Sunday's game between the Redskins and Steelers pits the NFL's top-ranked defense vs. the NFL's second-ranked defense--an occurrence that doesn't happen very often during the regular season.
The Steelers are ranked first overall, giving up 253 yards per game. The Redskins are second overall, giving up 273.8 yards per game.
Both units include a combination of stout run defenses and heavy hitters in pass defense. Expect plenty of blitzing and pressure on quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey and rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger.
Washington's defense has had to overcome numerous injuries this season to post its ranking. Safety Ryan Clark, linebackers Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall and defensive ends Ron Warner and Demetric Evans--none of them projected starters at the outset of the season--have all played key roles.
"I'm never surprised at how well the defense is doing," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "I'm more disappointed that we're not better than we are. The players love getting to the game on Sundays because they get sick of hearing me.
"I may push too hard sometimes because I think about the gifts we've given up, like the gift touchdowns or the gift first downs. We haven't always played well in certain situations. We've played well overall, don't get me wrong, but we have a long way to go. We can be an awful lot better this last half of the season."
The Redskins upgraded defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin on Friday and if he plays, it will give the defense a big lift heading into the game. Griffin leads the Redskins with four sacks.
For several weeks this season, the Williams' defense was ranked No. 1 overall. With the Steelers now on top, the Redskins hope to make a statement in Sunday's game.
Said Clark: "They've taken over No. 1, but we've given it away with some bad plays the last few games. We want to get it back and there's a lot of motivation for that. But we also know that those stats will fall into place after the game. We want to do our part in getting the win."
The big difference between the two units is that the Steelers run a 3-4 defensive alignment while the Redskins run a more traditional 4-3 alignment.
The Steelers are able to get pressure from blitzing linebackers and safeties. Joey Porter is second on the team with five sacks and James Farrior has three sacks.
"We are probably pressuring a little bit more than in the past," Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher said. "I also think our defense has benefited greatly by the time of possession that we have had on offense. They are fresh and have not had a lot of snaps in the games."
Cowher credited defensive end Aaron Smith (who will line up against rookie right tackle Mark Wilson on Sunday), linebacker Farrior and safeties Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu as key to the defense's success. Polamalu leads the defense with four interceptions.
Said head coach Joe Gibbs: "When you watch them on film, they're extremely impressive, very physical and quick. They're well-coached. You can see why they're No. 1. Everybody knows what kind of offense Philadelphia has, they limited Philadelphia to 113 total yards. Those kinds of stats say it all."