By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers visit FedEx Field for a Monday night game against the Washington Redskins:
STEELERS P MITCH BERGER VS. REDSKINS PR SANTANA MOSS: For the most part, the Redskins deploy Antwaan Randle El as their punt returner, but he currently ranks 20th in the NFL with an average of 6.5 yards per return. As a point of comparison, Santonio Holmes ranks 22nd at 5.3 per return. But what the Redskins did last week against Detroit was put Moss back for a return early in the fourth quarter of a game Washington led by only 16-10. Moss brought the punt back 80 yards for a touchdown. "We try to get him a look at least once a game," said Randle El about Moss. "It kind of gives us a changeup, and he was able to come out of that thing after running into one of our players; that's kind of the way that it happens some time. Santana made a good play on that." The belief is that the hamstring strain in Berger's non-kicking leg won't prevent him from punting against the Redskins, but if it prevents him from keeping the ball away from Moss that might be a bigger problem.
STEELERS ROLB JAMES HARRISON VS. REDSKINS LT CHRIS SAMUELS: It's difficult to find fault with the performance of the Steelers defense in the game against the Giants, but one of the differences in the game was that New York's defense recorded five sacks and had four takeaways, and the Steelers had no sacks and no takeaways. Jason Campbell has yet to throw an interceptions this season – he has 230 attempts – and he has been sacked 16 times, compared to 23 for Roethlisberger. It's going to be tough going for the Steelers offense against the Redskins, both because of the crowd noise and the ability of Washington's defense, and so some help from the defense would be a good thing. Splash plays – sacks, takeaways – could go a long way toward helping the Steelers leave there with a win. Harrison didn't add to his sack total against the Giants, but he did have seven pressures to raise his total to 18 on the season. Samuels is the Redskins best offensive lineman, a starter since he was a rookie.
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. REDSKINS DE ANDRE CARTER AND SS CHRIS HORTON: Just as the Steelers defense will be trolling for big plays, so will Washington's. With Jason Taylor still out with a calf injury, Carter is the Redskins' primary pass rusher, and the fact he leads the team with only two sacks through eight games indicates why the team went after Taylor in the first place. Last season, the Steelers faced a Jets team with an anemic pass rush and allowed seven, so the Redskins pass rush shouldn't be discounted simply because it hasn't produced big numbers (10 sacks vs. 273 pass attempts) to this point. Three of the Redskins' five interceptions – 24th in the NFL – have been turned in by Horton, a rookie from UCLA who came to the team as a seventh-round draft choice. Since the start of the 2006 season, the Steelers are 2-11 in games in which Roethlisberger throws more than one interception, and so the notion that it's OK to employ a high-wire act as an offense is disproved by the statistics.
STEELERS SS TROY POLAMALU VS. REDSKINS TE CHRIS COOLEY: This really won't be a one-man job, because Cooley is too much a part of the Redskins' offense. Cooley currently is second on the team with 40 catches – 24 of which have been good for first downs, and nine of those came on third down. The Redskins offense is not a quick-strike-down-the-field attacking unit, and along with RB Clinton Portis of course, Cooley is one of the main guys when it comes to moving the chains. Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior also figure to be a part of the plan to control Cooley.
STEELERS NT CASEY HAMPTON VS. REDSKINS C CASEY RABACH: This will be just one part of the game-long battle by the Redskins to add to Clinton Portis' NFL-leading 944 yards rushing. Portis is averaging 5.0 a carry and has scored seven touchdowns, and while he isn't the load that Brandon Jacobs was he has been a more productive player for a longer period of time in the NFL. At 221 pounds, Portis has enough speed to get into the secondary, but on third-and-short he isn't going to try to tip-toe through the line of scrimmage and look for a place to fall down. Portis has touched the ball 198 times this season, and 52 of those touches have resulted in first downs. The Steelers haven't been gashed by a running back this season, and they deserve their reputation as one of the league's top defenses against the run. But Clinton Portis will provide a legitimate test.