to win. And it doesn't sound like the Steelers' young wideouts are too concerned about Washington's defensive backfield.
“They’re OK. They’re decent,” Wallace said according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “DeAngelo is a perennial Pro Bowler guy. … I don’t feel like they have tremendous athletes over there, but they’re always in the right spots.”
(Obvious exception: late in last week's game against the Giants and Eli Manning.)
Under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers haven't been a big-play unit. That could change this week if the secondary doesn't improve.
One for the road: Under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who arrived in Pittsburgh in 2004, the Steelers are 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks. The only loss came in a meaningless 2007 game against the Ravens. The starter: Troy Smith, who is now out of the NFL.