Steelers Head To Capital For First Road Test

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Saturday, August 18, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist


After opening the preseason with a convincing 20-7 win over the Saints, the Steelers seemed on their way to another convincing win last weekend in their home debut against the Packers. But, Pittsburgh ended up squandering a second-quarter lead and allowed Green Bay to come back for a 13-9 win.

This weekend's game at Washington is the first real road test of the preseason, and it offers the third chance for players to prove themselves.

The Redskins enter the weekend 1-0, after having captured a 14-6 win at Tennessee, where they scored two touchdowns in the final 75 seconds to seal the victory.

While the individual performances still carry more importance than the victories at this point, getting a win still means plenty, since the individual performances determine whether or not the team succeeds. Will the right guys step up and not only prove themselves, but also help pick up a second preseason win for the Steelers?

Keys to Success

The Titans exposed a giant hole in the Redskins' offensive line by picking up five sacks on Saturday night. If the defensive rotation can get into the backfield on a regular basis, it could spell a long night for the Washington quarterbacks. And, considering the defense has produced only one sack in two games, doing that is going to require some serious stepping up.

At the same time, a hole was exposed in Pittsburgh's line by the Packers' defense, which also racked up five sacks on Saturday night. The pass protection is definitely going to have to improve, not only for the sake of the quarterbacks' safety and performance, but also because the O-line is one of the key areas of concern right now, and the right mix of guys needs to be found before the season starts.

The Steelers must continue to establish the run game. Pittsburgh is averaging over 150 yards through the first two games, even with the O-line's struggles. The return of Parker is going to be a bonus. There's no telling how much he'll play though, so continued success by the backups is important. Washington limited Tennessee to 84 yards on 34 attempts on Saturday, so it won't be easy.

And, the field position battle will be of great importance as well. Daniel Sepulveda had four punts of 47 yards or more against the Packers and pinned Green Bay inside their 21 four times, so if he can do that again this week, it will help give both the defense and offense an edge, as long as they take advantage of it.

Injury/Starting Lineup Report

As mentioned above, Parker is finally off of the injured list and will likely start against the Redskins.

So, is linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who's finally been able to practice (though limited) this week after being held out due to a groin problem. Timmons likely won't be ready for game action for a little while, but this is certainly big progress. Also, outside linebacker James Harrison is now healthy, and will play on Saturday.

Free safety Anthony Smith hasn't practiced recently with abdominal issues, which means Ryan Clark will start. Smith's injury might well mean the difference in the battle between him and the incumbent Clark for that starting spot.

Position Battles

The main ones to look at are still on the offensive line. Sean Mahan got his first chance at center against the Packers, while Willie Colon got his first shot at right tackle. But, those positions are still undecided, so expect to see Chukky Okobi and Mahan both get regular time at center, and Colon and Max Starks continue their battle for that right tackle position.

The Cedric Wilson-Santonio Holmes battle carries on into another week. Could this be the week that one separates himself from the other? Holmes moved ahead of Wilson on the depth chart this week, so this might be a sign that things are swinging the former Ohio State star's way.

Look for William Gay to get more chance to shine this week at corner. He had six tackles and a sack against Green Bay, and the rookie from Louisville is really pushing hard to figure into the rotation at corner. The starting battle is still between Bryant McFadden and DeShea Townsend, but Gay is certainly one to watch as a potential contributor.

Speaking of the battle between McFadden and Townsend, it had a few swings this week, as McFadden finally (and deservedly) got his turn as the first-team right corner in practice, and then, just as quickly, Townsend returned to first-team duties. Mike Tomlin is continuously saying positive things about McFadden's abilities and potential, but from his actions, it seems as if Townsend is still the starter until further notice.

What We'll See

The starters might get more time than before, though cautiousness is still expected.

Pittsburgh didn't do a great job of finishing drives or converting opportunities against Green Bay, and the same could be said for the Titans, who were the better team statistically against the Redskins, but got beat in the only number that matters.

Opportunities may be scarce on Saturday night, with both teams capable of shutting each other down. So, it's going to come down to who makes the most of their chances. That means when you get inside the 40, you best not stall there without getting any points.

Look for the defenses to play a pivotal role in deciding this one. A win would be nice, but what's more important is continued improvement and elimination of mistakes as the season draws closer, and getting closer to figuring out who will be in what role. And, couple that with no names being added to the injury list, and it'll add up to a successful night for the Steelers, even if they don't pick up the W.