The Pittsburgh Steelers taught a master class in How to Play Football 101 on Sunday, defeating the Washington Redskins 27-12 in a near-flawless performance that showed no ill-effects from the poor weather.
Dynamic Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III looked less like a dynamo and more like a rookie facing off against the Steelers defense, and when he sat on the sidelines, he was treated to a display of passing prowess by his Pittsburgh counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers contained Griffin both on the ground and in the air. He completed just 16 of his 34 pass attempts for 177 yards and a touchdown and rushed only six times for eight yards. Redskins running back Alfred Morris, who had been averaging over 90 rushing yards per game, had just 59 on 13 carries, and no Washington wide receiver had more than 46 yards on the day.
Of course, 10 official drops by the Redskins receiving corps made the day easier for the Steelers. The rain was certainly a factor when it came to Washington's issues with the passing game, which made it all that more important that Pittsburgh successfully shut down their run game.
With no way for Griffin and his Redskins offense to move the ball effectively, the game quickly turned in the Steelers' favor. They put up 10 unanswered points in the first quarter and never once looked back.
In contrast to Griffin's day, Roethlisberger's seemed unscathed by the inclement weather. He completed 24 of his 33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns—one to tight end Heath Miller, his fifth on the year, and two others going to fullback Will Johnson and tight end Leonard Pope. He was sacked just once and had no turnovers.
The conservative, short-yardage passing game installed by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley has greatly improved Roethlisberger's accuracy. He's thrown just three interceptions this year, thanks to taking fewer risks.
Though he didn't air it out much on Sunday, due likely in part to the weather, he was still able to take advantage of the Redskins' league-worst pass defense while again managing to control the clock. The Steelers held the ball for 33:13 to the Redskins' 26:17.
Running the ball also helped to lengthen the duration of Pittsburgh's drives. For the second straight week, running back Jonathan Dwyer rushed for over 100 yards, with 107 on 17 carries and an average of 6.3 yards per rush.
Though Dwyer got the start because Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall remained sidelined with their respective injuries (a knee for Redman, an Achilles for Mendenhall), it's quite possible he retains the job even when the two one-time starters are healthy, considering how he's performed in their stead of late.
Credit, of course, has to also go to Pittsburgh's offensive line. Though, at first, Dwyer seems to be the reason for the improved run game, one must also remember that when he was tasked with the job earlier in the season, his yards per carry were not nearly what they are now.
With rookie tackle Mike Adams presently replacing the injured Marcus Gilbert, the run game has improved. What Adams sometimes appears to lack in pass protection, he more than makes up for in run-blocking, and the numbers on the ground in the last two weeks absolutely speak to that personnel move.
For the Steelers to run well for two straight weeks, for Roethlisberger to look sharp even in poor throwing conditions and for the defense to contain Washington's running and passing games, even without safety Troy Polamalu (and also Ryan Clark, who left the game with a concussion at the beginning of the second half) bodes well for the team's chances to go on a tear in the second half of the season.
Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are reeling while the Steelers seem to be surging. Wins like this aren't chance happenings, they are a sign that game plans are finally being executed as intended.
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