The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their twelfth regular season game of 2020 Monday night at home at Heinz Field against the Washington Football Team as they look to notch their twelfth consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with another home win against Washington and move to 12-0 on the season.
Don’t Be Afraid To Cover Scary Terry – Do you know who Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin is? You should, because he’s one of the top up-and-coming wide receivers in the NFL right now. The Ohio State product is having a great second season and in only three games has he had less than 75 yards receiving in 2020. After McLaurin, Washington’s next three top pass catchers are J.D. McKissic, Logan Thomas, and Antonio Gibson. The first and third player are running backs and Thomas is a tight end. That shows you how valuable McLaurin is at wide receiver for Washington. The Steelers will likely be down one starting cornerback Monday night in Steven Nelson so that means Cameron Sutton will likely start in his place with second-year cornerback Justin Layne also playing some on the outside in certain sub packages. They each will have quite the test when it comes to covering McLaurin so Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick might want to cheat to his side some just in case. The Washington offense must be made to run through somebody other than McLaurin Monday night. He can’t be the one allowed to beat the Steelers defense.
No Over 40 Night At Heinz – Five of the Steelers las six games included Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempting 42 or more passes. Against Washington on Monday night, that might not be advisable as not only does their defense play well against the pass, the defensive front rotation they use also includes four players that already have 4.5 sacks or more. There are five former first-round draft picks in that rotated defensive front and they’ll be getting after Roethlisberger all night. Roethlisberger has done a great job of getting rid of the football quickly this season, but he’s still managed to take some big hits on some drop backs the last several weeks. He even officially entered the weekend listed as questionable on the team’s injury report with a stiff knee. In short, the Steelers offense needs to be able to run the football some and more often than they have the last several games. If they can’t or don’t, Roethlisberger will be tempting fate the more he drops back and especially later in the game. This is one dangerous defense the Steelers offense will play Monday night.
All Hands On Deck – Against the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday, Roethlisberger played well. His eligibles, however, didn’t as they were dropping balls left and right on third downs and inside the red zone. The Steelers left a lot of points out on Heinz Field on Wednesday thanks to all those drops. While not as bad as Wednesday night, drops have been a problem for Steelers eligibles throughout the season. This Washington defense is tough enough as it is even though the unit has already given up seven pass plays of 40 yards or longer in their 11 games played. Take away those big plays and the Washington pass defense looks even better than it already does on paper and on tape. Catch the ball, get the extra yardage. Needing good hands Monday night against Washington doesn’t just apply to the Steelers offense, either. In fact, the Steelers defense might just have another two or three interceptions in their last three or four games had a few of their defensive backs used their hands better.
+2 TOX Game – This Monday night game between the Steelers and Washington figures to be a classic +2 TOX game and that means the team that compiles two or more combined turnovers and explosive games than the opponent will win what figures to be a one-score contest. The Steelers defense has been incredibly good at times this season and especially against the pass as they sport an NFL best 4.3 ANY/A (adjusted net yards per passing attempt stat). Even so, the Steelers defense entered Week 13 with the highest yards per reception stat in the NFL of 12.2 yards. That ultra-strange variance means the defense is giving up way too many explosive plays per receptions allowed. Against the Ravens this past Wednesday, a late 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown allowed Baltimore to stay in the game late. Washington enters Monday night having created just 36 explosive plays on offense while the Steelers have registered just four more. On the flip side, the Washington defense has allowed four less explosive plays of 20 yards or more than the Steelers have. The turnover differential for both teams this season is a lot different, however. The Steelers lead the NFL in turnover differential with a +12 number while Washington is way on the other end of the spectrum at -5. Washington, however, is +2 in their last three games with just one turnover in each of those three contests. The Steelers absolutely must win the turnover battle on Monday night and have at least one more explosive play than Washington does. If they hit that +2 TOX number for the game, the Steelers should win it barring something crazy like a few missed field goals.
Wright Side Of The Uprights – The Steelers won’t have kicker Chris Boswell Monday night as he’ll miss the game with a hip injury. Instead, practice squad kicker Matthew Wright will make his NFL debut at Heinz Field. Even though there will not be much in the way of fans to kick in front of Monday night, Wright will still have a lot of pressure on him to perform just the same. Because of how well the two defenses play, the Monday night game could become a field goal festival and kicking at Heinz Field in December and beyond isn’t necessarily a picnic. Assuming Wright gets a few chances Monday night, he needs to be right on the money with his kicks and that includes extra points as well. I expect this game to be a close one and potentially even settled by a late field goal. If that’s the case, here’s to Wright being on the right side of the uprights if called upon late to make a big kick.