Much of the outcome of this game will be determined by Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III being able to correctly identify the Steelers defense in pre-snap. But don't forget there will be two quarterbacks on the field having outstanding seasons.
The story of the Steelers' Week 8 game against Washington is about a quarterback, but it isn't the one with the Roman numerals.
The RGIII Hype Machine is growing for justified reasons, even as two-time Super Bowl winning QB Ben Roethlisberger has his best season. Robert Griffin III is playing outstanding football, and could make an argument for Offensive Player of the Year.
It wasn't too many years ago, it seems, Roethlisberger was the hyped rookie, competitively engaging in a weekly battle for overall passer rating supremacy among the establishment like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
This game, based on hype, appears to be centered around the rookie playing on the road for a 3-4 team instead of the veteran quarterback leading the Steelers to an other-worldly 53 percent third down conversion rate with the NFL's 26th-ranked running game.
Hype is exactly that; hype. Griffin has given reason for the hype to continue, but unless Griffin is planning to impact the Redskins' defense, he may play second-fiddle in this inter-conference battle.
When the Redskins have the ball
Washington's self-labeled "East Coast" offense is centered around basically a triple-option scheme in which Griffin has a handoff, pitch or throw option on the play. And he's making outstanding decisions, and guiding the Redskins to a top five offensive rank.
As far as the Steelers are concerned, recognition will be critical. Much of Griffin's option is going to be made in pre-snap, but it's not something the offensive line is necessarily aware of. They use the line to block zone (a Shanahan staple), and give the defense an immediate post-snap read of a stretch run. He can pull it back and make a throw (essentially throwing off play action), which is something they've done on 40 percent of their passes this season.
The cornerbacks and outside linebackers have to maintain coverage integrity on delayed releases from receivers. Griffin does an outstanding job of keeping his intention hidden until he spots an advantage, and exploits it.
He's as patient with it as he is athletic, and this offense will gain yards and put up points, especially if free safety Ryan Clark makes incorrect reads.
However, the Steelers can use zone coverage off the line they way they usually do, and force Griffin into an expected choice; much like the zone blitz concept is designed to do. The key is recovery. Receivers releasing late off the line could allow them to slip behind the underneath coverage, but if the linebacker is expecting that route, he'll be able to rally and make a play on the ball.
Expect a lot of movement in pre-snap from the Steelers' front seven, negating Griffin's key read on the play. He's often going off the outside linebacker, but the trick with the defense he's facing is showing the pre-snap intention. the Steelers had an interception off Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck by confusing his pre-snap look, and the Steelers will look to do a lot of that Sunday.
This is without question the most intriguing match-up in this game, and probably the best they've faced to this point. Expect Griffin to work the playclock down much like Peyton Manning did in Week 1. His comfort with what the defense is showing will be the defining point of this game.
His inability to read it, however, would be the Redskins downfall.
When the Steelers have the ball
This is Pittsburgh's most advantageous match-up this season. Washington is on the wrong side of several 1-on-1s, particularly in their secondary.
Their lack of ability to get after the passer doesn't help a secondary allowing eight yards per pass attempt (sixth-highest in the league) and 16 passing touchdowns, the most in the NFL.
It would seem Pittsburgh has a pretty significant advantage in getting the ball deep down the field, but the Steelers are more likely to looking to get the ball to their receivers in space, particularly Antonio Brown and Heath Miller - two outstanding zone coverage route-runners.
Considering the Redskins' offensive big-play ability, keeping them off the field for extended periods of time, and keeping their own defense rested, will be critical components in this game. The Steelers won't shy away from big play opportunities, but they'll be used sparingly, and likely not when they are far out of field goal range.
Even considering the success the Redskins have had in stopping the run (85 yards per game), expect the Steelers to continue to establish the run. They will need to do this to set Roethlisberger up in play action, the way he likes it.
It appears as if Jonathan Dwyer will get his second career start Sunday, and his ability to break tackles and gain tough yards, setting up manageable second and third downs for Roethlisberger, will be the key. Roethlisberger is poised to have a big game, provided he stays patient and has an offensive game plan of balance in place.