After a long wait and plenty of questions about whether they'd be able to actually play, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally got in their Week 12 game against the Ravens on Wednesday afternoon. Five days later, they're set to play again, at home against the Washington Football Team.
Both teams were initially scheduled to play on Thanksgiving Day, but Pittsburgh's game was delayed because of a COVID-19 outbreak that left the Ravens without their starting quarterback, tight end, and two top running backs, among the more than 20 players who landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Washington, meanwhile easily disposed of the Cowboys, who were missing plenty of key players — just due to injuries.
And this game was moved from Sunday to Monday because of the Week 12 schedule shuffling. Regardless of when it's played, the Steelers will have to put their undefeated record to the test once again. Washington will be the fourth losing team in five weeks Pittsburgh gets to play, but the team is in prime playoff position thanks to the quirk of playing in the NFC East. As far as their playoff odds go, the fact that they're tied with the Giants matters far more than their 4-7 record.
Can the Steelers move to 12-0, with just the Bills, Bengals, Colts, and Browns left on their schedule? Or will Washington build on its first winning streak of the season in a shocking road upset?
Washington at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -7
Three Things to Watch
1. How will the rest differential affect the teams?
The biggest thing that sticks out about this matchup is how drastically different the amount of time each team has had to prepare. Since 2018, the NFL has made a point to even out rest differential for teams' schedules, and Pittsburgh and Washington were both supposed to have 10 days of rest. But with the Steelers' game pushed back to Wednesday, there was no avoiding this scenario. It was just a matter of whether the rest differential would be 4-10 or 5-11 in terms of days.
There's been plenty of research showing how rest makes an impact. A 2018 Yale study showed that from 2011-15, home teams had a .568 winning percentage overall. However, when the home team was less rested, that winning percentage fell to .536. That was even more drastic in scenarios where the home team had less than a week’s worth of rest (.481 winning percentage with six days rest compared to seven for the road team).
With Pittsburgh on short rest and Washington on extra rest, the advantage should swing to the road team later in the game as players tire. Plus, Washington has more than double the time to game plan and scheme against a tough Steelers defense.
2. Can the Steelers slow down Antonio Gibson?
Washington is 29th in passing offense (218.6 ypg) and 27th in net yards per pass attempt (5.6). As exciting as second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin is, this passing offense is nothing to brag about. The only thing keeping it going lately has been rookie running back Antonio Gibson.
Gibson is the league's 13th-leading rusher (645 yards) but is third with 11 rushing touchdowns. And he's been on absolute fire lately. In his last five games, Gibson has 402 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while adding 86 receiving yards on 13 receptions.
The Steelers could be one of Gibson's hardest tests yet, even with linebacker Bud Dupree becoming the second lost by Pittsburgh at the position (Devin Bush) due to a torn ACL. The team ranks eighth against the run (105.7 ypg), albeit just 18th on a per-carry basis (4.4 ypc). Washington had better hope its skill position players can find other ways to score, though, since the Steelers' six rushing touchdowns surrendered are the second-fewest in the league (Saints have given up five).
Gibson has had mixed results against top run defenses too; he had 49 yards on nine attempts against the Browns but 46 on 13 attempts against the Ravens, and 27 yards on 11 carries against the Rams. But all three games were early in the season, so perhaps he'll have a chance to show how he's adapted this season.
3. Can Washington contain the Steelers' aerial attack?
One of the most pleasant surprises this season has been how well Ben Roethlisberger has played. Coming back from an elbow injury is never easy, especially at 38. But the veteran is looking capable once again, even if he's not close to leading the league in passing yards per game, as he did in 2014, '15, and '18.
The Steelers keep supplying him with good, young receivers, as rookie Chase Claypool and second-year wideout Diontae Johnson look like keepers. However, he's been more focused on making shorter, safer throws than going deep. His intended air yards per attempt are down from 7.8 in 2018 to 6.9 this season, and his yards per attempt are down from 7.6 to 6.5. On the bright side, his completion rate is up from 67.0 to 67.5, and his interception rate is down from 2.4 to 1.4 percent.
Washington's pass defense numbers (194.6 ypg, second only to the Steelers) are padded a bit by the fact that plenty of opponents have been able to run out the clock in the second half, but the team still has a solid secondary. Opponents have posted a 88.5 passer rating (seventh) on 6.9 yards per attempt (ninth). Their impressive pass rush (36 sacks, second only to the Steelers, again) will be crucial in slowing down the Steelers because Washington is not built to win a shootout.
Short rest vs. extra rest will make a massive impact on this game, but these teams just aren't close enough in talent for Washington to pull this one out unless Pittsburgh lays a massive egg. And that's possible — they did barely edge the Broncos 26-21 in their only other game this season on short rest. Don't expect anything fancy from the Steelers since maintaining their health may be the biggest goal of this game, but they should be able to pull out a win based on the strength of their defense.