AFC North: Steelers-Redskins

Big win hurts so good for Steelers

November, 4, 2008
11/04/08
2:26
AM ET
 
 James Lang/US Presswire
 Ben Roethlisberger rushed for a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 23-6 victory over Washington, then left with a shoulder injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in a tunnel in FedEx Field laughing and talking to a small group of people on Monday night.

There was no sling on his injured right shoulder, and no grimace on his face after suffering an ailment that kept him out of half of Monday's game.

Even through aches and pains, big victories can serve as the perfect elixir.

Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game, but Pittsburgh still pulled off a convincing 23-6 road victory over the Washington Redskins for its most significant statement game of the season. Although there were no definitive answers on Roethlisberger's injury -- he didn't talk to the media following the game -- there was a sense from the Steelers that it wasn't serious.

"I'll have more information for you guys tomorrow," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "Potentially he was capable of going back into the game. But we went down the field with [Byron] Leftwich in the second half."

Although Roethlisberger's situation didn't appear serious, it still leaves the question of whether he will miss time, even if it's just for one game. Still, that shouldn't overshadow Pittsburgh taking its biggest win of the season.

Here is what else we learned from Pittsburgh's win:

Byron Leftwich is ready, if needed
The Steelers have survived injuries to key players all season. But their biggest fear was having to do without their starting quarterback.

Leftwich eased some of those fears Monday with a solid second-half performance. His first completion was a 50-yard bomb to receiver Nate Washington to open the second half and set up a touchdown. He finished with 129 yards, a touchdown and a 145.8 passer rating just miles away from his hometown of Washington, D.C.

"That wasn't a difficult situation for me to go out there, and get in the huddle and be on the football field," Leftwich said. "The difficult situation for me is being on the sideline. I've been playing football too long to ever get nervous on the football field."

Pittsburgh's 6-2 record also could convince the team to rest Roethlisberger. If it's a borderline injury, the team's record, combined with Leftwich's performance, could factor in Pittsburgh's decision-making.

Parker and Holmes make a big difference
This is the first time in more than a month that Pittsburgh has played with both starting tailback Willie Parker and receiver Santonio Holmes in the lineup. The added threats make a difference.

In a defensive struggle, Parker rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown. He had several shifty runs and took several hard hits without suffering any setbacks to his knee.

"I definitely feel good, but I'm still not where I want to be or where I need to be," Parker said. "I've got to keep grinding."

Parker smiled when asked about having Holmes on the field. The receiver was suspended for the Week 8 game against the New York Giants, but returned against Washington to have three catches for 30 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to seal the game. The Steelers improved to 3-1 this year when both Parker and Holmes are starting.

"This team can be great," Parker said. "We call each other 'Prime Time.' I'm 'Prime' and he's 'Time.' So we always look to each other, and when we're both in the lineup we can go a long ways."

Steelers' defense is unrelenting
Pittsburgh's top-rated defense has bullied teams for most of this season. But its lopsided performance against a Redskins team with Clinton Portis, the league's leading rusher, and quarterback Jason Campbell was perhaps its most impressive.

Washington (6-3) scored the first six points of the game but went scoreless for the final three-plus quarters.

Portis was held to 51 yards on 13 carries (a 3.9-yard average). Campbell threw his first two interceptions of the season and was sacked seven times. By the end of the game, the Steelers proved to be the first team that was able to rattle Campbell.

"When you start bringing pressure and you're hitting that quarterback, you definitely don't want to hold onto the ball that long," Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley (two sacks) said. "Once we started getting back there a little bit, he gave us the ball."

Playing from behind in the second half, Washington became one-dimensional. Campbell (208 passing yards) was forced to throw 43 times. That played right into the Steelers' hands as six different players sacked Campbell.

"It's fun when we know what a team has to do," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "That's when we let the dogs loose."

Rapid Reaction: Steelers 23, Redskins 6

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
11:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made a huge statement Monday night.

But the cost of their statement is yet to be determined.

Pittsburgh proved it can play --and beat -- a very good NFC East team, pounding the Washington Redskins 23-6 before a national television audience on "Monday Night Football" and 90,512 fans at FedEx Field. But most Steelers fans are nervously awaiting the injury status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't return for the second half with a right shoulder injury.

Roethlisberger barely moved his throwing shoulder the entire second half while supporting his teammates from the sideline. Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich (129 passing yards, one touchdown) filled in and kept the offense moving in the second half.

Despite the injury concern, Pittsburgh's win was very significant and lifts the team to 6-2. The Steelers maintained a full game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (5-3), as they continue a tough stretch that includes home games against the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers in back-to-back weeks.

That two-game stretch becomes a lot tougher if Roethlisberger is forced to miss time. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to address the injury status of his franchise quarterback in a matter of moments, so stay tuned.

Observing Big Ben

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
10:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- Luckily, I have a very good angle to watch quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the Pittsburgh Steelers' sideline from the FedEx Field press box, which is closer to ground level than most NFL stadiums.

Roethlisberger is involved in the game from the sidelines, but based on his body language (which is not official or scientific, mind you) he doesn't appear likely to return.

The team announced his return as questionable but Roethlisberger hasn't moved his shoulder much since coming back to the field in the second half and he doesn't have his helmet anywhere near him, which is usually a sign that he's ready to return. Even third-string/emergency quarterback Dennis Dixon has his helmet on and is staying close to Pittsburgh's offensive coaching staff.

Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich came out for his second straight series in the third quarter. Pittsburgh is winning by 10 points at the moment, and as long as that type of lead sticks, the Steelers likely will not throw Roethlisberger back in.

Roethlisberger's return questionable

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
10:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is currently sitting out of the second half of Monday's game against the Washington Redskins because of a shoulder injury.

Roethlisberger went into the tunnel a little before halftime to get it looked at and it was announced in the press box that his return is questionable. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich has replaced Roethlisberger in the lineup for Pittsburgh and led the team to a touchdown drive.

The Steelers currently lead 16-6.

Steelers halftime notes

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
10:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are leading the Washington Redskins 10-6 in a big game for both teams.

Here are some first-half observations:

  • Pittsburgh is playing with reckless abandon on special teams. After trying an onsides kick on the opening kickoff in the first quarter (it failed), the Steelers successfully brought the pressure for a punt block in the second quarter. It was Pittsburgh's first punt block since Dec. 17, 2006 and set up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left in the second quarter.
  • The Steelers are getting good pressure off the edges with outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Woodley has a sack and Harrison is attacking Washington's left side and has two sacks against Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels, who is returning from injury.
  • Monday marked the returns for Pittsburgh starting tailback Willie Parker and receiver Santonio Holmes. Parker showed some good shiftiness and had 45 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half. Holmes looked the most rusty of the two, missing a hot read on one play in the first quarter. Holmes had one catch for nine yards.
  • The Redskins have played the Cover 1 defense on third down three straight times in the first quarter and the Steelers failed to figure it out all three times. It's been a common pressure package for Washington all season. Pittsburgh began attacking it deep a couple times in the second quarter with a little more success.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- Although it may not be a big deal nationally, those in the Steel City will be keeping a close eye on new Pittsburgh Steelers long snapper Jared Retkofsky.

Long-snapping issues hurt Pittsburgh in last week's loss to the New York Giants. Greg Warren suffered a torn ACL and linebacker James Harrison attempted to fill in but delivered a high snap that resulted in a safety.

Retkofsky was signed as a free agent last week and had ample time to get acclimated. But it's difficult to predict how any new player will respond to a hostile environment. His first snap on a punt was fine in the first quarter.

If this is the last time I mention Retkosky's name, Steelers fans probably will be satisfied with his first game.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- After watching film this week of the Washington Redskins' game against the Cleveland Browns, we noticed a defense that could give the Pittsburgh Steelers trouble.

Washington is one of the few teams that loves to play a Cover 1 defense on a fairly regular basis. Essentially, it's a man-to-man defense that keeps one safety deep and brings everyone else.

In the Steelers' first look against Washington's Cover 1, Pittsburgh gave up a sack on third down. This is the Redskins' favorite pressure package, so expect to see it a lot more tonight.

It will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh handles it better than it did the first time.

Sloppy start for Pittsburgh

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
8:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made a gutsy call by trying an onside kick on the opening kickoff.

The play didn't work, giving the Washington Redskins points.

Then Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a pass tipped and intercepted, leading to more Redskins points.

In the end Pittsburgh's top-rated defense held Washington to field goals and the Redskins have a 6-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

It's an awful start for the Steelers on the road, but not as bad as it could be considering the circumstances.

Redskins and Steelers inactives

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker and Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- Here are the inactives for Monday night's game between the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers:

Redskins

WR Malcolm Kelly

DB Shawn Springs

RB Ladell Betts

DE Jason Taylor

OL Jason Fabini

OL Chad Rinehart

DL Rob Jackson

QB Colt Brennan

Steelers

DB Bryant McFadden

DB Ryan Clark

LB Bruce Davis

LB Keyaron Fox

OL Tony Hills

OL Marvel Smith

DL Orpheus Roye

QB Dennis Dixon

Steelers LBs NFL's most dangerous unit

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
11:13
AM ET
 
 George Gojkovich/Getty Images
 Steelers second-year linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) already has 7.5 sacks. Teammate James Farrior leads the Steelers with 50 tackles.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Their ages range from 24 to 33.

They were pieced together via free agency and through the draft.

Yet, despite their varying paths to the NFL, they have become the league's most cohesive and dangerous unit.

They are the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting linebackers, who once again are wreaking havoc around the league. Outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison and inside linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote combine to make up the foundation of the NFL's No. 1 defense, which is only allowing an average of 236 yards per game.

Woodley and Foote were drafted out of Michigan, albeit five years apart. Harrison, who attended Kent State, was a free agent in 2004 who finally had his breakout campaign last season, and Farrior signed with Pittsburgh in free agency in 2002.

Pittsburgh's fearsome foursome have combined for 19 of the team's 25 sacks, which is the second-highest total in the league. The Steelers finished last season as the NFL's top defense and so far are on pace to repeat that feat.

Meet the Steelers linebackers

James Harrison

Age: 30
College: Kent State
Signed: UFA, 2004
Stats: 40 tackles, 8.5 sacks

James Farrior

Age: 33
College: Virginia
Signed: UFA Jets, 2002
Stats: 50 tackles, 1.5 sacks

LaMarr Woodley

Age: 24 (Monday)
College: Michigan
Signed: 2nd round, 2007 draft
Stats: 32 tackles, 7.5 sacks

Larry Foote

Age: 28
College: Michigan
Signed: 4th round, 2002 draft
Stats: 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks

"We bring a whole [different] attitude to the game," Woodley said recently. "We want to stay the No. 1 defense. When you get in the No. 1 spot, you want to stay in the No. 1 spot, and if we do what we do week in and week out, it doesn't matter who is across from us."

The fire that burns amongst Pittsburgh's linebacker corps starts from within.

First, they have a strong tradition of great Steelers linebacking to uphold. Second, there is a healthy rivalry internally this season that is driving each player. When one linebacker makes a big stop, he makes sure to let his other teammates know about it. The same rule applies for sacks.

That has especially been the case with Harrison (8.5 sacks) and Woodley (7.5 sacks), who often brag to each other about getting to the quarterback first. They are third and fourth in the NFL in sacks, respectively, and both have a chance to win the NFL's sack title by season's end.

Farrior, meanwhile, leads the Steelers (5-2) in tackles with 50 and has a pair of sacks. Foote also has two sacks to go with his 28 tackles.

"We think the best competition is in our own backyard," said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin of his defense this season.

The 3-4 defense does not work without stud linebackers playing on the same page. Other teams such as the Cleveland Browns have struggled with this difficult scheme for several seasons and have been unable to duplicate Pittsburgh's success.

The keys are physicality and discipline, which are two things Pittsburgh longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stresses. The Steelers are very technically sound in rushing the passer and staying in their gaps to prevent big plays in the running game.

"When you look at Dick LeBeau, he is a perfectionist," said Keith Kidd of Scouts Inc. "He is an outstanding teacher and schemer, and he understands the system and knows what types of players fit in that system."

On ESPN's "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET), the Steelers will face off with Washington Redskins (6-2) tailback Clinton Portis. He leads the NFL in rushing with 944 yards through eight games. Pittsburgh -- whose two losses this season have come to the NFC East's Eagles and Giants -- is allowing just 71.6 yards rushing per game and has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

No one has been able to stuff Portis this year, and his production will be key in determining the outcome of this game. If Washington fails to get its running game started and resorts to passing 30-plus times with Jason Campbell, that should allow the Steelers to bring their different pressures and rattle the fourth-year quarterback,
who has yet to toss an interception this season.

"This is a dynamic defense, and when you play Pittsburgh you are going to get hit right in the mouth," Kidd said. "Now how you respond to that is how you can either win the game or not."

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The Steelers are 5-0 against teams from the AFC and 0-2 against the NFC East. Here are some staggering numbers from ESPN Stats and Analysis that illustrate the difference:

By the Numbers: Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008
 vs. AFCvs. NFC East
W-L5-00-2
PPG27.010.0
YPG322.6214.5
Turnovers37

A win over the Redskins at FedEx Field could do wonders for the Steelers' confidence, but a loss will reinforce the NFC East's dominance over the AFC. After Monday's game, the Steelers' next three opponents have a combined record of 6-17. Even with a loss to the Redskins, they could easily get to 8-3 with home games against the Colts, Chargers and Bengals.

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