I originally had a longer list working, but in the end I distilled it down to three keys. Well...four, actually. Couldn't help myself.
See if you don't agree.
1. Jason Campbell
Campbell will need to take another step up. His overall play this year has been above reproach—his zero interceptions reflect excellent decision-making with the ball. But that care has not come without a cost.
The kind of quick-strike touchdowns that can break close, defensive games open rarely come from conservative decisions; they more often than not come from bold downfield forays to receivers that are, by conservative standards, “covered.”
I’ve been watching Campbell closely for signs of finding enough of a comfort level in the new passing scheme—and in Jim Zorn’s trust factor—to start taking some chances downfield...and my instinct is telling me the Redskins will need him to take the risk tonight. Ball control and field goals won’t be enough.
2. Avoid the Slow Start
The Redskins have developed a troubling habit of winning the yardage and time of possession battles early, but failing to turn them into points. That won’t cut it tonight either. Falling behind by more than a score against a pass-rush-happy team like Pittsburgh, particularly with a slowed or absent Chris Samuels on Jason Campbell’s blind side, could be too much to overcome.
Here’s hoping the Redskins come out swinging from the opening whistle and are the ones to set the early tone—not the other way around, as has been the case since the Philadelphia game in week four.
3. Catch the Damn Ball
There will be opportunities for Redskins defenders to pick off Ben Roethlisberger tonight—off deflections at the line of scrimmage, and on the kind of attacking passes mentioned above. Roethlisberger is not shy about taking risks with the ball or forcing it into coverage.
In what shapes up as a classic defensive slugfest (now watch this one end 38-35), turnovers and field position will almost certainly be the difference. Washington simply cannot continue to let those opportunities slip through their fingers—not tonight.
And one to grow on:
4. Smack ‘Em in the Mouth
Pittsburgh is one of the few teams in the league that comes into a game with a reputation that can have a tangible impact on the result. Baltimore and Philadelphia have earned it with their defense over the past decade. The Raiders used to have it before a decade of Al Davis’s ridiculous excesses frittered it away.
And the Pittsburgh Steelers most definitely have it, having managed to keep it alive for 30 years since crafting it during their magical run in the '70s.
Tonight, on their home field, under the bright lights of Monday Night Football’s national stage, the Redskins must match the intensity and physicality you can be sure Pittsburgh will bring to the table. And they need to do it right from the start.
What holds true for the schoolyard bully holds true at the highest level of sport—the way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and make it clear you’re not backing down. And if that’s not enough, you smack him in the mouth and let him know you’re going to be there all day.
Tonight’s game is a great opportunity for the Redskins to take the next step; to go from “surprising first half story” to “team to be reckoned with" down the stretch.
Losing to the Steelers wouldn’t be a disaster—at 6-3, Washington would still be in prime position to make a playoff run. But it would be a huge missed opportunity to announce to the league—and more importantly, themselves—that they are now one of those teams you’d better have your chinstrap locked down tight against from the opening gun.
Nike had it right, Redskins.
Just do it.