Because of the NFL’s schedule rotation, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not frequent opponents of teams from the NFC East like the Washington Football Team.
The last time Pittsburgh faced Washington was in 2016. That team was led on offense by quarterback Kirk Cousins, running backs Robert Kelley and Matt Jones, tight end Jordan Reed and wide receivers Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder.
This year’s squad will feature none of them. Cousins is with the Minnesota Vikings, Reed is with the San Francisco 49ers, Crowder is with the New York Jets, Jackson is with the Philadelphia Eagles and Garçon, Jones and Kelley are out of the NFL.
They’ve been replaced by quarterback Alex Smith, running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic, tight end Logan Thomas and wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Cam Sims.
That’s a lot of change, and the Steelers will have to digest it all in a shortened week thanks to the repeated postponement of their game against the Redskins. Instead of the usual six days to prepare, they’ll have just four.
But they do have an inside advantage that head coach Mike Tomlin has been able to lean on. Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard came over to the Steelers from Washington this offseason, and has a depth of knowledge about the Washington receivers group, in particular.
“We have kind of an intimate understanding of the development of those guys, at least from his perspective,” Tomlin said “That’s probably been helpful at least to this point in getting to know them some. Again, they’re not a group that we play all the time, so that 1-on-1, that knowledge, that intimate knowledge is helpful to us, particularly in a short week as we make quick decisions and stack our chips in an effort to walk into that stadium Monday evening.
McLaurin, in particular, has emerged as a dangerous threat in the passing game. He’s fifth in the NFL with 963 receiving yards and tied for fifth with 102 targets. Hilliard was part of the reason that the 2019 third-round pick burst on the NFL scene as a rookie last season.
“The world expected him to a special teams player and he ended up being our number one [wide receiver] last year for the Washington Football Team,” Hilliard said in August.
Hilliard help build the young wide receiver into an NFL star in his first season. Now the Steelers hope he can help stop him.