Justin K. Aller
The Steelers hit hard and played sound, disciplined defense in their 27-12 win over Washington in Week 8, writes Neal Coolong. We highlight a few examples of that in our weekly play breakdown feature.
Several plays stand out, but we chose three as excellent examples of the unabashed physicality of Pittsburgh's defense as well as the discipline that several teams failed to employ against the Redskins offense, much to their detriment.
It's the fourth quarter with 12:49 left on the game clock. The Redskins have the ball on Pittsburgh's 19 yard line on third and 11.
Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is looking for something deeper down the right sideline, but has underneath options in his progression. The Steelers' four man rush, though, doesn't allow him to get to it.
The play is designed to have defensive end Brett Keisel get in Griffin's middle passing window - an area of the field Griffin had been utilizing frequently in this game. Keisel is tall and has long arms, and while he's pushing the pocket back into Griffin, he's looking at him, keeping his arms high on his blocker so he can quickly get them in the air to bat down any pass attempt.
Larry Foote, though, makes all of that effort moot, and to the Steelers' benefit. The Redskins roll their blocking inward, and leave running back Evan Royster alone to block Foote, who's coming off the offensive left edge on a blitz.
Royster aims for Foote's inside shoulder, basically giving him the entire edge. Foote sees this just as Royster commits to his block. It's a simple sidestep move, and Foote lands on Griffin with little preventing him from doing so.
Foote is having an outstanding year rushing the passer, which is why he's pushing the edge instead of James Harrison, who drops into coverage. We mentioned at great length before the 2012 NFL Draft the abilities of Dont'a Hightower in a similar role. While we'll probably never know whether the Steelers' choice, if David DeCastro wasn't on the board, was Hightower, but the way Foote is being used suggests they wanted to incorporate their inside linebackers more on the edge.
The sack forced a long field goal, but the Redskins were able to convert it. However, for a defense that's being dogged for not making splash plays, ones like this one stand out for when they came in the game (fourth quarter) and where they came on the field (in the red zone and on third and long).
It's later in the fourth quarter, 5:05 left on game clock. The Redskins have the ball on second-and-10 from Pittsburgh's 17 yard line. Another second half red zone opportunity for Washington, who's now in a very urgent situation.
As they did a few times in this game, they look to trick the Steelers into overpursuing Griffin - a threat to run the ball at any time. The key to playing misdirection football is to suck in the edge defenders.
When those edge defenders don't suck, though, the play can be blown up for a substantial loss.
Off the snap, Griffin shows a bootleg to the right side of the field, and with guard and the tackle (the Redskins were unbalanced on the right side) releasing off the right side, it strongly indicated a quarterback draw.
Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger is the lead blocker, and after he sees Keisel's face cross his to his right, expecting Keisel to pursue the play in the direction of the fake, and releases to block LB Lawrence Timmons.
Keisel, again playing that middle passing window, sees the potential draw, but after seeing Lichtensteiger release, he doesn't chase the fake. He stays home, sees the play is a screen on the left side to tight end Logan Paulsen, who has zero chance of escaping.
A heads-up play by the veteran Keisel, and with the Steelers having chased multiple receivers down the field, they may not have been in position to prevent a first down run after catch by Paulsen.
In the second quarter, with 4:28 left on the game clock, the Redskins have the ball on third-and-4 from their 43 yard line.
The game is spiraling out of control for Washington, and they're desperate to land a big play somewhere down the field. Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan clearly felt, going into this game, he would be able to catch the Steelers out of position, mostly due to the dynamic talents of his quarterback.
While there's no confirmation of this, it's a good bet they'll eliminate the quarterback throwback pass from their game plan for the remainder of the season.
It did not fool cornerback Ike Taylor, nor did it trick free safety Ryan Clark. The veteran defensive backs combined forces to draw offensive pass interference, nearly get an interception and lay a savage hit on Washington's franchise quarterback - without him having gained a yard.
Taylor recovered quickly upon recognizing the trick play - WR Josh Morgan would throw to Griffin who rolled out on the offensive left side. The play itself seemed to be run fairly smoothly - maybe just a little too slowly. Likely, Shanahan's thought was, if nothing else, he'd get the ultra-athletic Griffin locked on Taylor outside the numbers - an area where Taylor has struggled in the past.
Taylor fights off Griffin's shove (which drew a flag), and rallied to nearly make an interception. This was before Clark came in from the middle of the field, and delivered the hit of the game on the exposed quarterback.
Griffin appeared a little dizzy upon standing up, even clapping his hands as if the flag would be called on the defense.
The Steelers hit the Redskins hard all day, none probably as hard as Clark hit Griffin on this play.
It's the third quarter, 12:51 left on the game clock, and the Redskins have the ball ball on 2nd and 12 from their 33 yard line. Griffin scrambles out of the pocket, but doesn't find a receiver anywhere.
Safety Will Allen is in hot pursuit, and Griffin wisely flicks the ball out of bounds, saving the sack.
Allen gives Griffin a shove just as he releases the ball, and his momentum carries him into his sideline, landing on top of an unidentified Redskins coach and player.
Griffin hops up, seemingly to say something to Allen, who had turned around and was headed back on the field. James Harrison, who was also in pursuit of the play, had followed it all the way over to the sideline.
Griffin doesn't appear to see Harrison, and is moving toward Allen when smacks into Harrison, moving him back a step. Harrison seems more interested in keeping the peace, and Griffin quickly calms down.
Not confronting Harrison was the smartest decision Griffin made all game.