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Washington's defensive line filled with first-round picks will present a challenge for the Steelers

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Washington Football Team might just have a record of 4-7, but they are a lot better than what their record says. They're on a two-game winning streak and have had a resurgence since quarterback Alex Smith took over at quarterback in Week 10. They have two incredible young talents on offense in rookie running back Antonio Gibson and second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin. They also possess one of the best defenses in the league with a dominating front four that's loaded with first-round draft picks.

"Man, it starts up front for them," Mike Tomlin said about Washington. "They have a bunch of high-round draft picks and talented young ones that provide a wave that others ride. I can’t say enough about their edge presence with their talented edge rushers, Chase Young being a top draft pick from this draft. They have quality Alabama guys on the interior that really wreak havoc and are interchangeable. They have quality depth. I can’t say enough about the development of a guy like Tim (Settle), who is a third interior rusher, who is providing pressures and sacks for them as well."

Washington is tied for second in the league in sacks with 36 and has four players with 4.5 sacks or more.

"Everybody says, 'They're 4-7, they're 4-7,' all that mess," Steelers' defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "These people match up well with us. If you think about what they do on their defense, they've got a real good defense. Good front four, they've got a ton of draft picks in that front four. You hear their (head) coach (Ron Rivera) wanted to take that job because he knew about the front four that they had and the number ones they had invested, and if you're building a team from scratch, that's where you start.

"You start at the defensive line because we just talked about the number of sacks that you have and how much that helps. Well, shoot, what are we? What's our record? There's a reason our record is that because we have put pressure on the quarterback. We have intercepted the ball. We have gotten turnovers and stuff like that. (Rivera) chose the right place to go to take a job, and they match up well against us."

The Steelers' offensive line will have their hands full on Monday afternoon with Washington's pass rush, but the offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks this season, which is the fewest in the league and Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been sacked in four straight games.

"Tremendous talent across the board. We've seen that kind of look, that structure before," David DeCastro said. "The difference is the personality they bring behind it, they have tremendous players, one of the best groups we've faced all year. That's what makes it tough, not the structure but the players."

Steelers' offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner says that Washington's pass rush comes from both the outside and inside.

"We have great respect for each individual rusher," Fichtner said. "That’s not just coming from the outside. Inside, they can get the one-on-ones, and we have to be good at team protection. If they’re rushing four and we know we have five blockers, we better have somebody being doubled and watched and working as a group."

Washington has a solid six-man rotation on their defensive line with Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Tim Settle and Ryan Kerrigan. All but Settle are first-round draft picks.

"I never want to disrespect anybody you play, but arguably these guys ... they are rushing four guys, every once in a while they will bring five," Roethlisberger said of Washington's pass rush. "They put their stock, their money, their picks in their four down guys. There are some really good and talented guys, and arguably the four best collectively. You will have to ask the linemen. They are the ones blocking them. My guys up front have done a great job protecting me this year, especially the last few games. I am always thankful for that. I will have to look at expanding my Christmas gift ideas."

Washington also ranks No. 2 in pass defense in the league just behind the Steelers, allowing 194.6 yards per game. Overall Washington allows 309.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL, also right below the Steelers. Cornerback Kendall Fuller leads Washington in interceptions with four.

"They’re opportunistic on the backend much like defenses that Coach Rivera and Coach Del Rio have been a part of in the past," Tomlin said. "They’re fundamentalists in nature. They do a great job of mixing zones and mans. They have the turnover production to boot. That turnover production is driven by the pressure they apply to the quarterback, no doubt. I think they have 36, 38 sacks or so through 11 ballgames. You feel that consistent pressure when you watch their tape. They’re solid against the run. They’re gap sound. Again, another signature of Coach Rivera and Coach Del Rio’s defenses. They’re fundamentalists in what they do. They’re thoughtful. They’re small-menued and big understanding. They play extremely fast."

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