By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III didn’t get any help from his Washington Redskins receivers, who dropped at least eight and as many as 10 passes — depending on which report is to be believed — but it was also tough for RG3 to face the multiple-look Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
The Steelers secured a 27-12 victory Sunday at Heinz Field with a hard-hitting, swarming defense and ball-control offense, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who completed passes to nine different receivers. He was 24-for-33 for 22 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks. Roethlisberger’s quarterback rating was a stellar 121.0.
“When we’re hitting on all cylinders like that, running the ball and moving the ball around in the passing game, it’s a lot of fun running this offense,” Roethlisberger said. “The more guys that I can get involved, the better it is for this football team, and I think the more successful we’ll be as a team.”
Wideout Mike Wallace bounced back from a multiple-drop performance last week to a team-high seven catches for 62 yards. Sure, his average per catch was just 8.9 yards, but Wallace had a solid performance. Tight end Heath Miller tallied four catches for 46 yards and one touchdown, his team-best sixth this season. Miller is on a record-setting pace with 35 catches for 336 yards for the Steelers (4-3), who have one more game before reaching the midpoint.
“I don’t know if I can keep it up, because (touchdowns) kind of come and go,” the always humble Miller said. “You might catch a few for a few weeks in a row, and then Antonio (Brown) might get a few. So, you never know. (But) it would be safe to say that I’m getting more opportunities in the red zone this season.”
With Todd Haley’s offense, the Steelers have emphasized a short passing game from Roethlisberger, where he gets the ball out much quicker and takes less hits. Miller said that utilizing shorter routes benefits him more this season, but against the Redskins it also benefited tight end Leonard Pope, who had his second catch and first touchdown this season, as well as first-year fullback Will Johnson, who had two catches for eight yards and his first NFL touchdown.
Pope’s touchdown came early in the game and actually helped Johnson get open, as the Redskins swarmed to the veteran tight end and left the young guy basically uncovered for the short toss from Roethlisberger.
“It’s great to get a victory, always, but it feels even better to get my first NFL touchdown,” Johnson said. “So, I’m really happy right now. It’s always in the game plan for Ben to go to guys like Pope and me, but you never know when it’s going to be called. So, I guess you could say his touchdown set up mine, because both were play-action and he got lost in the mix on mine.”
Despite not having Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman for the second straight game, the Steelers still ran the ball hard and successfully, as third-year player Jonathan Dwyer tallied 107 yards on 17 carries (6.3 yards per rush). It was the second straight game that Dwyer ran past the century mark and the first Steelers player to accomplish that since Willie Parker did it 68 games ago.
“Wow, that long ago, and I’ve been here the entire time,” left tackle Max Starks said, as he rushed out of the locker room to check on his wife, who is close to giving birth to their first child. “That’s hard to believe we haven’t done that more often, but we’ve still been successful during that stretch.”
Dwyer, who had a 34-yard run in the mix, was just happy to get a second start.
“I like to get a few carries under my belt at the beginning of the game,” Dwyer said. “Once I feel how the defense is playing, that’s how I get my rhythm going. (But) I’m not going to sit here and talk about (more playing time). I’m just going to do what I have to do to help us win. I’m still trying to solidify myself around here and the league as well.”
Defensively, the Steelers played nearly the entire second half without free safety Ryan Clark, who suffered a concussion, while strong safety Troy Polamalu has missed all but two games this season with a strained right calf. So, other players have had to step into more prominent roles. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy could be the safeties for the next couple games.
The Steelers linebackers probably played their best game, harassing RG3 and limiting him as much as possible. RG3 was 16-for-34 for 177 yards and one touchdown with one sack and no interceptions, but he ran for just eight yards with a long run for seven yards. And NFC-leader Alfred Morris had just 59 rushing yards on 13 carries with a long run for 12 yards.
“We played team defense,” outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “You always have to plan for a running quarterback, and I think our game plan was pretty good. I think, with their high-powered offense, that we did a great job with our high-powered defense.”
The Steelers had five total stops behind the line, along with the sack, and five quarterback hurries with eight pass breakups. Lawrence Timmons tallied two solo tackles, but he had one behind the line and three hurries. Woodley had one stop behind the line as well, while Allen and cornerback Keenan Lewis had three pass breakups each.