The Steelers host the Washington Football Team on Monday with a rare 5 p.m. kickoff at Heinz Field. The odd start time is due to the Baltimore Ravens' COVID-19 outbreak that postponed the Steelers-Ravens game three times. With playing on Wednesday afternoon, the Steelers have just four days to prepare for Washington, while the Football Team has 10 days to get ready for the Steelers with their last game being played on Thanksgiving. Washington is on a two-game winning streak and is much better than what their record indicates at 4-7. The Steelers need a bounce-back performance after a poor outing in a 19-14 win over Baltimore. The Steelers scored a touchdown just once on four trips to the red zone and the receivers had nine drops against the Ravens.
"To be bluntly honest, I am really disappointed in our performance tonight," Tomlin said after the win over the Ravens. "We did enough to win, but that's all. It was really junior varsity to be quite honest with you. It was in all three phases. We couldn't run the ball effectively when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes, catchable, makeable passes. We didn't make significant plays in the special teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn't good enough. We turned the damn ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can't have it. They converted a long run on a possession down before the half. Unacceptable. They had a 70-yard touchdown late in the game. Unacceptable.
- The Steelers are 33-42-3 all-time against Washington. The Steelers have won their last six games against Washington, last losing in 1991. It's the longest period of time since the Steelers lost to an opponent. The Steelers are 3-0 against Washington under Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger is 4-0 in his career against Washington.
- The Steelers are currently listed as 6.5-point favorites against Washington and the over/under is 43.5 points, according to Oddsshark.com. The Steelers were 10.5-point favorites on Dec. 1 and the line has since dropped all the way to Pittsburgh being 6.5-point favorites as of Dec. 6. The Steelers' lackluster performance in a 19-14 win over the depleted Ravens' roster that was missing several key starters due to being on the reserve-COVID-19 list probably played a big role in the line dropping. Washington is 1-6 against the spread in its last seven games after consecutive against the spread wins and the Steelers are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine games, per Oddsshark.com. Washington is 0-7 straight up in its last seven on the road against teams with winning records.
- Washington is tied for second in the league in sacks with 36 and has four players with 4.5 sacks or more. 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. Sweat leads the team in sacks with six.
"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."
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."
Roethlisberger said Washington could have the best defensive front in the league.
"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."
Washington is vulnerable to giving up big plays through the air, however. Washington has allowed nine passing plays of 40 yards or more this year, which is the second-most in the league.
- Through 11 games, the Steelers' defense leads the league in sacks (41), takeaways (23) and fewest points (188). Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there hasn't been a single defense that finished the season as the leader in all three of those categories. Not even the 1985 Chicago Bears' defense or the 2000 Ravens' defense.
The Steelers also have the No. 1 turnover differential in the league at plus-12, turning the ball over 11 times to their 23 takeaways. The Steelers lead the league in interceptions with 16. Washington is -5 in turnover differential this year with 13 takeaways and 18 giveaways, which is the seventh-worst turnover differential margin in the NFL.
- Washington's offensive line has allowed 35 sacks this year, which is tied for the third-most in the league. The Steelers have had at least one sack in 68 consecutive regular-season, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. With a sack against Washington, the Steelers will tie the (1999-2003) Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFL record (69) consecutive regular-season games with a sack.
- Washington running back Antonio Gibson has rushed for 645 yards on 139 carries and 11 touchdowns this year. Gibson leads all rookies this year with 11 touchdowns. Chase Claypool ranks second with 10 touchdowns. Gibson had a breakout performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day with rushing for 115 yards on 20 carries (5.8 average) and three touchdowns. Gibson has scored at least one touchdown in five straight games.
- Terry McLaurin is a really good wide receiver. People in Washington are very high on him. He's already a team captain in his second year in the NFL. McLaurin has had just one game this year with less than 60 yards receiving. McLaurin has 69 receptions for 963 yards (14.0 average) and three touchdowns this year. McLaurin ranks fifth in the league in receiving yards.
He has it all really," Tomlin said of McLaurin. "He’s good after the catch. He’s got good top-end speed. He makes the combat catch. He’s strong. He’s a tough tackle."
Steelers' wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard was the wide receivers coach for Washington last year, so the Steelers know all about McLaurin.
"Ike Hilliard coached that group a year ago," Tomlin said. "We have kind of an intimate understanding of the development of those guys, at least from his perspective. That’s probably been helpful in getting to know them some. Again, they’re not a group that we play all the time, so that 1-on-1, that knowledge, that intimate knowledge is helpful to us."
- Washington quarterback Alex Smith is 2-1 since taking over as the starting quarterback after Kyle Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the New York Giants in Week 9. Smith has a 3-5 touchdown interception-ratio this year and is completing 69 percent of his passes. Three of Smith's interceptions came in Week 9 against the Giants when he replaced Allen. Smith suffered a devastating leg injury against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 18, 2018. Smith had to undergo 17 surgeries to repair his fractured tibia and fibula, then to fight off a bacterial infection that nearly took his life. There was even a possibility that Smith would have to get his leg amputated. It's remarkable that Smith has returned to the football field. Smith is pretty much a lock to win Comeback Player of the Year.
"You just have to tip your cap to Alex Smith," Tomlin said. "We’ve competed against him a lot over the years. We respect them. We respect his resume, what he’s capable of, but when you really educate yourself to the story of his rehabilitation and him fighting back from that injury, there’s something to be learned from it. It’s something to really respect not only to those of us in the football world but all of us. He’s a champion in a lot of ways."
- Bud Dupree suffered an ACL tear late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens and is out for the season. Dupree was second on the team in sacks with eight and is a huge loss for the defense. Rookie third-round pick Alex Highsmith is the "next man up" and will have to step his game up with the absence of Dupree. Highsmith picked off a pass from Lamar Jackson in Week 8 and had a sack against the Cowboys in Week 9, which is his only sack on the season.
"He's always come to work ready to grow and get better," T.J. Watt said of Highsmith. "That is the thing with him. He is always asking the right questions. I am not able to see guys prepare this year because we are all socially distanced and watching film from our homes. I know he is prepared. I feel very confident in his ability to step in.
"Bud is such a big impact on our team, not just from a playmaking standpoint but from a leadership role as well. I feel like Alex is going to do a great job with that, but I also feel like we are going to have to lean on Ola (Adeniyi) to step up and have some big-time playing for us."
- Cornerback Steven Nelson (knee) is doubtful for Monday's game and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (knee) is listed as questionable, but Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that Roethlisberger participated in the walkthrough on Sunday and is expected to play on Monday. Nelson is not expected to play on Monday and Cam Sutton will start in his place, according to Dulac.
Boswell (hip) was added to the injury report for the first time on Saturday and did not practice on Friday. He was downgraded from questionable to doubtful on Sunday. On Monday, the Steelers elevated kicker Matthew Wright from the practice squad to the Active/Inactive roster for today's game against Washington. The team also activated offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins from the reserve/COVID-19 List and elevated offensive lineman Anthony Coyle to the Active/Inactive Roster from the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement.
The Steelers activated defensive end Stephon Tuitt off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday and is expected to play against Washington after missing the game against Baltimore. Running back James Conner reportedly is eligible to come off the reserve/COVID-19 list, but it's unlikely that he'll play on Monday, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Center Maurkice Pouncey is still on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
For Washington, defensive end Ryan Anderson (knee), tackle Morgan Moses (groin) and wide receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) are all questionable for Monday's game.