PITTSBURGH - Linebacker Larry Foote and other members of the Steelers defense hit the books this past week.
Despite toiling in the NFL for 11 seasons, preparing for talented Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III more than likely forced Foote to pull a few all-nighters.
"I've been around here a long time, and I can tell you I've never studied so much,'' Foote said in a relaxed locker room following the Steelers' 27-12 victory over the Redskins at a wet Heinz Field Sunday. "Coach [Mike] Tomlin showed us a five-minute highlight tape of [Griffin III] on Wednesday, and that's all it took. It was a wakeup call.''
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley puts the heat on?Robert Griffin III during second-half action Sunday afternoon.
The Pittsburgh defense, along with help from a ball-control offense, answered the call and showed a renewed vigor in leading the Steelers to their second straight victory. The Steelers (4-3) moved to within one game of idle Baltimore for first place in the AFC North Division.
The Steelers held Griffin III to his worst passer's rating of the season (72.8) - with the help of several drops by Redskins receivers - and his second-lowest output in the rushing department. He threw for 177 yards and gained just 8 yards on the ground on six carries.
"The big thing, and what we talked about all week is, regardless of what happened, we needed to run to the football with energy, run and hit and get multiple guys to the football,'' Tomlin said. "We thought that was the only way we could contain that outfit, largely, and I thought we did the job.''
Steelers 75-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau designed the master plan at stopping the 22-year-old Washington dynamo. Rookie quarterbacks are usually no match for LeBeau, and Sunday was no exception.
Griffin III came into the game with 468 yards rushing, averaging more than 7 yards per carry. He never got loose for any gain longer than 7 yards and was sacked once. Every time he thought about running, a Steelers defender took away the sideline escape route.
"We went out there and played our game and didn't worry about who was at quarterback,'' Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "We wanted to force him to throw the ball and not let him beat us with the run game. I think we went out there and did that.''
The Steelers defense executed LeBeau's plan to near perfection, despite playing without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and having Pro Bowl safety Ryan Clark miss nearly half of the game with a head injury. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy filled in at safety, and the defense didn't miss a beat.
"[LeBeau] is a smart guy,'' Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He's been doing it for 54 years. I've been here 11 years, and it seems like such a long time. Nothing compares to that guy. He studies tape relentlessly and is always looking for an edge.''
The Steelers gained a quick 7-0 edge in the game by taking the opening kickoff and driving 76 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Leonard Pope on a fourth-and-goal call.
The score was 10-6 Steelers in the second quarter when Roethlisberger directed a 10-play, 74-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller. Shaun Suisham later added his second field goal to give Pittsburgh a commanding 20-6 halftime lead.
The long drives kept Griffin III off the field for much of the first half. The Redskins (3-5) held the ball for just 26 plays in the first two quarters with Griffin III attempting 13 passes.
"[The Steelers offense] did a pretty good job of making some plays and kind of controlling the tempo,'' Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "We're better [than what we showed] on third downs. I think they were 4-for-10 and 1-for-1 on fourth downs. We have to play better, especially in this environment, to win.''
Washington added a Kai Forbath field goal to start the second half, but the Steelers mixed up the run and pass efficiently to drive 80 yards on 11 plays. Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Will Johnson pushed Pittsburgh's lead to 27-9.
Roethlisberger finished with 222 yards through the air, and the Steelers gained 140 on the ground. Jonathan Dwyer produced his second straight 100-yard rushing effort in his second-straight start, totaling 107 yards on 17 carries.
"Any time you can mix it up and be balanced, [you'll be successful], and that's what we've always said we wanted to be - a balanced offense,'' Roethlisberger said. "I feel like we are that right now.''
The Redskins added a field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to get within two scores, but a long drive later ended with an incompletion on fourth-and-17 at the Steelers' 24. Pittsburgh ran the final four minutes off the clock with the help of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
The Steelers will try and keep their winning streak intact when they visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at 4:25 p.m. next Sunday. Facing Giants quarterback Eli Manning will probably ignite another creative game plan for the Steelers defense.
"We had a good week of practice this past week, except for Wednesday, which was an adjustment day,'' Keisel said. "It was nice to come out and get a definitive win because we hadn't done that yet this year. We talked about stacking wins, and hopefully we can keep this going.''