By BOB LABRIOLA
It read this way: field goal, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, blocked punt, end of half.
That how each of the Washington Redskins' first half offensive series ended in last Monday night's game against the Steelers, and their two field goal "drives" lasted a total of six plays and gained a combined 14 yards.
Calling the Steelers defense the league's best unit to this point in the 2008 season might be debated by the representative from Baltimore, but there are statistics that help make Pittsburgh's case.
The Steelers defense currently is ranked in the top five in 10 different defensive categories, including yards allowed, sacks, third-down conversions and points allowed. And their run defense, which was a bit of a problem at the end of the 2007 season, has been as stingy and nasty as ever.
When Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew managed 24 yards on 15 carries, it was, well, the Jaguars offensive line was operating without three injured starters. But when the Giants' Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward went 31 times for 84 yards, a 2.7 average, while running behind the best offensive line in football, there was no way to mitigate the accomplishment.
And then, there was the job the Steelers did on Clinton Portis, who came into the game leading the NFL in yards rushing and rushing touchdowns. Portis finished with 51 yards on 13 carries, and 22 of those yards came on one first quarter carry.
"The main thing is they had a great running game, but we stop the run," said Tyrone Carter, who started at free safety in place of the injured Ryan Clark. "Every time we step on the field, we feel we're the best. We just have to being our A-game every night."
The Steelers defense seemed to have its A-game right from the start, even if the same could not be said for special teams or the offense.
An unsuccessful onside kick to open the game, plus an offside penalty to boot, gave the Redskins the ball in field goal range right off the bat. Three plays later, they settled for a field goal.
Then when Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted on the Steelers' first third-down situation of the game, the Redskins offense again took the field already in field goal range. Three plays later, they settled for another field goal.
And so even though the Steelers defense allowed only 14 total yards on the Redskins first two offensive possessions, the team trailed, 6-0.
"We have a philosophy of give us a blade of grass to defend and we will defend it; they embraced that," said Coach Mike Tomlin of his defense. "It was not the first time that they have taken the field under those circumstances, and it probably won't be the last. I think that we have the kind of defensive unit that responds to those challenges. That is why you are comfortable taking some of the risks that you take at times because of what they are capable of doing."
The Redskins offense also was capable of big plays, thanks to the presence of Santana Moss at wide receiver. In the previous few weeks, Moss had returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown and caught a 67-yard pass for another score. And remember, the Steelers played the Redskins without Clark, whose absence last season triggered a flurry of big plays allowed by the secondary.
"(Allowing big plays) was a big concern of ours going into the game because they did have big play threats," said Tomlin. "Santana Moss is a guy who is capable of taking the top off the coverage. (Antwaan) Randle El was great after the catch. Clinton Portis is Clinton Portis. If we were to play well last night, we felt like we had to limit big plays as much as we could.
"For the most part I think we were successful at doing that. Clinton (Portis) bounced out and got out for 22 yards on us pretty quickly one time and that is what he is capable of. But other than that I thought we did a good job of managing that and trying to make them earn it as they went down the field."