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Forces and objects

Forces and objects

The Washington Redskins game against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight will be decided largely by strength against strength and weakness against weakness.

The battle of strengths, the unstoppable force against the immovable object, is the Redskins' running game against the Steelers' rush defense. We all know that Clinton Portis has rushed for 120 yards or more in each of his last five games and that he leads the NFL in rushing yards. Overall the Redskins are third in the NFL is rushing, averaging 155 yards per game. Jim Zorn has been rewarded for his willingness to stick with the run even when the Skins have been behind in games.

Pittsburgh has best overall defense in the NFL (236 yards per game) and the Steelers rank third against the run (72 YPG). Last week they held the Giants to 83 yards rushing, about half of New York's season average.

The Giants, however, were able to pull out that game thanks in large part to their ability to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and sack him five times. This was not a surprising development as the Steelers have allowed 24 sacks this year. Only five teams have allowed more.

But the Redskins are ill suited to take advantage of this chink in the steel armor. They have just 10 sacks all year; only the Bengals and Chiefs have fewer.

This paucity of sacks is due in part to Greg Blache's decision to refrain from blitzing in favor of keeping more defenders back in coverage. It's hard to argue with the results as the Redskins are a respectable 11th in pass defense.

Another reason why the Redskins have such a low sack total is that most of their games have been close. They have yet to build a substantial lead that would allow them to fluff up their sack stats.

And there is every reason to believe that this will be another down-to-the-wire affair. Both teams have significant injuries. Pittsburgh will be without two defensive starters in cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Ryan Clark. Cornerback Shawn Springs and defensive end Jason Taylor are out for the Redskins.

The key to this game may well be two Redskins who are game time decisions. If Santana Moss' hamstring is well enough to allow him to play, Washington will better be able to exploit the Steelers' issues in the secondary. If Chris Samuels can go on his sore knee, the Redskins will better be able to combat the fierce Pittsburgh pass rush (25 sacks, 5th in NFL).

I've been thinking that the Redskins were in trouble in this game all week. The matchups, as outlined above, just don't seem to spell success. It's not good when you can't take advantage of the opposition's big soft spot and the other guys are well equipped to take away your major strength.

Maybe Portis will be able to break loose like he did against the Eagles, another team that you're not supposed to be able to run against. You know that Zorn will stick with the run as long as the game is competitive. He doesn't have to rush for a buck-twenty again. Even 80 or 90 yards on the ground will establish the threat of the run and allow Jason Campbell a little more freedom to pass to Moss.

It may come down to the kickers. Shaun Suisham has been pretty good, but he has missed a few that he should have made. Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed is a perfect 10 for 10 this year.

That, it says here, will be the difference.

Steelers 20, Redskins 17

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Matt Ryan throws some serious shade at Kyle Shanahan for the Super Bowl loss

Matt Ryan throws some serious shade at Kyle Shanahan for the Super Bowl loss

Matt Ryan spoke to CBS Sports' Pete Prisco about the loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl and how the Falcons will rebound in 2017. 

In the process, he took a shot at former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's play-calling and put some of the blame on his style of coaching for the disastrous fourth quarter.

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in," Ryan said. "As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

Those are some harsh words from Ryan and not exactly a ringing endorsement of Kyle Shanahan. This loss will surely haunt him should he never get back to another Super Bowl.

"There's always going to be a little sting," Ryan said. "You never lose that. Hopefully we've got four Super Bowl victories after this one, but that doesn't mean we won't still be like, 'Damn, let's talk about the other one we should've had."

Redskins fans may be able to relate to Matt Ryan's pain as some were vocal about Kyle Shanahan's play-calling during his time in Washington. Maybe Kirk Cousins takes notice of Ryan's comments as well before he considers San Francisco next off-season.

MORE REDSKINS: REDSKINS STATEMENT WAS A MISTAKE, BUT WON'T HAVE IMPACT ON THE FIELD

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Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Redskins running backs over-under

The Redskins’ running backs depth chart looks quite different from how it did a year ago. Rob Kelley, who was “ninth-string” back last year per Jay Gruden, is the starter. Samaje Perine enters the mix with expectations that exceed those normally assigned to a fourth-round pick. Chris Thompson is the constant as the third-down back. What kind of numbers will they put up this year? Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and JP Finlay go over-under on some Redskins running back stats. 

Rob Kelley, 1,000 rushing yards

Tandler: If you project Kelley’s production in the nine games he started over 16 games it comes to about 1,050 yards. He had his ups and downs in those nine starts and he will have them this year. But he should have enough ups to be able to average the 62.5 yards per game needed to hit the thousand-yard mark. Over

Finlay: Unlike wide receivers, where 25 guys broke the 1,000 yard mark in 2016, it's getting harder and harder for a running back to hit four-figures. In 2016, only 12 RBs ran for more than 1,000 yards, and only eight got over 1,100 yards. As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, less backs are getting the carries sufficient for a 1,000 yard season. The Redskins haven't had a 1,000 yard rusher since Alfred Morris in 2014. While I think Kelley gets the bulk of the yardage, I think it caps out about 900 yards and Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine creep into the total. Under

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Kelley, 10 rushing touchdowns

Tandler: He scored six as the starter last year and doing the math that comes to 11 over 16 games. But last year there wasn’t a player like Perine, who could come into the game and vulture some touchdowns after Kelley did the work to get the ball in goal to go position. Under

Finlay: Sorry to keep going back to stats, but last year only seven running backs got to 10 TDs or more. Only seven! Hard to see Kelley getting there on a team that didn't run all that much, or all that well either, in 2016. Under

Samaje Perine, 500 rushing yards

Tandler: It tough to set a line for a guy who hasn’t played. I’ll go off Matt Jones’ 2015 rookie season when he gained 490 yards while sharing time with Alfred Morris. If Perine averages four yards per carry, which is not hard to do, he’ll need about eight carries per game to get to 500. It’s close but if Kelley is effective, as I believe he will be, Perine might not get enough carries to have a chance. Under

Finlay: Tandler's Matt Jones comp pretty much works for Perine, but Jones had explosive speed that Perine doesn't have. A better comp for me was Derrick Henry last year as a rookie with the Titans. DeMarco Murray was established as the top dog, and Henry worked for a productive 490 yards. Under

MORE REDSKINS: Offer to Cousins not nearly enough

Chris Thompson, 60 pass receptions

Tandler: His role is beyond just third down. If the Redskins are behind in the fourth quarter, Thompson is usually in there to try to help spark a rally. Along with TE Jordan Reed and WR Jamison Crowder, Thompson will benefit from Kirk Cousins’ familiarity with him. Over

Finlay: Thompson should be a strong contributor in 2017, but 60 catches is a lot for a running back. Only David Johnson (80) and Le'Veon Bell (75) went over that number in 2016, while James White had exactly 60 catches. Thompson grabbed 49 balls in 2016, an impressive total. I could actually see Thompson getting a bigger percentage increase in carries, he had 68 rushes last season with a very solid 5.2 YPC, than catches. Under

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