Steeler Nation doesn’t just reside in the surrounding areas of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. It is a world-wide army that lives and dies with the team that calls Pittsburgh it’s home. The six-time Super Bowl champions always strive for excellence, and their fans expect nothing less. This is the preview that all fans of the black and gold come to find everything they need to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their upcoming opponent! NGSC Sports writer Mike Drakulich (@PghSportsNation) brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing a weekly game story, the Steelers offensive and defensive game plans, score prediction, game day information, a detailed breakdown of each team, and up to date team injury reports. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform.
Steelers face Washington for Monday Evening Football
It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks for the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0), who are coming off a lackluster 19-14 win against the Ravens, a game in which head coach Mike Tomlin was visibly angry postgame last Wednesday. The game was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night at 8:20 pm, but ended up being postponed three times before kicking off at the odd time of 3:40 pm midweek. It was a sloppy game that witnessed the Steelers dropping nine passes in a game that should have been a blowout vs the JV squad Baltimore put on the field. Star LB Bud Dupree was also lost for the season as he tore his ACL chasing down Robert Griffin III.
This week hasn’t fared much better as the undefeated Steelers kickoff at another weird timeslot, this time at 5:00 pm on Monday evening. Ben Roethlisberger is listed a questionable with a strange designation of “non injury related/knee”, and both CB Steven Nelson and kicker Chris Boswell will likely miss the game. RB James Conner remains out on the Reserve/COVID 19 list.
Rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith will be the guy counted upon to replace Dupree. All he has to do is live up to a man who had 23 tackles, eight assists, and eight sacks.
“We have great confidence in them,” cornerback Joe Haden said, both talking about Highsmith and Robert Spillane was took over starting duties for Devin Bush. “We feel the same way with Highsmith and Ola. They are starters in waiting. They’re waiting for their opportunity. We have two All-Pro outside linebackers, so their chances are limited.
“Now, it’s about them getting more of an opportunity. When Highsmith is in there or when Ola is in there, they have been making plays. They’re always attentive in meetings, they know the assignments and are just waiting for the opportunity. I’m excited for them, but it’s going to be a two-man job. I don’t think one of them will be able to fill in for what Bud was doing.”
Both Dupree and NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt combined for 19 sacks this season, with Dupree really making a name for himself with a great start to this year.
Highsmith was drafted to be the replacement for Dupree if he was unable to be resigned for the 2021 season.
“He’s going to have to speed up a little bit,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said about Highsmith. “Ola is going to have to step up and Jayrone (Elliott). All three of those guys are going to have to step up because T.J. is going to need some rest also.”
The Steelers coaching staff have high praise for the rookie, whom they believe has all the tools to be successful in this league.
“They (Ravens) ran one play on him, he got to the sideline, and I told him, ‘You’ve got to see the end of the line of scrimmage so if that guys comes off the ball, it’s going to be a pass, and you need to get up under the pass,’ ” Butler said about Highsmith and a situation he was in during the first meeting against the Ravens. “And then next time he does that, he intercepts the pass because he drops. Just doing what he’s supposed to do.”
“That’s the type of player he is. He’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”
The defense, as a whole, is trying to fix the issues of allowing too many splash plays against it in 2020. So far, the top ranked defense have allowed 15 plays of at least 30 yards, and three touchdowns of 70 plus yards.
“It’s always too often,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “When you give up big plays, it’s always too often. I don’t care if you give up one. It’s too many. We are trying to alleviate that.”
Ben Roethlisberger and the offense will be looking to get back on track after last week’s debacle vs Baltimore, in which the team had nine drops, turning what could’ve been a blowout into a nail biter. Still, the future Hall of Fame quarterback has all the confidence in the world in his playmakers, which he confirmed after practice Friday.
“We’ve got five guys that can get on the field at any time and really kind of fill in for each other,” Roethlisberger said. “They can all play each other’s spots, which I think is one of the most special things about the group. Literally you can plug each guy into each position and each role and each route.
“We do a lot of that in the no huddle when we are kind of moving guys around. They don’t blink. They don’t second guess. They don’t question. When I tell them, ‘Hey, let’s do this or let’s do that,’ or when I call things, they just line up and do it. I think when you talk about this group, the collectiveness of all five of them is what makes them so special.”
The defense will be focusing on stopping the Washington (4-7) running game, lead by rookie Antonio Gibson, who has drawn high praise from head coach Ron Rivera.
“He’s still growing,” Rivera said. “He’s got so much potential and ability. He’s a lot of fun to watch. I’m pretty excited about who he’s developing into.”
Gibson is 3rd in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns.
“We see growth in many places,” Rivera said. “At first he was all over the place; now we’re seeing certain elements of his game coming in to focus. The short runs, where he’s pressing the hole a little longer and opening up holes and popping through where it’s not opened up but he’s gaining two or three yards and getting what you can. Those are the things you look for. Or he hits an area and realizes he has to bounce and cut it back.”
Pittsburgh’s secondary, minus Nelson, will try to keep the talented Terry McLaurin under wraps.
“He’s obviously very strong and fast,” Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “He can separate. He’s getting better at the techniques of just route running. That leadership stuff has really just come about naturally because he’s built so much trust with his teammates, and then they have such respect for him based on the work that he puts in and the production that he has.”
Last week’s game was painful to watch, but in the end, the Steelers found a way to remain undefeated. Great teams find ways to win, no matter what the circumstances. This week’s game was pushed from a Sunday 1pm start to Monday evening at 5pm. NFL players are creatures of habit and they have routines. The Steelers have to be the first team in history to have played a Wednesday afternoon game at 3:40 then turnaround and play their next game at 5pm the following Monday. Hopefully everything returns to normal when they face Buffalo next Sunday night at 8:20pm.
First things first.
Washington comes into this game on a two game winning streak, and after their performance vs the Ravens, one would expect this team to be ready to go all out and be prepared to play something resembling a complete game for once. Expect Ben Roethlisberger and the offense to rise to the occasion and the Steelers defense to remind Washington that they aren’t playing Cincinnati or Dallas this week… Steelers 31 Washington 17
Steelers Offensive Game Plan
- Protect Big Ben: Ben Roethlisberger has only been sacked 10 times this year, but Washington will provide a challenge as they have 36 sacks in 2020.
- Get an early lead: It’s been a crazy few weeks. This offense needs to get back on track and getting the ball into the endzone. Start fast and don’t let up against a subpar team.
- Catch the damn ball: Nine drops last week is ridiculous.
Steelers Defensive Game Plan
- Contain Antonio Gibson/J.D. McKissic: Shutting down Washington’s rushing game is key, as they are not much of a threat passing the ball. Washington thrives off of setting up the pass off the legs of Antonio Gibson who is 3rd best in the NFL with 11 touchdowns. Keep tabs on J.D. McKissic who is a huge threat out of the backfield with 46 catches for 338 yards.
- Limit Terry McLaurin: The talented wideout will likely be shadowed by Joe Haden. TE Logan Thomas is dangerous across the middle and in the red zone.
A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers
Overall record: 11-0 (1st in AFC North)
Head coach: Mike Tomlin (13th Season with Steelers)
- Overall regular-season record: 144-74-1
- Playoff record: 8-7 (Qualified for playoffs 8 times)
Last game: Steelers 19 Ravens 14
- Points per game: 28.8
- Total yards per game: 346.5
- Passing yards per game: 247.5
- Rushing yards per game: 99.1
Strengths: The passing game behind the arm of Ben Roethlisberger and a variety of weapons to choose from.
Weaknesses: The rushing attack, especially in short-yardage situations. Offensive line needs to start creating some push and space.
Scouting report: Ben Roethlisberger is playing as good as he ever has in his eventual HOF career. Big Ben has 25 touchdowns so far and passed for 2,800 yards and six interceptions. He has only been sacked 10 times.
Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington lead a talented group of wide receivers. Johnson has 57 receptions for 583yards and four touchdowns. Claypool is having a big rookie year with 45 catches for 611 yards and eight TDs. Claypool also has rushed for 22 yards and two more touchdowns. Smith-Schuster leads the team with 66 catches for 572 yards and six touchdowns. James Washington (23-263-4) can line up anywhere and comes up with big catches when his number gets called. TE’s Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald give Big Ben huge targets across the middle and down in the red zone. Ebron has been a Big Ben favorite and now has 42 catches for 413 yards and four scores.
The offensive line does a pretty good job protecting Roethlisberger, but they need to step up their play in providing room in the running game. James Conner has rushed for 645 yards and five scores and has 25 receptions for 145 yards. Benny Snell looks good in his 2nd year, leaner and a hint faster. He rushed for 113 yards in the opener when Conner sustained an ankle injury and has 255 overall with three touchdowns.
Now Snell gets another shot with Conner out this week vs Washington. Anthony McFarland, Jr. has been plugged into the rushing attack and has run for 76 yards.
Ray-Ray McCloud has been used as an x-factor type weapon, gaining 65 yards on four carries, and has 15 catches for 78 yards.
This is an offense capable of putting up big numbers weekly, especially when they finish drives in the endzone instead of settling for field goals.
The Steelers are 5th in the NFL averaging 28.8 points per game.
Starting Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger / Back-up: Mason Rudolph
Running Backs: James Conner*, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jr., and Jaylen Samuels*
Fullback: Derek Watt
Wide Receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud III
Tight Ends: Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald
Steelers Defense (Base 3-4)
- Points per game allowed: 17.1
- Total offense yards per game allowed: 298.9
- Passing yards allowed: 193.2
- Rushing yards allowed: 105.7
- Sacks: 41
- Interceptions: 16
Strengths: A relentless pass rush, tough run defense, and creating turnovers.
Weaknesses: Sometimes have issues getting off the field on 3rd downs, allowing opposing quarterback too much time by not blitzing.
Scouting report: One of the top units in the NFL. They are fast and physical. Pittsburgh defends the run well and puts constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes. Cam Heyward anchors the defensive line and is a yearly all-pro, with the vastly underappreciated Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu alongside him. Tuitt has seven sacks in 2020.
OLB T.J. Watt is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and he was greatly aided by Bud Dupree on the other side. Watt and Dupree had combined for 19 sacks before Dupree injured his ACL vs the Ravens. Now rookie Alex Highsmith will have some big shoes to fill and will be counted to be the next man up. Inside LB Vince Williams is stout against the run, as is the hard-hitting Robert Spillane, who replaced star LB Devin Bush who tore his ACL. Avery Williamson joins the team after being traded from the NY Jets.
Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads an impressive secondary with two good corners in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds never gets the credit he deserves but is always around the ball. Fitzpatrick has four interceptions to lead the team.
Mike Hilton is the most unheralded player on the defense, a do-everything player in Pittsburgh’s nickel package. Hilton has three sacks, one interception, and 32 tackles in just seven games.
The splash play Steelers have recorded 41 sacks so far and 16 interceptions. They lead the NFL allowing just 17.1 points per game.
Placekicker: Chris Boswell* | Matthew Wright
- Extra Points: 31-35
- 1-19 yards: 0-0
- 20-29 yards: 4-4
- 30-39 yards: 6-6
- 40-49 yards: 7-8
- 50+ yards: 1-1
Scouting report: Chris Boswell is solid as ever at place-kicker. Ray-Ray McCloud is making a name for himself, averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return, and 12.4 per punt return. Boswell is doubtful this week and will be replaced by Matthew Wright if he is unable to go. Wright, during his collegiate career at Central Florida, converted 55 of 71 field-goal attempts (77.5 percent), with a long of 50 yards.
Punter: Jordan Berry
Kickoff Returners: Anthony McFarland, Jr. and Ray-Ray McCloud
Punt Returner: Ray-Ray McCloud
A look at the Washington Football Team
Overall record: 4-7 (2nd in NFC East)
Head coach: Ron Rivera (2nd season with Washington)
- Overall regular-season record: 80-70 | 4-7 (with Washington)
- Playoff record: 3-4
Last game: Washington 41 Dallas 16
- Points per game: 21.9
- Total Offense per game: 325.3
- Passing yards per game: 218.6
- Rushing yards per game: 106.6
Strengths: Good rushing attack behind Antonio Gibson. Terry McLaurin is a top tier WR.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent Passing game.
Scouting report: Alex Smith has defied all odds and returned to football after a horrific leg injury. He has thrown for 1,067 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. Dwayne Haskins was the original starter but has been since pulled from the job.
Terry McLaurin is the top receiving option with 69 catches for 963 yards and three touchdowns. It’s a mess behind him at receiver with Cam Sims, Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims, Jr., and Dontrelle Inman all getting time, but not providing much of a threat. Tight end Logan Thomas is 3rd on the team with 34 receptions for 328 and a team leading four touchdowns.
Antonio Gibson is the lead runner hand is having a great year with 645 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns. He also has 32 catches for 233 yards. J.D. McKissic 223 yards on the ground, but is a huge threat out of the backfield with 46 catches for 338 yards.
Starting Quarterback: Alex Smith | Back-ups: Dwayne Haskins
Running Backs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber
Wide Receivers: Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims, Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims, Jr., and Dontrelle Inman
Tight Ends: Logan Thomas
Washington Defense (Base 4-3)
- Points per game allowed: 22.1
- Total offense yards per game allowed: 309.5
- Passing yards allowed: 194.6
- Rushing yards allowed: 114.9
- Sacks: 36
- Interceptions: 10
Strengths: Great pass rush and pass defense.
Scouting report: LB Jon Bostic leads the team with 76 tackles and has two sacks. DE Montez Sweat has six sacks to lead an exceptional defensive line. DE Ryan Kerrigan has 5.5 sacks. DT Tim Settle has five and DE Chase Young has 4.5 so far. CB Kendall Fuller has four interceptions.
Placekicker: Dustin Hopkins
- Extra Points: 23-24
- 1-19 yards: 0-0
- 20-29 yards: 3-3
- 30-39 yards: 6-7
- 40-49 yards: 6-10
- 50+ yards: 1-2
Scouting report: Dustin Hopkins has missed six FG’s this year. Danny Johnson averages 21.8 yards per kickoff return and Steven Sims, Jr. does the punt returning and averages 6.0 yards per return.
Game Day Information
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Field: Kentucky Blue Grass
Game-time: Monday, December 7th, at 5:00 pm
TV: FOX (Local on WPGH-TV)
- Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play) Daryl Johnston (analyst) | Pam Oliver (reporter)
Local radio: Pittsburgh- 102.5 WDVE-FM & 970 WBGG-AM
- Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Tunch Ilkin (analyst) | Craig Wolfley (sideline) Missi Matthews (sideline)
Internet broadcast: Steelers Nation Radio (SNR) on Steelers.com
Weather at kickoff: 34 and cloudy. Winds out of the NE 8 mph.
Vegas line: Steelers -7
Steelers vs Washington History
Steelers are 33-42-3 overall vs Washington
- Series History: Began in 1933
- At home: 20-22
- On the road: 13-20-3
- Postseason: 0-0
- Streak: Steelers won the last six games.
- Last regular-season meeting: Steelers Win, 38-16 (Sept. 12, 2016)
- Last postseason meeting: n/a
Injury Report (12/6/20)
- Out: LB Bud Dupree (knee)
- Doubtful: CB Steven Nelson (Knee), K Chris Boswell (Hip)
- Questionable: QB Ben Roethlisberger (NIR/Knee)
Washington Football Team
- Out: None
- Doubtful: None
- Questionable: DE Ryan Anderson (Knee), T Morgan Moses (Groin), WR Terry McLaurin (Ankle)
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.
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