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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, September 12, the day the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Redskins Kickoff, 6:00, CSN; Steelers @ Redskins, 7:00, ESPN

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 246 days ago. The wait for another one ends today

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 6; Browns @ Redskins 20; Redskins @ Ravens 27

Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Will the Redskins get their running game going? The Steelers were fifth in rush defense DVOA last year and there is no reason to think that they will be significantly worse. The Redskins were 32nd in offensive rushing DVOA and have essentially the same personnel back. It’s not impossible to see the Redskins winning without much success on the ground—they did win three games last year when rushing for less than 100 yards (lost six). But a running game will improve their chances. They were 6-1 when the did rush for over 100.

—Will the Redskins come out with something different? Something different on offense, like a lot more of the no-huddle attack? Some wrinkles to get Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson open? A blitzing defensive scheme? I’d be surprised if anything like that happened. I think that Jay Gruden would rather spend this year consolidating the gains the team made in 2015 and not stray too far off of that successful path. But the whole idea of doing something like that would be that it would be a surprise, right?

—The absence of WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) is a big deal for the Steelers if only because of the cumulative effect of them missing so many offensive weapons. The Steelers gained 6,327 yards last year. They are without the injured Wheaton, the retired TE Heath Miller, and the suspended RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant. Those players accounted for 2,605 yards from scrimmage, 41 percent of the Steelers’ total. That’s a pretty substantial chunk of total offense torn out of the lineup. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger has a way of finding ways to get it done and to make productive players out of ordinary ones but at some point the losses get difficult to overcome.

—Compared to past offseasons there has been relatively little focus on the Redskins’ quarterback position this year. That’s because Kirk Cousins is the unquestioned starter and there is no controversy. But the focus is about to change. His every move will be under the microscope, every incompletion, every (gasp!) interception will be closely scrutinized. I don’t think that Colt McCoy will become the most popular guy in town if the Redskins lose a couple in a row but Cousins’ $20 million salary means that the adage that the QB gets too much blame for losses will be magnified, starting tonight should they lose.

—I’ve been trying to come up with a prediction for this game ever since the schedule came out. The Steelers are the better team and that may not be offset by much of a home field advantage (I was there in 2008). But the Steelers’ injuries and other absences are something of an equalizer. I think this is a winnable game for the Redskins and if I had any confidence in their ability to run the ball I might pick the upset. But I don’t so . . .

Steelers 24, Redskins 21

Tandler on Twitter

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Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice?

Will Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Finlay: The better question might be what constitutes the next step for Cousins? And going one step further, will it be with the Redskins? Answering the second part first, Cousins will be the 'Skins quarterback in 2017. Taking the next step is trickier, since the passer has thrown for more than 9,000 yards in the last two seasons.

For me, Cousins can still get much better, particularly in the red zone. If the Redskins scored at the same pace they pile up yards, this team would have won 11 games in 2016. 

In 2016, Cousins ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards, yet outside of the Top 10 in TDs with 25. To really enter the next phase of his career, Cousins needs to lead an offense that scores more, and that means 30+ touchdowns. He can do it. 

Tandler: I don’t look at the next step for Cousins being about numbers. Sure, maybe he can throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns on year. But being a top quarterback is more than that.

I want to see him go into Seattle next year and rally the Redskins from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. I want to see him go into a playoff game and, unlike what happened against the Packers after the 2015 season, will the team to a win when the Redskins aren’t playing their best and when a QB like Aaron Rodgers is on the other side. I want to see him glare at a lineman who missed an assignment and correct a receiver who went the wrong way on a route.

To be sure, he has led the team to some comeback wins and he has played very well in some key games, like the division-clinching win in Philadelphia in 2015. But a top-flight quarterback can’t essentially negate one of those with a play like the season-ending pick against the Giants. Sure, any quarterback is going to have an off day. But you have to have more pluses than minuses on the ledger.

Cousins has been a starter for just two years so maybe he can develop into a top-shelf quarterback. Putting up good stats is part of the picture but he won’t be there until he elevates and motivates those around him. Maybe he can take that next step but until he does there is no way of knowing if he will. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTuneshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

There hasn't been much good news out of Redskins Park lately, as the team deals with pending free agency for QB Kirk Cousins and others combined with rumors of infighting among the front office. So video of 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson running and cutting comes at a great time for beleaguered 'Skins fans. 

Doctson posted the video to his Snapchat account. When he last spoke after the Washington season ended, Doctson made clear he was feeling much better and that '100 percent health' is his main goal this offseason.

His rookie year, however, was a different matter.

The receiver out of TCU missed all but the first two games of the year. Even in those games, he played a very reduced role. Drafted 22nd overall, he had just two catches all year as an obscure Achilles' injuries landed him on the injured reserve. His plight could not be figured out by a slew of doctors and specialists, and the team finally decided to sit down their prized rookie.

A breakout year in 2017 would serve Jay Gruden's squad well, as the team stands to lose DeSean Jackson and/or Pierre Garçon to free agency. It looks likely the 'Skins will lose at least one of their starting WRs, and losing both is a distinct possibility. That could result in more than 2,000 receiving yards leaving the Redskins offense, and the team will need Doctson to pick up a good chunk of that production.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!