2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are for Real. Just as Steelers Nation Thought They Were

From the moment they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs last January, the Steelers were considered heavy favorites to be champions of the 2016 season.

The hype not only seemed sincere, as it came from the players, the media (both local and national) and, of course the fans, but it never waned, even in the face of the season-long drug suspension for receiver Martavis Bryant, the three-game drug suspension for running back Le’Veon Bell, and, of course, the questions surrounding a questionable defense.

As Pittsburgh prepared to face the Redskins Monday night, in a Week 1 match-up at FedExField, I must say I felt pretty darn confident. When asked to give a prediction–both as a writer and as a relative (my brother always asks me for a score)–I said, “31-13.”

2016 steelers, 2016 steelers season opener, antonio brown, steelers vs. redskins

Antonio Brown shreds the Redskins defense in the Steelers 2016 season opener. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

And this wasn’t some homer bias on my part (I usually save the lopsided predictions for the playoffs), I truly believed the Steelers, the AFC’s sixth seed a year ago, far outclassed the talents of Washington, the NFC East’s champion from 2015.

What was the famous postgame quote screamed by late head coach Dennis Green following a depressing loss to the Bears? “They are who we thought they were!

  • While the Steelers weren’t exactly flawless in their 2016 debut on Monday Night Football, once they got rolling, they looked about as dominant as one would hope.

Pittsburgh was trailing 6-0 late in the first quarter. The offense hadn’t done much in its first two drives. In-fact, following a punt on the first series, the Steelers second possession ended when a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deflected off the hands of young receiver Eli Rogers and was intercepted.

  • But following another near-turnover on the third offensive possession, the Steelers began to take control of the game and never really looked back.

What started as a 6-0 deficit, became a 24-6 advantage by the third quarter on the way to a 38-16 pasting of the Redskins before a national audience.

Ben Roethlsiberger looked as efficient as ever, as he completed 27 of 37 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns–and it almost “seemed” like an off night for him, as he battled premium corner Josh Norman off and on throughout the game.

And what can you say about veteran running back DeAngelo Williams? Twenty-five carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It says a lot about the abilities of the 33-year old as he fills in for Bell during his suspension, but it also says a lot about an offensive line that actually may be the best in the NFL.

Back in the late 2000s, the Steelers had a dominant defense complete with studs at every position. I don’t really have to name them, but, in-addition to Roethlisberger’s franchise quarterback-status, Dick LeBeau‘s unit gave the team legitimacy as a Super Bowl-contender. You didn’t have to wonder whether or not all-world players like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith were going to show up each and every week and make life miserable for their opponents on offense.

  • You just knew they would.

I have that same feeling about the current Steelers offense. They scored 38 points on Monday night, and quite frankly, I don’t see many weeks in-which they don’t at least threaten to score that amount.

As for the defense, it wasn’t necessarily stout, as it surrendered 384 total yards. But there was only one touchdown allowed on the evening, and linebacker Ryan Shazier may have made the pivotal play of the evening, when he intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass and paved the way for the 26-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown that broke the game open in the third quarter.

Having a dominant defense is ideal, but if you can’t have that, an opportunistic one is often all that’s needed. A year ago, the Steelers defense did something it hadn’t been able to do for years, and that was take the football away. After averaging just 19 takeaways between 2011-2014, Pittsburgh had 30 in 2015. Despite having the 30th ranked pass defense, the Steelers allowed just under 20 points per game, and part of that had to do with coming up with timely picks and fumbles–often when the other team was driving for a score.

Sure, there was some luck involved, Monday evening (in-addition to Roethlisberger’s fumble that was nearly recovered by the Redskins, a pass into the end zone  that should have been intercepted, was caught for a touchdown by Rogers after it was deflected right to him), but what did the legendary Chuck Noll used to say? “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Whether or not the Steelers are crowned champions at the end of this season  remains to be seen, but  they definitely are who we thought they were.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win Over Redskins

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is delighted to see his star pupils show up on the first day of school both willing and ready to work, here is the Steelers Report Card for their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger might not have been perfect, his fumble could have been very costly, and led the team to two and outs to start the game. But after that, Roethlisberger was nearly flawless completing 27 passes on 37 attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to seamlessly work relative newcomers into the offense. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Who says 33 is over the hill in the NFL? That certainly did not apply to DeAngelo Williams Monday night, who ran for 143 yards on 26 carries and was running through the Redskins secondary at will by the time it was all over. The fact that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s stat line reads 3-6 surprises shows just who dominate the Steelers rushing attack was. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown continues to maintain an almost mystical connection with the Steelers and is clearly the best receiver in football. With Markus Wheaton out, carrying the rest of the load fell to Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers. Both men made impressive plays, although both did see the ball bounce off their hands only to caught be another receiver. Fortunately in Coates’ case Rogers was the receiver and it was in the end zone. Teams like the Patriots, Bengals or Ravens won’t be so forgiving and the grade must reflect that. Grade: A-

Tight End
The post-Heath Miller era began against the Redskins, with Jesse James taking up the mantel, for the time being at least. As he flashed in 2016, Jesse James showed that he can be a fairly reliable target in the passing game, although he didn’t look quite comfortable out there. His blocking remains a liability, having missed a couple of key blocks. In contrast, David Johnson played in an H-Back roll, and made a key block on one of DeAngelo Williams first big gains. Xavier Grimble also saw some action. Against the Redskins, the Steelers tight end by committee worked well enough. Grade: B

Offensive Linesteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. redskins, coaching, special teams, unsung heros
Against the Redskins, the Steelers had 4.9 yards rushing, surrendered on sack, and only saw their quarterback hit 4 other times. That’s what I call an excellent effort. Grade: A

Defensive Line
The Washington Redskins actually had a decent rushing average against the Steelers, but the truth is neither running back broke the 25 yard mark. Cameron Heyward led the unit with 2 tackles, followed by Stephon Tuitt with one and registered a QB hit. Javon Hargrave made his rookie debut, and little was seen of him, although that’s not always a bad thing for a nose tackle. Grade: B

Linebackers
Ryan Shazier had another fantastic night, forcing a fumble, breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone, and hauling in an interception that permanently reversed the course of the game for Pittsburgh. Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 8 tackles and was all over the field. James Harrison might only have had 3 tackles on the night, but his run stop of Matt Jones was a beauty. L.J. Fort saw his first regular season action and got a hit on Kirk Cousins late in the game. Jarvis Jones quietly recorded 6 tackles. Grade: B

Secondary
Ross Cockrell let an interception slip though his fingers, and the Steelers defensive backs didn’t record any take aways, but they did force the Redskins to settle for field goals on three occasions when touchdowns were very real possibilities. Mike Mitchell led the group and set the tone by keeping receivers in front of him, and then laying in the wood afterwards. William Gay had a quiet night, which is good for a cornerback. Robert Golden looked like he belonged as did the rookie Sean Davis. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell made all of his extra points and a 46 yard field goal (on the road, at night, on grass.) Jordan Berry’s punting was solid. The kick coverage of Fitzgerald Toussaint’s return was good, and it looked like a more capable returner could have taken that much further. Toussaint needs to learn to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.

  • The Redskins had one kick return of 29 yards and a punt return for 17.

Danny Smith must see to it that future play by the Steelers kick coverage units must renders those numbers to statistical aberrations. Grade: B-

Coaching
Mike Tomlin won his first road opener since 2008, and he did it against a defending divisional champion. In the NFL it is more about how you finish than how you start, but the goal of every coach is to “start fast, finish strong” and the Steelers took a first step in that direction. Yes, there was some rustiness, but considering that the Steelers are fielding a host of different players than the squad that was last on the field in Denver, a 38 to 16 performance is all the more impressive.

  • The Steelers locker room is embracing Tomlin’s “Next man up” credo.

It took Todd Haley’s offense a quarter to get warmed up, but once it got into gear, it almost seemed as if the Steelers offense was restraining itself against the Redskins at times. Scoring 38 points against an NFL defense always impresses, but the Steelers could have scored more. The tests will get tougher, starting this week against the Bengals, but Haley’s crew passed the first with flying colors, and the did it against a team that made big time investments in their pass defense.

Keith Butler’s defense lacked some of the splash plays from 2015. Over the long term that figures to be a problem. If the fireworks were missing, the Steelers defense was fully in “bend but don’t break mode.” Playing against a defending divisional champion, on the road, the score could have easily been 14 or 21 nothing giving the way the game unfolded. Butler’s defense saw to it that the score remained 6-0. Overall, the Steelers coaches had their players prepared and ready. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
More than one fan has looked at the performance of Cody Wallace in 2013 and 2015 and asked, “Why are we paying the other guy so much?”

Against the Redskins, Maurkice Pouency answered those doubters. When the Redskins stripped Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers were down by six and at their own 25. A turnover there could have changed the direction of the game, and breathed life into the Redskins. Instead, Pouency got the ball away from the defender, and Ben Rothlisberger recovered it. On the very same drive, the Steelers went up by 7 after converting on a 4th down.

It is plays like that which facilitate fireworks by the super stars like Brown and Roethlisberger and for that Maurkice Pouncey is the Unsung Hero award winner of the Pittsburgh’s win over Washington.

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Steelers derrotó a Redskins en el debut de la temporada 2016

En el primero de dos juegos de MNF, se inició para los Pittsburgh Steelers una nueva temporada. Un año 2016 del que se esperan grandes logros: postemporada seguro. Jugar el Super Bowl, por qué no? Y ganarlo… vaya, será posible?

Steelers derrotó a Redskins, Steelers, Redskins

James Harrison derrotó a Matt Jones de los Redskins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Este año el equipo cuenta con casi todas las herramientas con las que cualquier franquicia soñaría contar: una ofensiva letal con línea completa, sin lesionados; un ataque terrestre de lujo, un pateador infalible (o casi), un cuerpo de linebackers bien nutrido que combina experiencia y juventud con talento y una defensiva profunda con nuevas apuestas, aunque sea este, a priori, el talón de Aquiles del equipo.

Para los Steelers, el primer obstáculo en la carrera hacia el 7° Trofeo Lombardi, eran los Washington Redskins, equipo que aunque con un modesto 9-7, había ganado en 2015 la división Este de la Conferencia Nacional. En muchos ítems, este equipo había sido mejor que el promedio de los equipos, excepto su ataque terrestre que, realmente no había funcionado en la campaña pasada.

Pittsburgh viajó a Fedex Field con algunas bajas: el retirado TE Heath Miller, los suspendidos WR Martavis Bryant y RB Le’Veon Bell y los lesionados TE Ladarius Green, LB Bud Dupree, WR Markus Wheaton y el recién llegado CB Justin Gilbert.

De manera que el Coach Tomlin probó con fuego de partido inaugural a Eli Rogers, desafió al joven Jesse James a combatir contra la memoria de su antecesor Miller y retó a Sammie Coates a revertir sus inconsistencias de pretemporada.

Una defensiva que se dobla, sí. Pero no se rompe

Los visitantes, luego de un primer cuarto errático, se hicieron del control del partido, a ambos lados del ovoide.

Durante el Monday Night Football, esta fue una defensiva que se dobló. Pero que no se quebró. Casi nunca. Sólo en una oportunidad: en la única serie de anotación de 7 puntos que permitieron.

Esa serie, que acercó a los locales en el marcador a sólo 8 puntos de déficit, fue el momento más preocupante de la defensiva acerera. De hecho, la defensiva, permitió 3 jugadas seguidas de más de 16 yardas. Anoche se dejó ver uno de los puntos débiles del equipo dirigido por el Coach Keith Butler, hecho sobre el que venimos insistiendo desde hace varias temporadas desde Steel Curtain Rising en español: el tackle. Se falló sobre todo en el primer contacto, lo que permite yardas adicionales que cuestan, en general, partidos.

Pero es junto decir a continuación que permitieron sólo los pases cortos y que mañató a los Redskins para convertir sólo el 30% de sus terceros downs y cerró la puerta a la única vez que fueron por el 4to down, cuando Robert Golden detuvo a Chris Thompson a pulgadas de la línea de 1er down.

El hombre de la noche fue, claramente, Ryan Shazier quien desvió un pase en la zona de anotación para evitar un TD, interceptó otro, provocó un fumble y produjo 6 tackles. Lamentablemente, más tarde, tuvo que dejar el campo de juego por una lesión en su rodilla sobre la cual, hasta el momento de escribir estas líneas, no hay informe oficial por parte del equipo.

La línea defensiva tuvo un desempeño mediocre en lo que respecta a la presión del QB, a quien francamente nunca llegaron, pero tal vez esto deba ser atribuido al muy buen juego de la línea ofensiva local. Seguramente hay un trabajo que hacer para el terceto Tuitt-Hargrave-Hayward, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que en solo 6 días enfrentarán a una ofensiva más poderosa como es la de Cincinnati, con un mariscal de campo de mucha mejor calidad que Kirk Cousins.

Los tres frontales defendiendo la corrida, con el debido apoyo de los linebackers, limitaron a Washington a tan solo 12 acarreos para 55 yardas. Otra vez, pensando en el futuro inmediato, el domingo se enfrentarán al desafío de intentar limitar a números similares al dúo Jeremy HillGiovani Bernard.

“Imparables y letales” Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

http://gty.im/603551390

Ben Roethlisberger: 27 de 37; 300 yardas; 3 TD
Antonio Brown: 8 atrapadas de 11 intentos; 126 yardas y 2 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 26 acarreos para 146 yardas, 2 TD por tierra y 6 atrapadas de 9 para 28 yardas por aire.
Eli Rogers: 6 de 7 para 59 yardas y 1 TD
Jesse James: 5 de 7 para 31 yardas
Sammie Coates: 2 de 3 para 56 yardas

  • En 3er down convirtieron el 64% de los intentos
  • Dos de 2 en 4to down
  • En 9 series ofensivas despejaron sólo en 2 y Big Ben lanzó una intercepción  En las 6 restantes, anotaron
  • En zona roja tuvieron una efectividad del 100%

He ahí lo producido por la ofensiva acerera.

Lo que son capaces de hacer Big Ben, Brown y Williams no es sorpresa para nadie. Sin embargo debe hacerse un párrafo aparte para los restantes tres de este cuadro de honor.
Comenzando por Eli Rogers.

Con las ausencias de Bryant y Wheaton, se necesitaba de una performance como la que tuvo este chico de 1er año. Una atrapada en 3er down, otra en 4to y un TD que requiere de una concentración particular, esto es: atrapar un balón que uno no espera y que requiere de superar la sorpresa, primero, y activar el cuerpo de la forma necesaria para quedarse con él. Todo ello después de ser “responsable” de una intercepción a la que pudo, evidentemente, dejar atrás rápidamente. Este joven parece tener una fortaleza mental singular. Para quien escribe estas líneas fue el jugador de la primera mitad.

Jesse James ya había demostrado algo en la temporada pasada. Debe reemplazar a Heath Miller, un bloqueador y receptor fuera de serie, de lo mejor que hubo en la liga, y que además tenía una conexión particular con Roethlisberger.

Sin embargo, el puesto no le quedó grande. Para nada. Bloqueó correctamente (sólo basta ver su bloqueo a la carrera en el 2do TD de Williams) y atrapó pases decisivos. Deberá disputar el puesto con Ladarius Green cuando este esté recuperado, pero siempre es bueno contar con dos candidatos para un solo puesto. Tengo para mí que Jesse James, será un digno reemplazo de Heath Miller.

Para el final, Sammie Coates. Luego de una pretemporada errática, y puesto en campo debido a la lesión de Wheaton, cumplió con una más que digna actuación, con una recepción de 42 yardas contra la disputa de un defensivo. No tuvo errores mentales, atrapó casi todo lo que le enviaron. Qué más se le puede pedir a un WR?

Pasó la semana del debut de temporada. Se necesitaba de una victoria como esta. Inapelable. Que envía al resto de la liga un mensaje que no deja ambigüedades:

“Aquí están los Steelers. Somos contendientes al Super Bowl y vamos a ir por él. Tendrás que anotar muchos puntos si quieres vencernos. Somos la piedra en el zapato de todos los demás”.

El Dr. de Acero

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Steelers Slaughter Redskins 38-16, Pittsburgh Disproves “Ball Bounces Your Way” Cliché

Sometimes the ball bounces your way. During the first half of their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins, the Steelers seemed to making that cliché come true. The Steelers went into the locker oom holding a 14-6 lead, a score which, to the naked eye, could have very different with a few different bounces of the ball.

By the time it was over, the Steelers had shown why contender who are serious about transforming themselves into champions banish clichés like those from their vocabulary. And in the process, the 2016 Steelers made an important statement about who they are and where they want to go this season.

steelers beat redskins, james harrison matt jones, lawrence timmons, william gay

James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and William Gay stone Matt Jones in Steelers MNF win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

When the Ball Bounces (or Doesn’t Bounce) Your Way

Let’s begin by agreeing to the obvious. The balls were bouncing all over the place on Monday night at FedEx Field.

  • A Ben Roethlisberger pass bounced off of Eli Rogers hands and Bashaud Breeland intercepted it
  • Kirk Cousins rifled off a pass which bounced off Ross Cockrell’s hands
  • Antonio Brown caught the ball then dropped it, only to have it ruled incomplete (be honest, had that been a Redskin receiver Steeler Nation would have erupted)
  • Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the ball, lost it only to have Maurkice Pouncey strip it, allowing him to recover
  • Sammie Coates had the ricochet off his hands and into Eli Roger’s for the night’s second TD
  • James Harrison brought down an interception which looked like it bounced on the turf.

On the surface, the Steelers look like they caught a lot of lucky breaks. Even on the first touchdown pass it looked like had any it been any other receiver, it would have been an interception. But fortune didn’t provide the Steelers with any favors except for opportunity and a five minute sequence at the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd quarters makes that clear.

Fortune Doesn’t Determine Fate, It Only Creates Opportunity

Ross Cockrell’s came just outside the Red Zone, and came after the Redskins had been moving swiftly downfield. Missed chances like that can both spook a shaky defense and embolden an up and coming offense.

  • Instead, the exact opposite occurred.

Cousins took too shots at the end zone – the first was defended beautifully by Ryan Shazier, the second by fell short. Washington had to settle for 3. But less than 20 minutes and 5 plays later, Roethlisberger threw his first interception, and the Redskins were back in business at the Steelers 37 yard line. But Washington only made it to the Steelers 23, and again settled for three.

“Setttled” is the operative word, because Artie Burns committed an offside penalty. Jay Gruden could have accepted the penalty, and continued to try for the touchdown. Instead, he stuck to George Allen’s philosophy of “Never take points off the board.”

Yet, on the Steelers very next play, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the ball and Washington recovered, monetarily. Maurkice Pouncey knocked the ball lose, and Ben Roethlisberger came out of the pile with it.

That play occurred on the Steelers 25. If Washington recovers that ball they at least walk away 9 points ahead, if not 13. Theoretically the Redskins could have been up by 21 only 5 minutes into the 4th quarter. Instead, the Steelers continued to drive, and when faced with a 4th and won, not only did Mike Tomlin decline to kick, he went for all the marbles as Roethlisberger hit Brown in the end zone.

  • Roethlisberger and Brown delivered.

After the game, Tomlin explained: “We play to win.”

Imposing Their Will

In the 1980’s Joe Gibbs Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls (and defeated the Steelers 3 times) and did so without out same quantity of marquee talent that the San Francisco 49ers had in winning for (no offense to Art Monk, Darrell Green and John Riggins who are legit Hall of Famers.) There’s no secret to Gibbs ability to win Super Bowls good but not great skill players like Earnest Byner, Mark Rypien, Gerald Riggs, Timmy Smith and Ricky Sanders.

  • He did it because he made his offensive line the foundation of his football team.

During the first half of the Mike Tomlin era, the Pittsburgh Steelers made it to two Super Bowls in spite of rather than because of their offensive line. Since then the Steelers have made an investment of both draft picks and second contracts in their offensive line.

Against the Redskins, DeAngelo Williams rushed for 143 yards on 26 carries which works out to 5.5 yards per carry. This is a guy who is 33 years old. That’s a full yard ahead of DeAngelo Williams 2016 outlook based on statistical projections. By the end of the evening, DeAngelo Williams was running through the Redskins defensive backfield at will.

Contrast that with Washington’s first rushing attempt of the second half:

https://twitter.com/Steel_Curtain4/status/775540511511867392

What you see there my friends are two things:

  • First, you have an effort that defines the very essence of who James Harrison is as a player
  • Second, you have the metaphysical opposite of an offense that is imposing its will

To be sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers season opener was hardly flawless – Kirk Cousin’s jersey didn’t get a little muddy. But this is a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is both confident in its ability and ready and willing to execute based on the confidence.

Opening Day Reminiscent of, Dare We Say ’08?

The win against Washington at FedEx Field also broke an important streak of opening day road losses that have defined the backend (read post Super Bowl XLV) of the Mike Tomlin era, which is good because championship team must be able to win on the road – just ask the 2005 Steelers. But symbolic symmetry of the win.

  • But the symbolic symmetry of with Steelers last opening day road win is also interesting?

The 2008 Steelers opened the season by manhandling the Houston Texans to the tune of 38-17, just a point off last night’s sore. And we know how the Steelers 2008 season ended….

…Just Say’

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Speak Out Steelers Nation – Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners For Redskins Win

What a way to start the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to FedEx Field and earned their first opening day win on the road since taking out the Houston Texans in 2008, as they defeated the Washington Redskins 38-16.

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports

As we do after every Steelers win, we invite you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote gameball winners for all of the Steelers whom you think deserve one.

Leading the ballot positioning are Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Shazier to no one’s great surprise. All four had phenominal performances against the Redskins. Ben Roethlisberger had 300 yards passing 3 touchdowns, and looked like, well Ben, making something out of nothing.

Of course it makes it easier when you have Antonio Brown to throw to, who is playing so well he looks like he could probably catch touchdowns with his right arm tied behind his back. DeAngelo Williams imposed his will on the Redskins. Not bad for a 33 year old. And Ryan Shazier showed again that he is capable of making game-changing splash plays.

After that, the next four ballot slots go to Eli Rogers, who made a strong NFL debut, despite contributing to Ben Roethlisberger’s lone interception. Lawrence Timmons simply led the team in tackles and was generally all over the field – when have we not said that since 2011?

While Jesse James isn’t quite making Steelers Nation forget Heath Miller, he did make a solid first start. Sammie Coates made a couple of key catches, while Michael Mitchell did was a safety is supposed to do – he kept the recievers in front of him, and laid in the wood after the catch.

  • However, your are not limited to these options.

If you think that there’s a Steeler that deserves a game ball for his performance tonight that isn’t on the ballot, then simply write his name in. Better yet, leave a comment stating your case. Cases are to be made for James Harrison, Robert Golden and perhaps any number of the Steelers offensive lineman.

  • But I will leave those choices – and arguments, to you my beloved readers.

Go Steelers! Click here for Steel Curtain Rising’s full game analysis.

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04 Steelers Defeat Redskins 16-7, Pittsburgh Gets 1st Win Over Joe Gibbs

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

’04 Steelers defeat Redskins, Pittsburgh 16, Washington 7, November 28, 2004 @ Heinz Field 

Behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers entered Week 12 of the 2004 season sporting a 9-1 record. Washington, on the other hand, came to down with a 3-7 mark and was a 10-point dog.

  • By all accounts, it should have been an easy day for Pittsburgh…but looks can be deceiving.

Despite having one of the worst offenses, the Redskins had a dominant defense in ’04, one that would go on to finish third in total yards and fifth in points (16.6 per game).

  • The Steelers defense was even superior to Washington’s, finishing first in total yards.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers vs Redskins, Jerome Bettis Redskins

Jerome Bettis rumbles over Redskins in Steelers 2004 win over Washington. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

With defense at the forefront, the game remained scoreless until kicker Jeff Reed connected on a 33-yard field goal late in the first quarter to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 advantage.

Early in the second quarter, receiver and return specialist Antwaan Randle El returned a punt 43 yards down to the Washington 39-yard line. Seven plays later, running back Jerome Bettis, filling in for an injured Duce Staley in one of the final starts of his career, plowed into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead.

Reed kicked another field goal late in the second quarter to increase the lead to 13 points at halftime.

While it wasn’t the dominant performance many fans had probably expected, the lead felt secure, what with Pittsburgh’s defense harassing Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey all day and sacking him five days. Of course, Roethlisberger was under siege most of the game, as well, and was taken to the turf four times, as he completed just nine of 20 passes for 131 yards and no touchdowns.

But while the defense was doing its job, there was one hiccup late in the third quarter, when Ramsey found tight end Chris Cooley for a two-yard touchdown pass to pull the visitors to within six points.

  • The Redskins would score no more.

Pittsburgh regained its two-score advantage, when Reed connected on his third field goal with less than 10 minutes left to make it 16-7. And with under five minutes remaining, cornerback Deshea Townsend picked off a Ramsey pass to seal the deal.

  • For the day, the two teams combined for a less than robust 363 total yards, with Pittsburgh holding the Redskins to a mere 156.

But while the Steelers offense mostly struggled to move the ball,  Bettis, in the kind of slobberknocker affair that epitomized his Hall of Fame career, carried the ball 31 times for 100 yards.

The Steelers improved to 10-1 and would go on to become the first AFC team to win 15 regular season games. The ’04 Steelers defeat of the Redskins also gave Bill Cowher something Chuck Noll never had  – a win over Joe Gibbs.

 

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91′ Redskins Beat Steelers 41-14, 3-0 Record for Joe Gibbs vs Chuck Noll

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

Redskins 41, Steelers 14, November 17, 1991, @ Three Rivers Stadium

As a 19-year old in the summer of 1991, I was really proud of myself for predicting the Redskins would be pretty darn good in the upcoming regular season. Washington had it all, from a dominant defense, a great offensive line, prolific receivers —The Posse–and a solid rushing attack.

Little did I know how good the ’91 Redskins would be; they were so good, they averaged over 30 points a game and limited their opponents to 14, as they jumped out to an 11-0 start and finished with a 14-2 record, before trouncing every opponent in the postseason–including a whitewashing of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.

  • But, while my head knew a truly good football team when it saw one, my irrational heart still believed the 4-6 Steelers could take care of business, when that team arrived in town with a 10-0 record.

steelers vs redskins

Mark Rypien prepares to call signals against Steelers. Photo Credit: Bruce Parker, Richmond Times-DispatchHowever, it was quite evident right away, what kind of day it would be for the home team. On the Redskins’ third offensive play of the game, quarterback Mark Rypien connected on a 63-yard pass to legendary receiver Art Monk. Moments later, running back Gerald Riggs scored on a one-yard touchdown, and just like that, the rout was on.

  • By halftime, Pittsburgh trailed 17-0. After three quarters, it was 27-0.

Washington’s defense sacked Steelers  quarterback Neil O’Donnell five times and prevented the offense from crossing midfield in every drive but two until the fourth quarter.

Believe it or not, my irrational heart became filled with all sorts of crazy fantasies, when O’Donnell connected on two fourth quarter touchdown passes–a five-yarder to tight end Adrian Cooper and a 40-yard strike to Dwight Stone–to pull Pittsburgh to within 13 points.

But, as if they were simply toying with the folks at Three Rivers, the Redskins quickly reestablished that 27-point bulge, when Rypien hit receivers Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders for scores 49 and 40 yards, respectively, to make the final score 41-14 and improve their record to 11-0.

Growing up in the ’80s, I unfortunately witnessed a lot of lopsided losses by the home team–including a 51-0 blowout at the hands of the Browns at Three Rivers Stadium just two years earlier–but that day against Washington was the first time I could recall feeling the Steelers simply didn’t belong on the same field as their opponent.

“They were the best team we’ve played by far,” said legendary head coach Chuck Noll, courtesy of the Washington Post. “We didn’t make first downs in the first half and couldn’t get them off the field. That was great execution on their part. When we backed off, they went in front of us. When we came up, they went over us.”

For  the day, the Redskins totaled 462 yards of offense–including 365 through the air. The magnificent receiving trio of Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders (The Posse) was the recipient of 292 of those passing yards.

Just how bad had things gotten for the once-proud Steelers franchise? The Redskins didn’t actually mean to score that final touchdown, and head coach Joe Gibbs felt bad about running up the score:

“That was not an intentional thing,” said Gibbs of the touchdown to Sanders. “If there’s anybody around I respect in the coaching profession, I’d like to be Chuck [Noll]. So I felt kind of bad. He’s got great pride and great poise and he said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that.'”

Fair enough. But the 91’ Redskins victory over the Steelers gave Joe Gibbs a 3-0 record over Chuck Noll.

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Did the 30-23 1985 Steelers Redskins Loss “Officially” Begin 80’s Mediocrity?

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

Redskins 30, Steelers 23, November 24, 1985, Three Rivers Stadium 

After reaching the AFC Championship game a year earlier, the Steelers were limping along over the first half of the 1985 season, with a 3-5 record.Quarterback Mark Malone literally was limping, after injuring his foot in a loss to the Bengals in Week 8 and would be out of action an indefinite amount of time.

However, Pittsburgh responded behind veteran David Woodley and rattled off three-straight victories to improve to 6-5. Much like a year earlier, when the Steelers won the old AFC Central with a 9-7 record, it wasn’t going to take a double-digit win total to repeat as division champions. Unfortunately, Woodley came down with a stomach virus prior to the Week 12 match-up with the Redskins at Three Rivers Stadium, and third-stringer Scott Campbell was thrust into the spotlight.

 

Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, 1985 Steelers quarterbacks

NFL.com rated the ’85 Steelers quarterbacks as 5th worst trio ever. Photo Credit: NFL.com

Things didn’t start off well, as Ken Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 95 yards down to the Pittsburgh three-yard line. Running back George Rogers finished things off by plunging in from the one-yard line to make it 7-0, Redskins before most in attendance had even found their seats.

After a 22-yard Gary Anderson field goal cut Washington’s deficit to four, the special teams onslaught continued for the visitors, when Otis Wonsley blocked a Harry Newsome punt, and the Redskins took over at the Pittsburgh 19. Moments later, Jay Schroeder, like Campbell, making his first career start, found tight end Clint Didier for an 18-yard touchdown pass to extend Washington’s lead to 14-3.

Pittsburgh trailed 17-3 in the second quarter, when Campbell threw two quick touchdown passes–one to receiver Louis Lipps for five yards, and one to running back Rich Erenberg for nine-yards–to tie the score at 17.

However, an interception by Campbell in the final moments of the first half along with a personal foul on defensive lineman Keith Willis paved the way for a 39-yard field goal for Mosley, and the Redskins led by three at the break.

Running back John Riggins scored on a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Redskins a 10-point lead. Pittsburgh’s offense could only muster a couple of Anderson field goals in the second half, as Campbell threw two more picks, and Washington held on for a 30-23 victory.

For the day, Campbell completed 15 of 25 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. “Its a tough situation to be thrown in there like that, but you’ve got to be ready to play,” said Campbell of his first career start on very short notice. 

  • The loss dropped the Steelers to 6-6, and they never recovered, finishing out of the playoffs with a 7-9 record (their first losing season in 14 years).

Whenever I think back on the early-to-mid ’80s Steelers who were still trudging along after their Super Bowl years, the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss seems signal the turning-point of the 1980’s Steelers from still competitive team to a team that flirted with being downright abysmal….

…Over the next three seasons, the Steelers team would finish with records of 6-10, 6-6 and 5-11 in non-strike games over the next three seasons. The slide into mediocrity really did start with the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss.

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Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Washington Redskins

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins includes 77 contests played over the course of 83 years.

The record reflects that the Washington holds the advantage over Pittsburgh. Overall, the Steelers record vs. the Redskins is 33-43-4. However, the Steelers are 7-4 vs. the Redskins since Chuck Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh in 1969. The Steelers 2016 season opener on Monday Night Football at FedEx Field will mark the 78 installment of this series.

Art Rooney Sr. was the polar opposite to both George Preston Marshall and Jack Kent Cooke. And about the only similarity between Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder is the their first name.

Even if the rest of Steelers Nation isn’t ready to get the pitchforks out for the Redskins, the Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins has provided a lot of memorable games – for both franchises. With the help of Tony Defeo we recount them here.

Scroll down or click on the link below.

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

1979 – Super Steelers Peak Against Redskins

November 4, 1979 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 38, Washington 7

Terry Bradshaw had his best day passing, to that point in his career. Both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught for over 100 yards, for only the second time in their careers. Chuck Noll’s offense totaled 545 yards – his best effort to that point. The Steelers scored 38 points against a Redskins team that entered the game as the stingiest defense in points allowed. It was the worst Redskins loss since 1970… And did we mention that Bradshaw missed most of the second half with a concussion?

  • If the Super Steelers of the 70’s had a single peak moment, the 1979 Redskins victory would be a candidate.

Joe Theismann describes the Redskins effort as “Embarrassing.” John Riggins conceded to John Clayton, then of the Pittsburgh Press:

They’re the defending Super Bowl Champs, and they’re playing at the top of their game now. You expect them to when November rolls around. That’s when the giants tart to wake from their slumber. They were awake today.

Indeed, in addition to the touchdown John Stallworth’s two touchdowns, Terry Bradshaw threw scores to Bennie Cunningham and Randy Grossman, while Rick Moser (who?) scored the Steelers final touchdown. Donnie Shell and Mel Blount both recorded interceptions.

The win over Washington marked the third straight week the 1979 Steelers demolished a playoff contender, with victories over Denver and Dallas preceding it, followed by another win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Key Takeaway from Steelers vs Washington Redskins History: 2 weeks later the 1979 Steelers fell 35-7, suffering their worst defeat in San Diego at the hands of Don Coryell, whose offense was coached by a then-obscure offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs….

1985 – Redskins “Officially” Send Steelers into 80’s Mediocrity Era

November 24, 1985 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 23

The 1984 Steelers had shocked the NFL by winning the AFC Central, upsetting John Elway at Mile High in the Divisional Playoff game and knocking on heaven’s door by reaching the AFC Championship. 1985 started with the bang of Mark Malone’s 5 touchdown game vs. the Colts. But that win was led to a 3-5 record at midseason, when a Malone injury led to David Woodley getting the starting nod, who led Pittsburgh to 3 straight wins.

  • Unfortunately, stomach flu would sideline Woodley, forcing Scott Campbell into his first NFL action.

Change was also the watch word in Washington. A week before Lawrence Taylor had sacked Joe Theismann, knocking out of the game and ending his career. Jay Schroeder responded by rallying the Redskins to victory, and started his first game against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.

Scott Campbell played a respectable first half, connecting with Louis Lipps and Rich Erenberg to tie the score at the half. However, the Redskins owned the second half, with the Steelers only managing two Gary Anderson field goals as John Riggins ran for a touchdown, while Mark Mosley knocked in two more.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1985 loss to the Redskins dropped the Steelers record to 6-6, signaling 7-9 finish and introducing an era of Pittsburgh would find itself mired in mediocrity.

1988 – Young Steelers Suffer Serious Growing Pains vs. Redskins

September 11, 1988 @ RFK Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 29

Chuck Noll’s 1988 Steelers won the franchise’s first game without Art Rooney Sr. a week earlier against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. Could this young Steelers team upset the Super Bowl champions?

  • For 3 and 3/4 quarters, the 1988 Steelers teased that they could.

Bubby Brister showcased his rocket like arm and his mobility. First hitting Louis Lipps on an 80 pass were Lipps burned future Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Brister then scrabbled for a touchdown, although mistake that proved costly, Harry Newsome bobbled the snap, and the Steelers missed the extra point.

The Redskins pulled a point ahead as the fourth quarter began, but Brister hit Dwight Stone over the middle, Stone zinged past Wilber Marshall and ran 70 yards untouched for a touchdown. Gary Anderson knocked in his 3rd field goal of the game. Midway through the 4th quarter, the Steelers had a nine point lead…

…Yet, in what would be a recurring theme during the 1988 season, Tony Dungy’s defense failed to defend a 4th quarter lead. The Redskins scored quickly on a 74 yard drive, and then Darrell Green returned a punt 13 yards to the Steelers 44, setting up an easy field goal drive.

Just how bad was the Steelers defense? After the game Doug Williams confided in Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I played terrible in the first half. The offensive line gave me time, and I wasn’t doing my job.” For the record, Williams had what was then a second best passing day for a Redskins quarterback completing 30 of 52 passes for 430 yards.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1988 Steelers would lose several close games like this. But the great individual efforts that powered those “almost wins” revealed that these Steelers had real potential, something that the 1989 Steelers would realize. None of that was apparent as Pittsburgh finished 1988 at 5-11.

1991 – Redskins Render Steelers as Road Kill on Ride to Super Bowl XXVI

November 17th, 1991 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins both entered the 1991 season with something to prove. In 1990, the Redskins had gone fallen in the NFC Divisional Playoffs a 49ers team that many assumed were en route to their 5th Super Bowl.

  • The loss carried extra sting in Washington, because only a few years before, it was the Redskins, and not the 49ers who’d been dubbed “The team of the 80’s.”

Although 80’s were over, another Super Bowl would put Redskins back in the conversation.

In contrast, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers had shocked the world, overcoming a disastrous start and a regular season that saw them shut out 3 times, only to see them make the playoffs and upset the Oilers in the Astrodome. In 1990 however, the Steelers limped to a 9-7 record, as inconsistency and an inability to win divisional games cost them a playoff game. Steelers Digest Bob Labriola editor remarked that 1990 marked the year the Steelers had either learned to win or to lose games.

  • The Steelers entered 1991 hoping to prove that learned to win.

Sadly, by the time the Redskins arrived at Three Rivers Stadium in week 11, Washington already had an 11-0 record, while Steelers held a 4-6 record, which wasn’t nearly as good as it looked.

The Redskins trashed the Steelers that day, as a Mark Rypien to Art Monk 63 yard hookup led to a 1 yard Gerald Riggs touchdown just four plays into the game. By half time the Redskins led 17-0. After three quarters the Redskins led 27-0.

  • Then the Steelers did what those 1990 and 1991 Chuck Noll teams did all too well – the teased.

Neil O’Donnell hooked up with Adrian Cooper and then Dwight Stone early in the 4th quarter to cut the
Redskin’s lead to 13. Suddenly, it seemed like the Steelers had a chance. Of course they didn’t. Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark hooked up with Rypein from 49 and 40 yards to reestablish the Redskin’s 27 point margin.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Chuck Noll may hold a 2-1 advantage over Bill Walsh, but the Emperor was 0-3 vs. Joe Gibbs, a statistic that reveals just how great of a coach Joe Gibbs was – and that comes from someone who grew up actively rooting against Gibbs’ Redskins.

1997 – 3 Scappy Steelers Interceptions Seal the Deal

September 7, 1997 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13

Just like in 1988, Pittsburgh opened the season with back-to-back games against Dallas and Washington. And like 1988, the Steelers were facing a Cowboys Super Bowl coach who would ultimately be heading into his final campaign. But unlike 1988, the Dallas Cowboys had come into Three Rivers Stadium, trashing the Steelers to the tune of 37-7.

  • So the Redskins arrived in Pittsburgh facing a Steelers team looking for a comeback to defuse the “Free Agency is ruining the Steelers” stories that were a stable of 1990’s.

The Steelers got their comeback win, but the outcome was in doubt until the final gun. For the record, Kordell Stewart rushed for one touchdown, to open the scoring and Jerome Bettis closed it with another touchdown. But the Steelers defense wrote the real story of the game.

Twice in the first half Gus Frerotte led the Washington deep into the Red Zone, and twice Pittsburgh’s defense picked off his pass in the end zone, with Darren Perry and Levon Kirkland splitting the honors. Following Bettis’ touchdown, Frerotte ripped off a perfect pass to Michael Westbrook, only to have Randy Fuller, he of 1995 AFC Championship fame, deflected the pass.

The Redskins had one final chance following the 2 minute warning and threatened to reach field goal range when Jason Gildon tipped a pass that Chris Oldham picked off, ending the game.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: This game established the 1997 Steelers as a scrappy, team that could rally to beat just about anyone during the regular season.

2000 – Steelers Scalp Redskins to Close Three Rivers Stadium

December 16, 2000 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3

If ever there was a case study in contrast to who Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder run their franchises, the Steelers 2000 victory over the Redskins offers the perfect example.

The 2000 off season marked Daniel Snyder’s first full year as Redskins owner, and he made no bones about breaking from the past. Upon assuming control of the team, Snyder summarily fired dozens of Redskins first office workers, many secretaries and administrative staff, some who’d had decades of service to the team.

  • That meant less to Snyder than showing everyone a new chief was in charge.

The offseason also saw Snyder the first of many off season Lombardi Trophies by signing any and every big name free agent the Redskins could fit under their salary cap. Washingtonians drank the Kool-Aid. Deion Sanders signing earned a front page story in the Washington Post and 2 and a quarter full pages from the sports section. Fans called into radio shows predicting an undefeated season.

Prior to the season opener, an owner at the Wheaton Athletic Club remarked to a patron, “…I’m tired of hearing about Tampa’s injured players. A win is going to be a win.” The client’s response, “Yeah. And a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl.”

  • Given that the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, Redskins fans figured the final game at Three Rivers Stadium would be a road sign route to Lombardi number 4. If they thought of it at all.

By reality unfolds at its own pace. The 2000 Steelers started 0-3, but rallied with 5 straight wins and held a 7-7 record heading into their matchup against Washington. Meanwhile, at 7-6 but on a two game losing streak, Snyder fired Norv Turner. Before the Steelers game, interim coach Terry Robiskie was forced to admit that he’d need to clear any quarterback changes with Snyder.

  • The game itself was a work of beauty. A better send off for Three Rivers Stadium could not be had.

Jerome Bettis rumbled for 104 yards, and Deion Sanders pulled back rather than try to tackle. Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington intercepted Jeff George, Snyder’s anointed starter, two times while future Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson watched from the bench.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: When Daniel Snyder objects to Myron Cope’s “Wash Redfaces” nickname for the Redskins, Cope mocks Snyder on the air declaring: “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint.”

2004 – Jerome Bettis Ties Franco Harris Record for 100 Yard Games

November 28th, 2004 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 16, Washington 10

Joe Gibbs return from retirement heading into the 2004 season was one of the biggest stories, as one of the most underrated coaches (nationally) would seek to revive the fortunes of a once proud fantasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers, following their 6-10 2003 campaign, were supposed to be in “Rebuilding” mode, as rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was to get an apprentice year behind Tommy Maddox.

  • But of course things seldom workout as planned.

The Steelers entered their week 12 matchup vs. Washington with a 9-1 record, while Gibbs Redskins had a 3-7 mark. But again, what looked to be a mismatch on paper, turned out to be something very different in reality.

The 2004 Redskins defense was deceptively good, holding the Steelers to a 13-0 lead at half time, thanks to two Jeff Reed Field goal and a Jerome Bettis touchdown (set up by a Antwaan Randle El punt return.) In the third quarter the Redskins made it look like they’d give Pittsburgh a run for their money, as Patrick Ramsey hooked up with Chris Cooley to make the score 13-7.

But another Jeff Reed Field goal, followed by a Deshea Townsend put the game out of reach as on a day where Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith teamed to sack Patrick Ramsey 5 times.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: With his 4ths straight 100 yard game, Jerome Bettis tied Franco Harris’ franchise record for 100 yard games. Not bad for a player supposedly getting a “scholarship” year.

2008 – Steelers Nation Anexxes over Fed ExField

November 3, 2008 @ FedEx Field
Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6

For a Steelers fan who grew up in Metro Washington DC subjected to an endless stream of “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No,” “Then you’re a Cowboy in Redskins territory….” The Steelers 2008 Monday night win at FedEx Field was a portrait of glory.

Fans forget in hindsight that this game did not start out well for the Steelers. Bob Ligashesky’s special teams botched a surprise on-sides kick to open the game, followed by another Steelers turnover deep in their own territory. Redskins fans at FedEx Field were fired up, as Washington led for the first 29:28 of the first half until Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers ahead with a rushing touchdown.

  • With Byron Leftwich taking over for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense took over.

James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Eason, Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, who saw his first extended action – at outside linebacker, combined for 7 sacks, and Tyrone Carter end a Jason Campbell streak of 271 passes without an interception.

Best of all, before it was all over, Steelers fans had taken over FedEx Field to the point where the Redskins were forced to use a silent count.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Jim Zorn’s Redskins were 5-2 heading into the game, looking to make “statement.” Instead, the Steelers made a statement that they were serious Super Bowl contenders.

2012 – Dick LeBeau Schools RGIII

October 12, 2012 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 27, Washington 12

In 2012 Robert Griffith III, or RG3 was a rookie sensation that was shaking the NFL. After just 7 games pundit were already saying that RG3 was doing what Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb had promised to do in earlier generations – prove that you could win big with a non-pocket passer.

  • Worse yet, the Steelers 2012 defense had been shaky, having failed to protect 4th quarter leads on 3 separate occasions.

Dick LeBeau answered by unleashing his defensive backs on the Redskins wide receivers, and the Steelers corners and safeties hit hard. This led to numerous drops on the part of the Redskins’ receivers. On offense, Todd Haley did his best Ron Ernhart impression, as the Steelers fed the ball to Jonathan Dwyer and dominated time of possession, keeping the ball for over 33 minutes as the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Dick LeBeau improves his record to 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks. For the Record RGIII finished the day 16-34-177, 1 touchdown and 8 yards rushing. Need we say more?

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Season Preview: Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes Depend on Defense’s Improvement

The Pittsburgh Steelers quest for Lombardi Number 7 begins on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins. Many already peg Pittsburgh as AFC if not Super Bowl favorites. But journalists don’t award Lombardi trophies, teams win them. So the question must be asked:

  • Are the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes legit?

Yes, Pittsburgh Steelers begin 2016 legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But, as Bill Cowher demonstrated in the 90’s, the chasm that separates contenders from champions is far wider than the one that splits pretenders from contenders.

The good news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the talent to leap that chasm. But contrary to conventional wisdom, the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes depend on their defense….

steelers 2016 super bowl hopes, stephon tuitt, ryan shazier, keith butler defense, steelers defense

Improvement by defenders like Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier might key the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes. Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons, USA Today Sports

Steelers 2016 Offense – Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men….

235 days ago it all seemed so simple.

Against the hostile environs of Mile High Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers had fallen a fumble and a failed stop on a 3rd and 12 conversion short of beating the future Super Bowl champions Denver Broncos.

Yes, “The Standard is the Standard.” Mike Tomlin’s Steelers don’t do moral victories. But Pittsburgh’s “almost upset” came against the NFL’s best defense with Ben Roethlisberger playing below 100%, without Antonio Brown, without Maurkice Pouency, without DeAngelo Williams, and without Le’Veon Bell. Moreover, in consecutive playoff games Martavis Bryant had proven he could deliver.

  • Yes, it seemed simple.

Pittsburgh’s skill players would return to full health, and in 2016 the Steelers would field a fully armed and operational Death Star-like offense. Yes, 235 days ago it all seemed simple.

But then Heath Miller retired. And Martavis Bryant got suspended. Again. And Ladarius Green landed on the PUP. And Le’Veon Bell got suspended. Again. Suddenly, things aren’t quite so simple.

  • Make no mistake Steelers Nation, the Steelers offense will not regress in 2016.

If the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece vs. New Orleans offers any indication, Pittsburgh’s offense will be plenty potent in 2016. But realistically, the Steelers won’t field the type of offensive juggernaut that both fans and coaches envisioned last January.

  • For starters, the Steelers are a mess at tight end.

Ladarius Green was supposed to give the Steelers offense another vertical threat. Instead, he’s yet to catch a pass in practice from Ben Roethlisberger. Jesse James has shown some ability to catch the ball, but he’s a long, long way from matching Heath Miller’s uncanny dependability.

At this point labeling Jesse James’ blocking as “suspect” is charitable at this point. David Johnson is a better blocker and can perhaps provide some relief, but this is one case where quantity can’t make up for quality. And that’s a reality that will impact both the passing and the running game.

  • But the Steelers are hardly doomed on offense.

Assuming the Steelers stay relatively healthy on both the offensive line and at the skill positions, Pittsburgh should have the weapons to overcome their apparent weakness at tight end.

The 2016 Steelers will field an offense that is worthy of a legitimate Lombardi contender. But the offense will need help if Pittsburgh is to win its 7th Lombardi Trophy.

Defensive Improvements Drive Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes

At the beginning of the 2011 season Warren Sapp derided the Steelers defense as “Old, slow and done.” The Pittsburgh Steelers defense starts 2016 “Young, deep, and hungry.” Statisticians can quibble over whether and how much the Steelers defense improved from 2014 to 2015. But there’s one reality no one can dispute:

  • Keith Butler’s defense brought the big play back to Pittsburgh.

Measured in pure numbers, the 2015 Steelers 30 takeaways and 47 sacks were dramatic improvements over 2014. But more importantly, Keith Butler’s defenders revealed an uncanny ability to make splash plays with games on the line or when the opponent threatened in the Red Zone.

Steel Curtain Rising makes no apologies for defending Dick LeBeau, but the truth is his last several defenses had been starved for turnovers. In 2015, the defensive take away, once again became a weapon in the Steelers offensive arsenal.

  • It isn’t enough, however, for Keith Butler to find a way for the Steelers defense to continue these trends.

If the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes are to come true, the Steelers defense must improve on third downs. Turnovers were spare Dick LeBeau final years, but the Steelers defense ranked 10th on third down in 2014 and 5th on third down in 2012. Last season, the Steelers fell 21st on 3rd down. Not unrelated to that troubling trend is the struggle the Steelers had in stopping tight ends in 2015.

  • It says here that Keith Butler’s front seven will be up to the task.

Yes, Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave are nursing injuries. Yes Bud Dupree is on the injured reserve. But the Steelers have the depth to compensate at linebacker and on the defensive line. Ricardo Mathews provides an immediate upgrade from Cam Thomas, and Daniel McCullers should also deliver more in his third season.

  • During the past off season Bob Labrolia remarked that the “over previous couple of seasons, the Steelers had an obscene wealth of depth at inside linebacker.”

With Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, Steven Johnson and Tyler Matakevich backing up Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, the 2016 Steelers may actually be deeper at linebacker. On the outside, losing Bud Dupree hurts, but the Steelers should be able to pressure the passer by James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones and yes, Anthony Chickillo.

Steelers Secondary Gamble is Primary Factor in Super Bowl Success

Outside of William Gay and Ross Cockrell, the Steelers will field a completely new complement of cornerbacks in 2016. So be it. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin ripped their depth chart at cornerback to shreds following the 2015 season.

  • To put this into perspective, when the Steelers cut Doran Grant, he of one defensive snap, they cut their most experienced backup cornerback.

Given that neither Cortez Allen, nor Brandon Boykin, nor Grant holds a spot on an active NFL roster, no one in the NFL has second guessed his move. Still, attempting to completely rebuild the bottom 3 slots of your cornerback depth cart with untested talent counts as a bold move. The Steelers need this move to work. Put simply:

Carnell Lake must employ some combination of Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Justin Gilbert to improve the Steelers pass defense.

The Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes depend on it.

A Word about Tomlin and the Trap Games

Criticizing Mike Tomlin’s teams for giving up trap games has become somewhat cliché in Steelers Nation. Sure, 23 of Mike Tomlin’s 52 losses have come to teams with losing records. But he’s also won 92 games and many of those came against winning teams. Which would you trade for?

  • Fair enough.

But remember that in 2008 the Steelers dropped contests to the Colts, Giants, Titans and Eagles – all playoff teams, while cleaning up in the games they were “supposed to win.” The 2008 Steelers of course also won both contests against the Ravens. Those later two facts gave the Steelers a much-needed bye and home field advantage in the playoffs.

  • The fact is trap games trip up Mike Tomlin teams just as overconfidence self-destructed so many Steelers squads during the Cowher-Donahoe era.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl window remains open, but it’s closing nears with each season, and that means that Mike Tomlin must find a way to keep his team from playing down to the competition.

If he can do that, and if the front seven builds on its progress it made in 2015, and if the secondary can achieve respectability, then the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes can be a reality, and Pittsburgh can climb the Stairway to Seven.

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