Washington faces the NFL's best team in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon. It's a weird time and a weird game, a result of Covid scheduling changes, but it presents a true opportunity for Ron Rivera's team to measure up against top competition.
Few expect 4-7 Washington to beat the 11-0 Steelers, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Washington will need to replicate the effort from their last game, a 41-16 beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, or maybe even play a little bit better.
Crazy things happen in the NFL, like the Giants beating the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday, so don't count Washington out quite yet. How can it happen? Let's try to figure that out:
Drain the pool
Pittsburgh's offense has dangerous weapons all over the field and a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger that will eventually land in the Hall of Fame. JuJu Smith-Schuster is their top wideout, but the Washington defense needs to focus on limiting rookie vertical threat Chase Claypool. A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 238 lbs., in the Steeler's narrowest win this year (27-24 Week 6 against the Titans) Claypool was limited to just one catch. That was Claypool's worst output of the season and maybe that's not a coincidence. He has eight touchdowns through 11 games and averages 13.6 yards-per-catch.
In their last two games Washington's defense has held its opponents to just seven third-down conversions on 26 attempts. That's a 26 percent conversion rate, which is hard to keep up, though for the whole season Washington ranks 10th in the NFL in third-down defense. If they can keep the Steelers from sustaining long drives would go a long way towards a win.
Give Jack Del Rio credit - the Washington defense has been elite in the red zone. Going into Week 13, Washington's defense led the NFL by only allowing a touchdown on 48 percent of opposing trips into the red zone. Against Dallas on Thanksgiving, Washington's defense forced three goals on three red-zone trips. The Steelers are scoring touchdowns 65 percent of the time they reach the red zone, so this will be a major test for Washington's defense.
Keep it under control
This Steelers defense is dominant, the best in the league, and they haven't given up 30 points yet this year. In their last five games the Pittsburgh defense has forced 14 turnovers. The past two games Washington has been victorious even with a turnover in each contest. That seems like a highly unlikely result against Pittsburgh.