The Washington Redskins and the Pittsburgh Steelers could combine for approximately 180 points when the two meet Sunday in Pittsburgh. That's because the Redskins' defense matches up horribly with Pittsburgh's offense, but nobody can stop Robert Griffin III and Washington's offensive attack...and the Troy Polamalu-less Steelers might be particularly vulnerable against them.
With that in mind, here's my suggested game plan for the Redskins on both sides of the ball...
Be Very Aggressive on Offense
I never thought I'd say this, but the Pittsburgh defense doesn't do anything particularly well. They don't get a lot of takeaways or sacks, they're really struggling to get pressure, their pass coverage isn't spectacular with Ike Taylor struggling and the run defense is middle-of-the-pack.
They're smart and experienced, but they're also shorthanded and lacking speed, which could make it almost impossible for them to deal with Robert Griffin III.
In past game plans I've suggested that the 'Skins play it safer than usual with Griffin. I've seen him take far too many hits and usually prefer to see him throw a lot of quick passes to guys like Fred Davis and Santana Moss in the slot. The fact that Davis is now out isn't a major factor here, but I'm still thinking they'd be better off unleashing Griffin completely against this defense.
Ordinarily I'd fear giving Griffin the full reins of an option-oriented attack when going up against a supremely instinctual and athletic spy like Polamalu, but with the superstar safety out and with Pittsburgh entering this week ranked 30th in the league by Pro Football Focus (they're tied for 24th in the league with only 11 sacks), Washington has a perfect opportunity to let Griffin and Alfred Morris work together with the read-option to dominate a slightly depleted defensive unit.
They'd actually be smart to stay away from the slot and work back outside because nickel corner Cortez Allen has done a real good job covering receivers inside lately. Two weeks ago against Tennessee, Allen completely shut down Nate Washington. And last week, he gave up only two catches for 10 yards against the Bengals.
But Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis can be had, which means Griffin shouldn't be afraid to take some shots.
I don't necessarily think they'll be hitting on bombs all day, because that D hasn't been broken much on big plays. They've given up a league-low 10 20-plus-yard completions, in fact. But the idea is to keep them guessing and to stretch them out and then capitalize with designed runs and scrambles, as well as regular rushes from Morris.
Don't Panic on Defense
I'm sure Jim Haslett is concerned. No team in the NFL has given up more plays of 40 yards or more than Washington and that secondary has been beat for touchdowns a league-high 16 times. Eli Manning and Victor Cruz torched double coverage from that short-on-talent secondary for a way-too-easy 77-yard touchdown strike to cap Sunday's game in New York.
But against the Steelers, the Redskins have no choice but to trust the guys in their defensive backfield. They don't have the depth to make sweeping changes and they simply can't afford to sacrifice key front-seven pieces to help compensate for the lack of talent on the back end.
With Brian Orakpo out, Ryan Kerrigan struggling and now London Fletcher hurt, the 'Skins won't be able to blitz much against the Steelers because they'd become far too vulnerable against the run.
Statistically, Ben Roethlisberger is less productive when blitzed than when not blitzed, which will make it tempting to do so. But the Redskins don't have the personnel to pull it off right now. Plus, Roethlisberger is still one of the NFL's best quarterbacks under pressure in general. He has the league's fourth-highest completion percentage in such situations this season, per PFF.
Obviously pressure is still better than no pressure, but Haslett has to instead do his best to avoid those deep shots. And based on what we've seen from the Washington pass rush of late, the strategy of attempting to force the opposing quarterback to release sooner than he'd like might not be a successful one.
There's a good chance sending extra guys would backfire, further exposing defensive backs like DeAngelo Hall, Cedric Griffin and Madieu Williams, rather than helping them.
The Redskins have to accept that they're going to give up points, but they have to try to control how often that happens by keeping a pair of safeties deep, pushing the nickel often and forcing Roethlisberger to check down and go to underneath routes as much as possible.