The Washington Redskins game against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight will be decided largely by strength against strength and weakness against weakness.
The battle of strengths, the unstoppable force against the immovable object, is the Redskins' running game against the Steelers' rush defense. We all know that Clinton Portis has rushed for 120 yards or more in each of his last five games and that he leads the NFL in rushing yards. Overall the Redskins are third in the NFL is rushing, averaging 155 yards per game. Jim Zorn has been rewarded for his willingness to stick with the run even when the Skins have been behind in games.
Pittsburgh has best overall defense in the NFL (236 yards per game) and the Steelers rank third against the run (72 YPG). Last week they held the Giants to 83 yards rushing, about half of New York's season average.
The Giants, however, were able to pull out that game thanks in large part to their ability to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and sack him five times. This was not a surprising development as the Steelers have allowed 24 sacks this year. Only five teams have allowed more.
But the Redskins are ill suited to take advantage of this chink in the steel armor. They have just 10 sacks all year; only the Bengals and Chiefs have fewer.
This paucity of sacks is due in part to Greg Blache's decision to refrain from blitzing in favor of keeping more defenders back in coverage. It's hard to argue with the results as the Redskins are a respectable 11th in pass defense.
Another reason why the Redskins have such a low sack total is that most of their games have been close. They have yet to build a substantial lead that would allow them to fluff up their sack stats.
And there is every reason to believe that this will be another down-to-the-wire affair. Both teams have significant injuries. Pittsburgh will be without two defensive starters in cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Ryan Clark. Cornerback Shawn Springs and defensive end Jason Taylor are out for the Redskins.
The key to this game may well be two Redskins who are game time decisions. If Santana Moss' hamstring is well enough to allow him to play, Washington will better be able to exploit the Steelers' issues in the secondary. If Chris Samuels can go on his sore knee, the Redskins will better be able to combat the fierce Pittsburgh pass rush (25 sacks, 5th in NFL).
I've been thinking that the Redskins were in trouble in this game all week. The matchups, as outlined above, just don't seem to spell success. It's not good when you can't take advantage of the opposition's big soft spot and the other guys are well equipped to take away your major strength.
Maybe Portis will be able to break loose like he did against the Eagles, another team that you're not supposed to be able to run against. You know that Zorn will stick with the run as long as the game is competitive. He doesn't have to rush for a buck-twenty again. Even 80 or 90 yards on the ground will establish the threat of the run and allow Jason Campbell a little more freedom to pass to Moss.
It may come down to the kickers. Shaun Suisham has been pretty good, but he has missed a few that he should have made. Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed is a perfect 10 for 10 this year.
That, it says here, will be the difference.
Steelers 20, Redskins 17