MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Steelers 23, Redskins 6
Nov. 3, 2008 at FedExField
A month before Mike Tomlin's infamous rebuke of Willie Parker's complaints about the changing running game, Parker complained here for the first time following this Monday night game. Returning to the field following a four-game absence with a sprained MCL, Parker rushed 21 times for 70 yards behind QB Byron Leftwich, who had to step in for a battered Ben Roethlisberger. The offense sputtered but the Steelers survived to improve to 6-2. "You know it frustrates me," said Parker late that night. "I love running behind Carey (Davis). I’m going to have a talk with coach. I’m not getting anything consistent going and that’s all I want to do. I want to sit down with B.A. and Coach Tomlin because when I’m all the way back, I expect to get the ball. I’m a running back. I want to run the ball. We’ve got to get back to Steelers football." Defensive players and coaches were also grumbling and it bubbled over a month later when, at 10-3, Tomlin said, "Every morning I come to work, I walk past five Lombardis, not five rushing titles. The issue is winning." Of course, the Steelers won their sixth Lombardi that season.
TALE OF THE TAPE
"What goes on with Kirk Cousins and Jordan Reed will be the biggest thing. They target Reed so much. They put him in motion a lot so you can't get your hands on him, so how the Steelers go about defending this tight end is everything. You look at Sean Davis and you think, 'Wow, what a way to come into your first start as a nickel.' Being out there matched up with him is going to be something. Reed's a smaller tight end. He's more receiver than anything else. When you think blocker, he's not a real physical guy, but 87 catches is just ridiculous. He's a heck of a one-on-one matchup because he can move, he runs great routes and Cousins likes to target him, if not force the ball to him." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.
Can the Steelers generate a running game?
The second part of the question: with those tight ends? They're also missing their fullback, Rosie Nix, with an injury, so the only quality blocking tight end, David Johnson, will be needed there when necessary. Tight ends Jesse James and Xavier Grimble have both been huge questions marks in the running game, and recently have become question marks in the passing game with Grimble dropping passes throughout preseason and James getting plunked in the head the other day because he didn't turn around. Roethlisberger may not even look their way tonight, and if the coordinator simply opts for more receivers, the running game -- without suspended Le'Veon Bell -- will rely on finesse to get the job done against a Redskins defense that allowed a porous 4.8 yards per carry last season.
THREE QUESTIONS: With WR ANTONIO BROWN
Q: Ben says you've got to keep your head about you. What does he mean by that?
AB: "I don't know. You've got to ask Ben."
Q: What do you think he means?
AB: (No answer)
Q: Do you have to avoid getting caught up in a personal confrontation?
AB: "I'm a professional football player. I'm not a fighter. We wear equipment. My job is to go out there and score touchdowns and catch the football."
What to look for from the Steelers tonight (7:10 p.m.) in Washington:
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked about how Antonio Brown must keep his cool against top-flight cornerback Josh Norman because Brown is so important to a Steelers offense that won't have Markus Wheaton, or much of anything at tight end, and will be counting on youngsters Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates along with vets DeAngelo Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Those players will add plays but the core of the Steelers' offense will be Brown and Roethlisberger behind an offensive line that learned to deal with crowd noise last year in Seattle.
Stopping the Redskins' main threat, Jordan Reed, will no doubt fall to rookie safety Sean Davis, who has been working as a slot corner for just this very purpose since they drafted the D.C. native in the second round last April. If Davis can't handle a guy who caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, the Steelers can move Will Gay into the slot and first-round pick Artie Burns can debut at Gay's outside spot. If the Steelers CAN handle Reed, they'll still have to worry about deep threat DeSean Jackson and former Colt Pierre Garcon. They'll get time behind a line with Pro Bowler Trent Williams at left tackle and high draft picks sprinkled throughout.
At first glance, the Redskins +3 1/2 seemed like a giveaway, considering the Steelers are without Wheaton, Bell, Ladarius Green and of course Heath Miller and Martavius Bryant on offense, and are working two rookies into their secondary. The last rookie DB to start an opener for the Steelers was Maryland's Chad Scott in 1997 and the Steelers were shredded by Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys, 37-7. So, on paper, it looks like all Redskins. But the Steelers practices have been intense and focused, and the team is coming off a physical camp. They could very well unveil a defense that's ready to return to the elite level at which Pittsburgh fans are accustomed. Communication was stressed all week, as a reminder of last year's problems in New England. This team knows how to play on the road, is used to winning openers and Monday night games, and has an excellent kicker. Steelers, 27-24.
BY THE NUMBERS
12: Number of catches Antonio Brown needs to make to pass John Stallworth (537) for third place on the Steelers' all-time receptions list.
17.7: DeSean Jackson's average yards per catch, highest career average in NFL.
30: When the Steelers score 30 points in openers, they are 16-1-1.
41: Steelers wins on opening weekend, most by any AFC team (of course, most AFC teams played 38 fewer seasons).
101.6: Kirk Cousins' career-high passer rating last season.
232: Number of consecutive passes Cousins has thrown at home without being intercepted.
249: Number of consecutive pass attempts Jason Campbell had thrown without being intercepted in 2008 before Deshea Townsend stopped the streak on a Monday night.
* The Steelers and Redskins have met on Monday nights twice previously with the Steelers winning in both 2008 and 1973. The Steelers are 3-1 on Monday night season openers with their last appearance, 2002 at New England, the lone loss. The Steelers are 43-24 on Monday nights (modern era), and have the third-best winning percentage (.642) and the third-most wins. They can tie the Dallas Cowboys at 44 and move to within three of the San Francisco 49ers with a win tonight.
* This is a big game for Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith, who's going back to Washington where he served as Redskins special teams coach from 2004 to 2012. On the other side, the Redskins are expected to start former Steelers No. 1 draft pick Ziggy Hood at left defensive end in their 3-4 alignment. The Redskins signed Hood to a futures contract last February and "he's one of our most pleasant surprises," said Redskins Coach Jay Gruden. "He can play nose, he can play end, he can play the three-technique and he was one of our better rushers in camp."
* Markus Wheaton won't play tonight because of a shoulder injury but believes that, when healthy, he could move inside as the slot receiver in 3 or 4-WR sets because "at the end of last season we took off," he said of himself and Roethlisberger. "I think we built that chemistry." But because of injuries, first-year player Eli Rogers has been working there all offseason and will get the opportunity tonight. And the team's preseason receptions leader may not give it back. Here's what Haley said about Rogers: "He's a guy that has a very good feel and skill set for playing in there, because he did it his whole career in college. Usually we get guys that were outside receivers in college, so you are training guys. It’s a big job because when you are an outside receiver, you see coverage from really one side and one direction. When you are inside, you are seeing things from both sides. The really good ones in there have phenomenal vision and understanding of coverage. We are excited about seeing him go out Monday and play. He will kind of tell the rest of the story."
* Washington's slot WR is familiar to Pitt fans. Jamison Crowder of Duke caught 16 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Pitt in 2013 and 2014. He also returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown and had a rushing touchdown as well. The teams split the two meetings, both high-scoring games. "He has the heart of a lion," Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell said of his former Duke teammate. "For his size (5-8, 182) he's very tough. He's somebody who doesn't shy away from contact. He'll make tough catches in traffic. I think that's what makes him tough. That's what makes him a good player."
* When David DeCastro walked into the Steelers locker room the day after signing a $58 million contract that included a $16 million signing bonus, Maurkice Pouncey shouted to reporters, "Dave's not talking today. He makin' too much money." Ramon Foster followed with a shout to his teammates, "Hey guys we can't get our game checks till Dave gets his." Marcus Gilbert was excited. "Dave's buying today and he has Christmas presents to get every week. What else? Oh, new chairs in the meeting room. And I need some new rims," Gilbert said. And Pouncey again, "Dave, my car needs an oil change." Said DeCastro: "Not a problem at all. I'll see what they want. Chairs, Christmas presents, we'll get some stuff done. Part of the territory."
"AB’s one of the best in the business, and so is Josh (Norman). I think it’s a primetime matchup. I think everyone will tune in just to see that matchup. I think what it will come down to: Is AB’s quarterback good enough to get him the ball when he needs to? The big thing for both of them is if they both try to play mind games with each other. I’ll talk to my receiver and make sure he keeps a level head and just plays football." -- Ben Roethlisberger.