Redskins at Steelers

The Redskins desperately need a win. They're not sniping at one another. They're not divided. They're just getting ornery about the way this season has unfolded. Blame some of it on injuries. Blame some of it on having yet another new staff, one that took a while to figure out what to do offensively. And blame some of it on this: they're just not a very good team.

But if they could somehow upset Pittsburgh, it would provide momentum for a decent finish. At one point it looked like they could get to seven wins. Now it doesn't. However, that hardly matters anymore. The Redskins need to find out what they have in some of their young players and games like this help determine that. Play them strong and lose? Don't like morale victories, but if Patrick Ramsey has a good game, would that be such a bad thing? And that's what this home stretch has become: a six-game exhibition season, one in which the Redskins will finalize their opinions on certain players.

That said, the offseason can't get here fast enough.

Tough debut: Mark Wilson has mostly been inactive this season, but gets his first start against one of the best defenses in football. Yippee. The coaches say Wilson has improved and let's hope they're right, because he struggled against decent players this summer. He was too easily knocked off his base and his footwork was a bit sloppy. But the coaches say he's gotten bigger, adding about 20 pounds from when he first was drafted and, they say, he's quicker.

Watch out for: The Steelers' pass rush. They not only get pressure from their outside linebackers, but they also get it from their ends, not a common occurence in a 3-4 defense. And that's what makes them dangerous, especially for a young fifth-round pick such as Wilson. The Redskins will compensate by giving him lots of help, but all that does is open up holes elsewhere. If they get behind at all, it could get ugly for the offense. And the guy playing best on Pittsburgh's defense is inside linebacker James Farrior. The Steelers are touting him for Defensive MVP honors.

By the way: The Steelers' pass defense ranks fifth in the NFL. Not a good stat for a team such as the Redskins who have no passing attack.

Second start: Patrick Ramsey's first start was OK, but he failed to complete any throws downfield. If he's their QB of the future, he'd better learn to throw downfield. His strength is hanging in the pocket and delivering at the last minute. It might get him killed at times and it might result in turnovers. But the only way Washington has a chance in this game is to be aggressive. They played it tight against the Eagles and lost by 22.

Key on: The Bus. Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis has had a revival this season, who has rushed for 510 yards. It'll be a test for Washington's front seven. Bettis wears teams down, especially ones that have fronts battling injuries.

MIA: Without Plaxico Burress, the secondary gets a break. But Hines Ward is a strong route runner and he's the kind of guy who has given corner Fred Smoot problems in the past. A sign of growth in Smoot's game will be how he fares against Ward, when they're paired together.

Watch for: a reduction in false starts. The Redskins worked on dealing with crowd noise this week, piping in noise during practice. They flopped in Philly under these conditions. Will it help? Stay tuned. But the combination of a young quarterback in Patrick Ramsey and an even younger tackle in Mark Wilson doesn't leave one optimistic.

What the Redskins must do: Be patient with the run and be versatile in the passing attack. Pittsburgh has allowed only three teams to rush for more than 100 yards, but the Redskins must stick with Clinton Portis. Problem is the linemen getting to the so-called second level, the linebackers, to spring Portis. They couldn't do it in Philly because of the noise (the Eagles' DL was getting a better jump off the ball because the OL couldn't hear the signals). And, in the passing game, they must test the Steelers' downfield. If they rely on the horizontal attack like they did last week, they'll move the ball at times. But they won't score until they complete several 15-20 yard tosses.

Prediction: An easy one. Pittsburgh wins, 21-9. It's hard to imagine the Redskins upsetting the Steelers, unless they make their offense one-dimensional and force several turnovers.


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