Game preview: Steelers at Redskins

Game preview: Steelers at Redskins
August 18, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Rich Tandler talks about Redskins options at safety

What: Steelers (0-1) at Redskins (1-0)

Where: FedEx Field

When: Monday, 8 p.m.


Twelve days ago, the Redskins left Tennessee with a come-from-behind victory in their preseason opener.

On Monday night, the competition will be a bit stiffer as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers visit FedEx Field.

What will we be looking for? Well, a lot actually. Among the key items:

  • Kirk Cousins had a strong effort against the Titans but he played only two series. He’s expected to get the entire first half against the Steelers.
  • Veteran running backs Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster got their chance last week. It’s expected rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison will get their shot against Pittsburgh.
  • Last season, Jim Haslett’s unit was defined by a top tier run defense and a bottom-third pass rush. Against the Titans, the opposite was true. Can the defense put it together?

Let’s start with Cousins, who was both poised and productive in only 13 snaps in Nashville, where he completed 6 of 7 pass attempts (to five different receivers) for 52 yards and a touchdown.

There wasn’t much to nitpick following such a clean effort. But Cousins’ challenge figures to be significantly more difficult against the Steelers, who boasted the league’s top-ranked defense in 2012. Cousins needs a second sharp effort, in extended playing time, to bolster the belief that he’s prepared to sub for Robert Griffin III if necessary.

Incumbent backup tailbacks Helu and Royster both made strong cases for themselves against the Titans. Helu rushed for 57 yards on 13 carries, while Royster got loose for 62 yards on 14 attempts.

Thompson, who is being eased back from ACL surgery, did not play in the opener and Jamison got only one rep, and it was on special teams. That figures to change under the lights in Landover.

Thompson said on Friday that his knee is feeling as strong as it has at any point since the surgery and that coaches have taken notice. But what coaches really want is for the 5 foot 8, 187-pound rookie to show his speed and elusiveness in a game. And, of course, that the Florida State product can emerge from the contest healthy.

“I still need to show that I’m not going to be affected by this knee injury, that I’m going to be able to come play at a high speed, a high level,” Thompson said. “Since I returned to practice, I haven’t had any issues at all.”

Jamison, meantime, finds himself in a similar situation. It’s unclear how much the seventh-round draft pick will play. But it’s clear he needs a productive performance as the running back battle starts to come into focus.

On the other side of the ball, Haslett wants a better showing from his run stoppers. Although the first team defenders saw limited snaps in Nashville, they were on the field for Chris Johnson’s 58-yard touchdown run and Shonn Greene’s 19-yarder. Both running backs found gaping holes in the line before knifing through the second level and secondary.

“Obviously, we did not do a good enough job in the run game,” Haslett said. “I was disappointed in that because I thought that’s …our strength. We’ll clean that up. We’re going to be good [against] the run again.”

In addition to those storylines, here are three other areas the team at will be monitoring:

1—Although he’s probably sewn up the No. 5 wide receiver job, speedy third year player Aldrick Robinson needs a more consistent effort. He had two nice grabs against the Titans but was also wide open when he dropped deep pass from Rex Grossman. That’s been the knock on Robinson – he’ll make tough catches but drop easy ones. For him to take a step forward this year, he’ll need to eliminate the concentration lapses.

2—Bacarri Rambo had his “Welcome to the NFL moment” last week when Johnson juked him in the open field. Rambo also was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved Greene out of the end zone. 

Rambo was solid in pass coverage, but he’ll want to bounce back from the miscues on the Titans’ scoring runs.

“It was great to see him go out there and make that mistake …on a great player in Chris Johnson and have something to learn from and bring him back down,” secondary coach Raheem Morris said. “A lot of young guys would want to blame what happened up front on what happened in the back. But our job is to eliminate the big, huge plays. Nobody talks about what happened up front after it gets to Rambo. He just becomes a SportsCenter highlight.”

3—Penalties. The Redskins were among the most penalized teams in 2012 – and they’re not off to a great start after getting flagged 11 times for 89 yards against the Titans. Fred Davis was whistled for excessive celebration, Rambo was hit for 15 yards after shoving Green and Chris Baker was flagged for roughing the passer. The ‘Skins also had a touchdown negated because an illegal formation infraction.

Shanahan was none too pleased the day after, either.

“Those are the type of things that beat you,” he said. “So you kind of go over those things, and make sure that if it was a regular season game you wouldn’t make some of those silly mistakes.”