Why this game is intriguing: On the surface, it's two mediocre teams in a cross-conference matchup that doesn't mean much. Whatever. Two of the game's most enjoyable quarterbacks to watch ... on the same field? I'm in. In fact, if I could TiVo this game, I'd only watch the portions where defenders try in vain to sack Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger, only to see the two quarterbacks keep plays alive with their feet and strength. As for the actual game, there is plenty at stake. Both have flashed enough to be considered possible playoff teams, with the Pittsburgh Steelers showing just a bit more (even with their injuries). But if the visiting Washington Redskins pull it off, their storyline changes.
After nearly helping the Washington Redskins knock off the defending Super Bowl champions, Robert Griffin III's next challenge is against one of the NFL's stingiest defenses.
He'll again be on the road against a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, who is nearly perfect at home versus NFC opponents.
Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers will try for their first set of consecutive victories this year Sunday in an enticing matchup with Griffin and the Redskins.
Griffin continues to impress after last Sunday's 27-23 road loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The electrifying rookie threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 89 yards, connecting with Santana Moss for a go-ahead score with 1:32 remaining before Manning rallied New York to victory.
"We've gone out and executed and been able to move the ball," Griffin said. "So it's just about knowing what you're doing out there and not feeling the pressure even when other people do."
Griffin leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage and 7.3 yards per carry for the league's top rushing attack. His passer rating of 101.8 trails only reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
"I think that's what generates a lot of their offense," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin about Washington's running game. "I think their play-pass game is spectacular, I think that's one of the reasons that RG3 is completing 70 percent of his passes."
Now Griffin will be up against a Pittsburgh defense that ranks second in the league in allowing 287.5 yards per game. The Steelers (3-3) won 24-17 last Sunday at Cincinnati by giving up 185 yards, matching the third-lowest total by any team this year.
"I know it's the Steelers' defense and whenever you say that, it holds a lot of power, a lot of weight," Griffin said. "Regardless of what other people have said, they're still a very good defense. The numbers prove it, the players on the field prove it."
One plus for Griffin is that he won't see All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who remains out with a strained right calf.
While Griffin will be matching wits for the first time with Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, his team faces a second straight week against one of the NFL's proven commodities at quarterback.
Roethlisberger is 14-1 all-time at home against NFC foes, and he has eight touchdowns to no interceptions and a 101.3 rating during a six-game win streak in such contests. He's a big reason why Pittsburgh leads the league in third-down conversion rate at 53.8.
"Ben's so good at making plays when everything shuts down," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "When you take a look at his third-down conversion rate, I think that proves everything about the guy that he's going to find a way to make a play."
The Steelers star has beaten Washington (3-4) twice but hasn't been at his best in those contests. The Redskins are the only team Roethlisberger has never thrown a touchdown pass against, and his 37.8 completion percentage and 42.7 rating represent his worst marks versus any opponent.
Pittsburgh could be getting some key offensive players back, although starting right tackleMarcus Gilbert has been ruled out.
Center Maurkice Pouncey is expected to return after being out with a right knee sprain, while running back Isaac Redman (ankle) could also be back. Fellow running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) will not play.
Without Mendenhall and Redman, the Steelers rushed for a season-high 167 yards last Sunday, with Jonathan Dwyer gaining a career-high 122.
The Redskins have been stout against the run in limiting foes to 85.3 yards per game while featuring the league's worst pass defense at 328.4 yards per contest.
Griffin has been complemented in the backfield nicely by rookie running back Alfred Morris, who is third in the league with 94.0 yards per game after he had a season-high 120 last Sunday.
"Morris is a one-cut deliberate runner, he's very good in the toss game, their toss-sweep game is excellent," Tomlin said. "He's a downhill runner, he runs hard, he finishes."
Washington will be without top receiver Fred Davis, who is out for the season after tearing his left Achilles against the Giants. Former Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley, released by the team before the season, has been signed to replace Davis.
Redskins linebacker London Fletcher's streak of 231 consecutive games, the longest active run in the NFL, is in jeopardy after he was evaluated by a neurologist for a possible head injury Thursday, but a concussion was ruled out and he returned to practice Friday.
Fletcher remains questionable to play Sunday.