Key Pittsburgh Steelers Week One Matchups

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to open up their season on the road for Monday Night Football. It should be a raucous environment at FedExField as they compete against the Washington Redskins. When breaking down the matchups, a few stand out as potential game changers. For the Steelers, these are the three most important matchups in their week one game with Washington.

Key Pittsburgh Steelers Week One Matchups

Antonio Brown vs. Josh Norman and Washington Secondary

It has been highlighted and hyped up as the best individual matchup of 2016. Unfortunately for NFL fans, it is still a question as to how many rounds Brown and Norman go head-to-head. Norman has played his career as a cornerback who takes one side of the field rather than follow specific receivers. The Redskins have been more of a press-man team. However, with DeAngelo Hall‘s recent move to safety, it makes sense to run more Cover-3. If Washington runs Cover-3, it would be a scheme fit for Norman, but would limit his chances defending Brown. What’s special about Brown is his ability to line up all over the field and be dynamic from any position. The Steelers can choose to move Brown to the side of Bashaud Breeland, and can line him up in the slot to avoid Norman.

Overall, this is a matchup the Steelers should win. Brown usually comes up big against big-name cornerbacks; Chris Harris can attest to that. He will be anxious to open the year with a big bang. Even though Norman will want to prove himself in this game as well, the Steelers will be able to find ways to get Brown the ball, who is set to explode with it in his hands.

Steelers tackles vs. Washington Pass Rush

With Antonio Brown being a key matchup in this game, it is safe to say that the Steelers are going to be throwing the football a lot on Monday. Washington ranked 20th in the NFL in pass defense DVOA last season, which was one of the main reasons the team signed Josh Norman. The team did, however, rank in the top 15 in team sacks last year. They did so with rookie Preston Smith breaking out to record eight sacks while starting in one game. This year, Smith has earned the starting spot opposite of Ryan Kerrigan, who is one of the most underrated pass rushers of the past two years. He has averaged 9.5 sacks per season in his five year career. Together, these two may cause fits for the Steelers.

The Steelers offensive line is strong, make no doubt about that. However, they do enter the season with some serious questions at tackle. Alejandro Villanueva has 10 career starts at left tackle. He had progressed last season and looked well in preseason; winning the job immediately in camp this year. However, this is a raw player who was a defensive lineman and tight end all within the past three seasons.

Across from him is Marcus Gilbert who had an excellent 2015 campaign. On the other hand, Gilbert enters the season coming off of a hyperextended elbow from week three of the preseason. Gilbert has been limited recently in practice and with the new injury report rules, his status is a bit unknown. For the first week of the season, it will not be a nice welcome back party for the Steelers tackles. They will be pushed to the limit and tested to keep this passing game alive in what will be a high-scoring affair.

Steelers Secondary vs. Washington Pass Catchers 

The Steelers obvious weakness entering the season is their pass defense. Washington has an obvious strength – skill players who catch the football. This sets up a major test early on for a secondary that has seen some player movement. DeSean Jackson is a key piece here, and as a deep threat, he is the player that opens up the rest of the field for all of the playmakers. Those playmakers are some of the best in the NFL at taking underneath and over the middle passes.

Jordan Reed takes up the seams in the middle and is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. The Steelers have had major troubles with tight ends in the passing game, and recently have drafted safeties and linebackers with the specific intentions of having them line up against big, moving tight ends.

With the deep balls and the middles taken up, all of the underneath routes will be open for Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder. Crowder had an excellent rookie year and fits the mold of a shifty and quick slot receiver. Sean Davis, a rookie will line up on Crowder all game and one thing he has shown early is that he can get beat on quick routes. It will be a major test for an unproven rookie. Garcon is a stud after the catch, and with many mismatches away from him, it almost feels like he will receive the least amount of attention.

On top of this, all the team has Josh Doctson, a rookie, who head coach Jay Gruden had compared to A.J. Green. Doctson spent most of his preseason nursing an injury, and will be limited in this game, but as a fourth receiver, the Steelers will be struggling to find any plus matchups in the secondary.

Main Photo: