ASHBURN — The season is finally here. The Redskins will defend their NFC East title and make a run at a second consecutive playoff berth with a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
Pittsburgh is one of six playoff teams from 2015 Washington will face this year and a good start is imperative. Here are five storylines to watch on Monday night when everything kicks off:
We don’t have much to go on with the Redskins’ offensive starters. We simply didn’t see enough of them in game situations during the preseason. Kirk Cousins played just five snaps against Atlanta and one half against the Jets — and the first quarter of that game was ugly. Then he threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter. That’s where some optimism comes in. This is virtually the same group as 2015 when Cousins set a franchise passing record. DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder plus, eventually, first-round pick Josh Doctson? That talent will overwhelm a lot of teams. So the hope is preseason rust won’t matter and Washington will hit the ground running as it ended last season.
Josh Norman vs. Antonio Brown
Both sides have downplayed this matchup. The Steelers can — and will — move Brown all over the field to get him space. There will be times Bashaud Breeland will be called upon to cover him. But the fact is the game’s highest-paid corner — a man not immune to controversy this summer — and a player who tied for the NFL lead in receptions (136) in 2015 are going to go head-to-head more often than not. It’s great theatre for a season opener and a chance for Norman to prepare for a year where he will see Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham, Jr. twice each, among other top receivers. With the cash comes the expectations. Let’s see how Norman handles it.
Congratulations. You’ve just beaten your man on a stunt up the middle and put pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Awesome. Now you have to actually tackle him. That’s a critical task for the Redskins this weekend and not an easy one with a quarterback who runs 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. Maybe Roethlisberger can’t move as he once did. But he has an innate ability to shift in the pocket, shake off would-be tacklers and make a play out of nothing. It’s almost laughable to see undersized linebackers or defensive backs try to bring him down. Washington has emphasized this all week in practice.
Look, the Steelers have a number of young players at key spots in the secondary (safety Sean Davis, cornerback Artie Burns). They will try to make up for this by blitzing Cousins from every angle and they have linebackers good enough to make life difficult for Washington’s offensive line. It helps that Shawn Lauvao was deemed healthy enough to regain his starting spot at left guard.
Center Kory Lichtensteiger might not be here next year, but for now he’s easily the best they have at center and they missed him — a lot — the final 11 games last season when he was injured. It’s nice to have a veteran there who can decipher how Pittsburgh is going to bring pressure. Because the Steelers don’t really have a choice.
Maybe this won’t last. The Redskins need to take advantage of it – especially against a Steelers team that has several key players suspended early in the season, including running back Le’Veon Bell. At this point, Doctson (left Achilles tendon) is the only question mark given this was his first week of practice since May 25. But he also plays the deepest position on the team.
Defensive end Kendall Reyes (groin) practiced again to ease concerns Washington would drop to five defensive linemen for this game. Matt Jones (shoulder) practiced again on Friday. He’s been good to go all week as he said he would be. Keep an eye on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s groin injury. His MRI showed no major damage and he’s been on the practice field showing no issues. It can still be a lingering injury that can hamper a player’s explosiveness.
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