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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

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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