Redskins

Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

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Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

PITTSBURGH (AP) Will Allen knows he's not Troy Polamalu. He also knows the Pittsburgh Steelers don't need him to be for the defense to play with its typical cruel efficiency.

The checklist for Allen on a given week never changes: Run to the ball. Don't get beat deep. Go where you're supposed to. When appropriate, hit somebody.

Allen has no delusions about what will happen whenever Polamalu's right calf finally heals. He'll go back to the bench and watch one of the best safeties of his generation go to work.

Until then - and Polamalu has already been ruled out for Monday night's home game against Kansas City - Allen will do his best to be Polamalu-lite.

Very lite.

``I'm just doing my job,'' Allen said Wednesday. ``I just want to be on my Ps and Qs and I want to be effective and have urgency. When I'm reading my keys and I'm helping this team, that's the main thing that I care about.''

The Steelers turned to Ryan Mundy to fill in when Polamalu initially hurt his calf in the season opener against Denver. Mundy, however, struggled in pass coverage and earned a couple of costly penalties at crucial times, most notably an unnecessary roughness penalty against Oakland that send wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey to the hospital.

Polamalu returned against Philadelphia on Oct. 7, though his comeback lasted all of a quarter before he reinjured the calf, this time more seriously than the first. He hasn't stepped on the field since, though the secondary hasn't missed a beat.

Pittsburgh (5-3) leads the NFL in pass defense at the midway point, allowing 174 yards per game. That number is dropping every week and took a big plunge when Allen and company shut down Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants last week in a season-turning 24-20 victory.

Manning completed 10 of 25 passes for 125 yards and an interception as the Steelers frustrated one of the league's most dynamic passing attacks.

Then again, it's becoming a habit.

Pittsburgh has beaten Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III and Manning during its three-game winning streak, three very different quarterbacks with three very different ways of going about their business.

None of them were successful against a defense that has rediscovered its bite even without Polamalu and his flowing locks freelancing all over the field. The only place where the Steelers have really missed Polamalu is in splash plays.

There are few - if any - better than Polamalu when it comes to instinctively creating turnovers. With the four-time All-Pro standing on the sideline for the last month in grey sweats, Pittsburgh has taken the ball away just three times.

The Steelers hope those numbers will pick up against the woeful Chiefs (1-7), whose minus-21 turnover differential is by far the NFL's worst. Pittsburgh just doesn't need to get its hands on the ball to survive, though. The defense is just fine sending the opposition trudging off the field to punt, something happening with increasing regularity.

Pittsburgh is allowing teams to convert just 30 percent (11 of 37) of third down opportunities during its winning streak thanks to better execution on first and second down, and a sudden burst of chemistry in the secondary.

``We're starting to put the pieces together for where we need to be,'' cornerback Keenan Lewis said. ``The (defensive) line, they're getting to the quarterback much faster. The linebackers are playing out of control. It's helping us out in the back end.''

Then again, Lewis and fellow corner Ike Taylor are doing their part. Victimized early in the season - particularly in road losses to Oakland and Tennessee - the duo have shut down the likes of A.J. Green and Victor Cruz in recent weeks.

Lewis sent a message on the first play against New York, swatting down a deep ball from Manning to Hakeem Nicks. It was Lewis' way of saying he wasn't going to be intimidated by the surroundings or the circumstances.

``I just wanted to let `em know that they can't catch us off guard,'' Lewis said.

The Giants never did. Taylor collected his first interception of the year late in the first quarter with a spectacular diving grab. It was a difficult catch, one that allowed him to laugh about the easy one that clanged off his chest in the end zone later in the game.

``I'm inconsistent,'' Taylor said. ``You know my hands (are) suspect, that's just how it is.''

Taylor knows he can afford to joke about it when the Steelers win but he's only too aware the drop extended a New York drive the Giants eventually scored on.

``Is it something we can work on? Yes,'' Taylor said. ``Does it help your team out? Yes, because it gives the offense more opportunities to make plays.''

Just don't expect the defense to take any unnecessary chances to make them happen. That's what Polamalu does. Until his familiar No. 43 is back in the lineup, Allen and the rest of his buddies are fine just sticking to the fundamentals.

Besides, in a way, Allen notes the only difference between a punt and a turnover is who gets to run around with the ball.

``The more and more we play together, the better we're getting,'' Allen said. ``We've just got to continue executing and having a sense of urgency and attention to detail and playing fast and playing hard and I think that'll take us a long way.''

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NOTES: The Steelers signed WR Derek Moye and put him on the practice squad while cutting TE Jamie McCoy from the practice squad. ... Pittsburgh is 3-0 at home.

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Three questions for a potential Derrius Guice-Adrian Peterson-Chris Thompson backfield

Three questions for a potential Derrius Guice-Adrian Peterson-Chris Thompson backfield

Fewer than 24 hours after the 2018 season ended, Chris Thompson was already looking ahead to 2019 and what could be a very dangerous Redskins running back group.

"He's going to be ready for sure," Thompson said about Derrius Guice. "You know how AP came back from his [torn] ACL, how freakish he was after that, so I'm excited for him."

"Speaking of AP," he added, referring to Adrian Peterson, "I'm excited for him, too, and I hope we can get him back as well."

Fans of the Burgundy and Gold are right to be concerned about a lot of the team's future. But a running back trio of Thompson, Guice, and Peterson would be one huge reason to anticipate next year.

With that being said, while those names look tremendous on a depth chart, questions still remain about how it'd all work on the field. Here are three of the biggest ones worth asking.

1) How would Peterson and Guice fit together?

Peterson's a free agent, so first, the team would need to re-sign him. If they do, next up would be figuring out how to make sure he and Guice could co-exist.

The future Hall of Famer is a classic No. 1 option, the type of guy who thrives the more times he gets to carry the ball and who stares at his head coach when he's not receiving enough action. His best games with the 'Skins came when his attempts neared or exceeded 20, and while game flow played a large role in determining the number of rushes he racked up, he simply plays better the more he gets to wear down a defense.

Next year, though, Washington will want to get a lot out of their 2018 second-rounder and see how dynamic he can be as a pro. Peterson's recent stint with the Saints was a brief but unsuccessful experience for him trying to fit in amongst a rotation of RBs, and though he's said he'd have no problem splitting carries with Guice, it remains to be seen how effective that timeshare would be.

2) Could all three stay healthy enough?

A three-headed monster is significantly less useful when one or more of those heads is in street clothes or on IR. Unfortunately, that's something the Redskins would have to worry about with this lineup.

Guice had knee issues late in his career at LSU and went down with a season-ending knee injury in his first preseason game last August. Thompson has missed six games in each of the past two seasons. Weirdly enough, the 33-year-old Peterson has the most recent track record of durability, but how long can that realistically last?

If there's been anything to learn about this franchise the past few seasons, it's that injuries will strike and, often times, they'll strike key players. Perhaps they'd be better served moving forward with Guice and then substituting Thompson and/or Peterson for a younger or more durable threat. 

3) Could Jay Gruden figure out a way to use combinations of them at the same time?

If all three backs return for 2019, putting any one of them on the field would give Jay Gruden an enticing talent to use. Where things could really open up, however, is if he could play two of them in the backfield at the same time.

Gruden put together packages for Peterson/Thompson and Byron Marshall toward the end of last season, but those packages were sent out behind a torn up offensive line and with very limited QBs.

A Guice-Peterson pair or Guice-Thompson pair behind healthy blockers and a non-Mark Sanchez passer, though? Now you're putting some fear into a defense and giving your offense the advantage. But it'd be on Gruden and other offensive coaches to scheme those up and then deploy them enough to find a rhythm. 

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Drafting a first round QB outside of the top two picks has largely backfired

Drafting a first round QB outside of the top two picks has largely backfired

Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are two quarterbacks who were taken in the middle of the 2017 NFL Draft's first round, and they serve as two recent examples that you don't have to have a pick at the top of that round to land a star passer.

Problem is, they're basically the only recent examples, too.

In the past decade, teams who've tried to find their franchise signal-caller in the first round outside of either the first or second pick have failed time and time again. Since 2009, those prized QBs have mostly been selected No. 1 or No. 2 overall or mined beyond the first round. 

The following list, compiled by Redskins Talk co-host Mitch Tischler, shows how many mediocre to straight-up bad options franchises have found using picks 3-32:

  • Mark Sanchez — 2009 pick No. 5 — 37-36 career record
  • Josh Freeman — 2009 pick No. 17 — 25-36 career record
  • Tim Tebow — 2010 pick No. 25 — 8-6 career record
  • Jake Locker — 2011 pick No. 8 — 9-14 career record
  • Blaine Gabbert — 2011 pick No. 10 — 13-35 career record
  • Christian Ponder — 2011 pick No. 12 — 14-21-1 career record
  • Ryan Tannehill — 2012 pick No. 8 —42-46 career record
  • Brandon Weeden — 2012 pick No. 22 — 6-19 career record
  • EJ Manuel — 2013 pick No. 16 — 6-12 career record
  • Blake Bortles — 2014 pick No. 3 — 24-49 career record
  • Johnny Manziel — 2014 pick No. 22 — 2-6 career record
  • Paxton Lynch — 2016 pick No. 26 — 1-3 career record
  • Patrick Mahomes — 2017 pick No. 10 — 13-4 career record
  • Deshaun Watson — 2017 pick No. 12 — 14-8 career record
  • Sam Darnold — 2018 pick No. 3 — 4-9 career record
  • Josh Allen — 2018 pick No. 7 — 5-6 career record
  • Josh Rosen — 2018 pick No. 10 — 3-10 career record
  • Lamar Jackson — 2018 pick No. 32 — 6-1 career record
     

That list is one the Redskins — who own the 15th pick in the 2019 draft and who are beginning to be linked heavily to Kyler Murray — should pay close attention to.

The 2018 class is too young to judge, and as mentioned earlier, the 2017 class is providing quality returns. But none of the other names on that list have turned into anything useful, not to mention anything resembling special.

Of course, if you go back farther into the past, you'll find that QBs like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were snagged during the meat of the first round, so it's not impossible. However, the last 10 years have shown it can be very difficult to nail a pick in that range.

The logic feels simple: The truly elite talents, such as Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, are snatched up immediately. The QBs who are found in the mid- to late rounds, meanwhile, are given more time to develop and/or find themselves on rosters that have been built up more.

Those non-elite first-rounders, on the other hand, are generally caught in between: not skilled enough to help turn around a team singlehandedly but, because they're high investments, they're forced into those tough situations and end up floundering.

There's no doubt that the 'Skins need a new hope under center. Where they should commit to that hope, though, is something that must be considered.  

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