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Steelers vs. Redskins First Half Review: Offensive line, defense physical in building lead

In review of the first half of the Steelers' 27-12 win over Washington in Week 8, the play of the offensive line and the physicality of the defense stood out.

Justin K. Aller

Had to be the best half of football this team has played all season. More than anything, it was physical. Defensively, most of the passes were fiercely contested, and the offense moved at a pace and rhythm that strongly suggested they were far more prepared than their adversaries.

Just some outstanding football in the first 30 minutes. Here are my thoughts upon watching the first half a second time.

  • Ya know, I won't lie. I like these jerseys with the pads on. Well, "like" is a strong word. There's an absence of hate with these jerseys with pads on. Maybe it was just Redman's modeling.
  • How outstanding was this opening drive? Various different formations, it felt like the whole route tree was covered, lots of guys involved, great pass protection (zero help given to Mike Adams, unless you count Mike Wallace in motion and landing at the right tight end position for the sake of being a decoy and a Baron Batch chip when Adams pushed the defender out wide as "help"). Roethlisberger is dialed into this offense.
  • Not patting myself on the back, but this is what I was referred to when I said this team will be very tough to beat over the second half of the year. It was obvious the offense needed time to gel. While many were happy with how they performed in a few of those games, I wasn't. They still left points on the field.
  • And guess what? They left points on the field Sunday too. But probably a few less than past games. Each quarter gets a little better, and that's absolutely perfect.
  • The Redskins' second play of the game, a zone stretch run to the defensive right side, three Redskins defenders faced the opposite direction at one point. James Harrison completely destroyed his blocker, as did Brett Keisel. CB Keenan Lewis spun TE Chris Cooley around, and got credited with the tackle. Possibly the defensive play of the game.
  • I'll get to savaging Antonio Brown soon enough, but he's got to be one of the best punt returners in the game. Granted, we don't get to see that on the stat sheet due to the massive amount of penalties this unit has picked up particularly recently, but he's such a patient runner. Picks his spots and is insanely quick. I'll take a 10 yard punt return every time.
  • No one's going to like that Emmanuel Sanders reverse pass, particularly not after such a dominant opening drive. We won't know how well Sanders can throw the ball, and if we're going to scrape the silver lining out of the cloud on that play, it's that teams will now have to prepare for a pass on end-arounds run to two Steelers receivers. That could be useful. In reality though it counts as a sack, although it shouldn't go against the offensive line. Linebacker Perry Riley recognized it, knifed in and got to Sanders, slowing him up and allowing Ryan Kerrigan to clean up.
  • Great throw by Roethlisberger, great catch by Mike Wallace on third and long. I'm thinking he wasn't the primary on that play, hence the reason he wasn't at the sticks, but it got them into field goal range. Or perhaps that was the goal. Either way, Roethlisberger had all day to throw, and delivered a gem to Wallace, who made a tough catch in traffic.
  • For all the praise we've given Todd Haley, particularly recently (and rightly so), Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has done a magnificent job, and, with the exception of what seems to me like a few poorly timed gimmick plays, called an exceptional game, and has all season.
  • I'm not sure if they give just a general Coordinator of the Year award, or if there's one for offense and defense (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but the top three candidates right now has to be Haley, Shanahan and Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
  • There's evidence on the end zone pass to Dezmon Briscoe showing Lewis deflected it before it got to his hands. Again, this really depends on which school you come from, but that stat-tracker I was trained as in my younger years says that's not a drop.
  • My useless opinion, the Redskins dropped six passes in this game. And a tip for the future, any time a team is credited with 10 drops in a game, something's possibly wrong. Even in pouring rain, that's an insanely huge number.
  • It's really hard to watch this defense, despite everyone's gnashing of teeth and general peaked anxiety, and not think a healthy Troy Polamalu shuts this zone running crap down.
  • Defensive team stats are the trickiest to take at face value. Obviously, Washington's receivers struggled to hang onto the ball, but a team's offense affects its defensive stats. The Redskins didn't have more yards because they didn't have the ball nearly as long. All credit to the Redskins, though, this running game is legit. Not a whole lot of teams are really going to stop this.
  • As far as the passing goes, I'm going to keep leaning on the fact the Steelers defenders - Lewis in particular - competed on the vast majority of Griffin's passes. That's Steelers defense. Don't let yourself believe the drops were everything, or "allowing" completions or where a defensive back lines up on third down is the ultimate factor of success or failure. They got to the guy catching the ball a fraction of a second after the ball arrived. I'll take that defense all day. A really good secondary gets credited with around 90-100 passes defensed in a season, and give up probably three times as many completions. The key difference is in yards after the catch. The Steelers didn't allow many in this game.
  • Ya think the Redskins are terrified of the Steelers' receivers in man coverage? I swear Cedric Griffin realized he was locked in man on Antonio Brown, and decided it would be wiser to take a five yard penalty instead of surrendering a 15-yard gain. There's no way he can cover Brown in man.
  • Most of Spare Tire's runs in the first half, he isn't even challenged until he's two yards down the field. Just an absolutely dominant performance by the Steelers' interior offensive line.
  • Speaking of blocking, the Steelers run their soon-to-be-patented bubble screen to Brown, and Miller doesn't touch anyone. He couldn't, because Sanders cleared out the defender with perfect block, springing Brown for a first down run. They run so many variations of that play, they can still run it with great success four times a game.
  • Chris Rainey didn't pull up thinking Roethlisberger was going to run. He didn't take his eye of the ball. He simply dropped it. Gotta haul that in, kid. You made a helluva nice cut, and you probably would have scored.
  • An open note to whomever is collecting film for potential Steelers All Pro players, please use Roethlisberger's pass to Miller for his sixth touchdown of the year as reasons for both of their inclusion. Roethlisberger does an excellent job of escaping the pocket with his eyes down the field, and Miller sees the lane Roethlisberger's movement created. Perfect example of how Roethlisberger gets receivers open with his eyes and legs more than just his arm. And Miller read it the whole way. That's just tough to stop. Plain and simple.
  • Wow, Griffin really missed that deep pass to Logan Paulsen. We may be quick to blame James Harrison on that play, but Lewis went with the deep post out of his zone. Harrison saw Lewis wasn't home, so he pursued the receiver well past his hook-to-curl zone. Just a well-schemed play. And a blown opportunity for the quarterback no one will blame for having any sort of piece of the loss.
  • I mentioned yesterday how Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler probably had to hide a smile after Ramon Foster picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty for a post-whistle brawl if for no other reason than seeing this team's aggression continue to increase. Consider it collateral damage. But the reaction of Steelers defensive back Carnell Lake, after Ike Taylor came very close to a ridiculous interception on the quarterback-throwback to Griffin, and after the completely clean and completely bone-jarring hit Ryan Clark put on him, all of this despite offensive pass interference, had to be sheer joy.
  • What an outstanding play by both Taylor and Clark. Griffin never had his hands on the ball. Even if he did, with the force Clark intended to deliver, it's really hard seeing how he would have held on with his feet in bounds.
  • Why did they call that play again?
  • Alright, there's the first pressure this game allowed by Adams. He got caught flat-footed on a bullrush on the Steelers' on second and seven inside Washington's 20-yard line. Kerrigan got some of Roethlisberger's arm, leading to an errant pass aimed for Miller in the end zone.
  • A leaping grab by Josh Morgan, and a big hit by Lewis. Morgan doesn't hang onto the ball. I guarantee you that's not officially tracked as a drop. He left his feet, and the ball was still a little over his head. Not a reasonable throw, especially not when getting hit while he's still in the air.
  • Rainey is just not ready to run between the tackles. He gets a draw with plenty of room, hesitates three times before letting the defender get on him, then tries to make a move. Not gonna work. If he gets the ball and just steps on the gas, he's got two yards before first contact, probably can work for another yard or two.
  • Rainey somewhat redeems himself with a nice cutblock of a rushing defensive end as Roethlisberger drills the umpire in the head with a pass. Not quite sure to whom this pass is intended, but it really doesn't seem like it'll be completed, considering how low the throw was and the fact there wasn't a receiver within 10 yards of the umpire.
  • Phenomenal kick by Drew Butler, downed by Curtis Brown at the Redskins' 1-yard line. Since Washington already ruined the chance to simply run the clock out and avoid letting the red hot Steelers offense back on the field, they're really in trouble. Fortunately for them Casey Hampton jumps offside, and they're able to kill the clock, limping into the locker room after perhaps the most savage beating they've taken in one half this year.
  • It wasn't big plays, it was a collection of shorter but powerful plays run by the Steelers offense. The physical was out in force through the first 30 minutes.
  • Second half coming soon.