The Pittsburgh Steelers are at the top of their division, the AFC North, with a 5-2 record. The Steelers are just coming off a devastating loss to the defending world champions New York Giants and have left every fan puzzled and asking themselves, "What the f*** was that?"
The Steelers should have easily won the Week Eight game; however, there is no time to look into the past. The Steelers have to use this week to prepare for their matchup on Monday night against the NFC East contending Washington Redskins.
The Redskins stand at 6-2 and have demonstrated a few strengths and weaknesses amongst their eight games. The Steelers will have to come out strong and confident if they want to win Monday night—completely opposite of last week.
Here are the keys to victory.
1. Protect Big Ben
Obviously, the top of everybody's list. Ben has been on his backside for more than 50 percent of his pass attempts, due to his tendency to hang on to the ball for too long and the lack of pass-blocking talent on the offensive line. The Redskins' defense does not have many sacks and does not have a strong pass rush.
The Steelers should not have that hard of a time protecting Ben, but don't cross your fingers, because this factor could determine the game.
2. Contain Clinton Portis
Clinton Portis is the NFL's top rusher so far this year, racking up an average of 145 yards a game. Portis has been a very reliable weapon for the 'Skins this year and will continue to be throughout the season. The Steelers are the No. 2 run-stopping defense this year, as seen in the NY game when they held Brandon Jacobs to only 47 yards.
The Steelers' defense will need to play physical at the line the whole game to ensure a shutdown of the Redskins' run offense, in an attempt to make them one-dimensional. That brings me to my next point.
3. Keep the Defense Off the Field
The Steelers have struggled with this, especially last week (funny how everything alludes to last week). Time of possession is a key factor the offense needs to grasp. Two positive results occur: Not only does the opponent's defense get worn out, but your own defense can rest.
The Steelers' defense was on the field for the majority of the game last week, and yes, they played well, but their play slowly digressed throughout the second half. Willie Parker should be back, so the running game should be back to full strength (not saying that Mewelde Moore hasn't filled his shoes) and able to run clock off.
4. Establish the Running Game
Something the Steelers haven't done quite that much this year, mostly because of injuries and tough run defenses. This game seems a perfect time to get the running game back into full swing. Willie Parker is healthy, and Mewelde Moore has been playing phenomenal.
Tie that in with the fact that Washington isn't a top-ranked run defense, and it begs for the Steelers to run. Go back to the Cowher and Bettis era, and run, run, run. That's what this offensive line is built for. Run blocking, not pass blocking.
5. Foot To the Throat
Do not let up. The Steelers seemed to create a habit of starting strong and letting up (just like the Pitt Panthers). Ariens needs to establish control and then put the game away.
Mewelde Moore capped off the first drive with a big run of 32 yards last week in the first half, and then the Steelers' defense got quiet. Nate Washington caught a big pass of 65 yards to open the second half, and then the offense got quiet again.
Don't let up; put them away, don't give them a chance to come back. No lead is safe if you remember the Oilers-Bills game in 1992 when the Oilers had a 35-3 at the half and blew it.
6. Ben, You Can Run
Something Ben has established very well in past seasons is his ability to scramble out of the pocket and run for yardage. Recently, Ben has stayed in the pocket and has either taken hits or rushed his throws and tried to force them into tight coverage. There have been many opportunities for him this year, and last week, to run out of the pocket for the first down.
7. Secondary Is Primary
Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El have been explosive targets and weapons for the Redskins and Jason Campbell this year. Between Moss's ability as a deep threat and Randle El's slot-receiver capability and gadget-play versatility, the Steelers' secondary will have a busy day.
Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend will have to play physical, Mel Blount style, and utilize Troy Polamalu and Anthony Smith/Tyrone Carter as insurance to close on the deep routes to disrupt the pass. And Anthony, if you do play, don't guarantee a win.
On another note, I would find it very amusing to see Antwaan Randle El try a gadget play, and I wouldn't doubt seeing it. Look for Mike Tomlin to fire the team up in front of the national audience Monday night and for them to come out and set the tone.