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Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, September 11, one day before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Walkthrough at Redskins Park, no media availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 245 days ago. It will be one day until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 7; Browns @ Redskins 21; Redskins @ Ravens 28

Five Redskins who will need to step up to beat the Steelers

QB Kirk Cousins—The quick scouting report on the Steelers is that they have a shaky secondary but a fierce pass rush (third in the NFL in sacks in 2015). Last year Cousins was very good when he was not under pressure but his efficiency dropped when the pass rush started to get to him (35th among 37 QBs with at least 200 pass plays per Football Outsiders). He will need to continue to be efficient when he has time to throw but he inevitably will find himself with defenders in his face from time to time. Cousins will need to step up and make some plays while dealing with the rush.

RB Matt Jones—He has been groomed to be the lead dog at running back all offseason. But his injury opened the door for undrafted rookie Robert Kelley to make a case that he is a viable alternative. If Jones wants to establish himself as starting NFL running back it starts on Monday with him perhaps grinding through some pain to deliver a solid performance.

G Brandon Scherff—If the Redskins are going to run the ball at all—and they likely will have to do it some if they are going to win—they will have to control Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. He can be a one-man wrecking crew on either outside or inside runs. The favored alignment for him is in a three technique on the left side, which puts him over the outside shoulder of Scherff. The No. 5 pick in last year’s draft will need to take another step towards showing he was worth that selection by keeping Tuitt under control.

CB Bashaud Breeland—Breeland likely will spend some of the night on Antonio Brown as the coaches have said that Josh Norman will not trail the NFL’s best receiver wherever he lines up. But the real pressure on Breeland will come when he is guarding the Steelers’ “other” receiver. With Markus Wheat declared out that will be Sammie Coates with Darrius Heyward-Bey stepping in on occasion. There would be few worse scenarios than the Redskins keeping Brown under control but losing because  Coates has a big day.

S DeAngelo Hall—He played some safety towards the end of last year but the coaches didn’t put too much on him because of his mid-season conversion. At this point safety has been his position all through the offseason program and training camp so he gets the full package. If he is going to prolong his career at safety he needs to get off to a good start tonight. Hall needs to be assignment perfect and serve as a last line of defense to prevent Big Ben from racking up quick scores to Brown, Coates, or the speedy Hayward-Bey.

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Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

There continues to be a (ridiculous) debate on whether or not Kirk Cousins can continue to be a successful starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

In the betting industry, there is not much debate with Cousins being listed with 50/1 odds to win the NFL MVP award this upcoming season from Bovada. Among all the other players listed, he is in a tie for 14th. 

He is coming off back-to-back seasons with seven 300 yard passing games, a team record, and has an abundance of fresh, young wide receivers to compliment his passing style. Last year he was third in the league in passing yards with 4,917, trailing only Drew Brees (5,208) and Matt Ryan (4,944). 

The team may not be poised for a Super Bowl run in 2017-18, but if the team makes a post-season run, who will it be on the back of? Jordan Reed? Rob Kelley? Ryan Kerrigan?

No, it will be Kirk Cousins. 

RELATED: Ex-GM outlines staggering contract for Kirk Cousins

Entering this season at 40-years-old, and defending Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady is the overall favorite at 4/1. He is closely followed by Aaron Rodgers, and young quarterbacks Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. 

BOVADA 2017-18 NFL MVP ODDS:

Tom Brady, NE — 4/1
Aaron Rodgers, GB — 7/1
Derek Carr, OAK — 9/1
Dak Prescott, DAL — 12/1
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT — 12/1
Russell Wilson, SEA — 12/1
Matt Ryan, ATL — 16/1
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL — 20/1
Drew Brees, NO — 25/1
Andrew Luck, IND — 25/1
Cam Newton, CAR — 25/1
David Johnson, ARI — 33/1
Marcus Mariota, TEN — 33/1
Sam Bradford, MIN — 50/1
Antonio Brown, PIT — 50/1
Kirk Cousins, WAS — 50/1
Julio Jones, ATL — 50/1
Eli Manning, NYG — 50/1
Carson Palmer, ARI — 50/1
Adrian Peterson, NO — 50/1
Philip Rivers, LAC — 50/1
Matt Stafford, DET — 50/1
Odell Beckham Jr., NYG — 66/1
Rob Gronkowski, NE — 66/1
Alex Smith, KC — 66/1
Ryan Tannehill, MIA — 66/1
J.J. Watt, HOU — 66/1
Jameis Winston, TB — 66/1
Blake Bortles, JAX — 100/1
Andy Dalton, CIN — 100/1
Joe Flacco, BAL — 100/1
T.Y. Hilton, IND — 100/1
Marshawn Lynch, OAK — 100/1
LeSean McCoy, BUF — 100/1
Von Miller, DEN — 100/1
DeMarco Murray, TEN — 100/1
Carson Wentz, PHL — 100/1

RELATED: After Derek Carr deal, Cousins' best option may be short-term

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True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

Robert Kelley emerged as the Redskins top running back in 2016, an incredible story of an undrafted guy working his way to the top. Of course, Matt Jones' problems with fumbling helped push Kelley to the top. 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden speaks highly of Kelley, particularly his fluidity and vision, but the team drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round this year to provide additional competition in the backfield.

Here's the crucial statement: Rob Kelley will lead the Redskins in rushing yards in 2017.

Finlay: True.

Kelley averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry last season and the Redskins ground game is very much centered on a "4 or more" philosophy. Washington running backs coach Randy Jordan joined the #RedskinsTalk podcast and explained that the team wants a runner it can count on for positive yards more than creating big plays. The Redskins offense, as designed by Gruden, sets up for big plays in the pass game, and the run should allow for proper use of play action. 

In just nine starts last year, Kelley gained more than 700 yards. Project that out over 16 games, and he would be over 1,000 yards rushing. Perine has much to learn about the NFL, and understanding pass protections will take time for the rookie out of Oklahoma. Chris Thompson will be a key part of the offense, but much of his yardage will come via the pass game. 

Kelley will lead this team in rush yards. He's looked great in OTAs and minicamp while the coaching staff believes Kelley is in much better shape this year than he was as a rookie. Write it down in pen. 

RELATED: How will Kelley and Perine share the carries?

Tandler: True.

After the draft and during rookie camp I was saying that there was a chance that Perine could lead the team is rushing this year. But after seeing Perine playing with the big boys in OTAs and minicamp it’s apparent that he has a long way to go to become a consistently productive running back.

One thing Kelley seems to have going in his favor is that he has a very sensible outlook on the NFL. As JP noted, Kelley showed up to Redskins Park in better shape than he did as a rookie. This indicates to me that he understands that being an NFL players is a year-round job. Staying in great shape is important in the league but at running back it’s vital. Kelley gets that and because he does, his chances of being available for 16 games are much higher.

In turn, that improves his chance of being the team’s leading rusher. I’m not sure if he’ll get 1,000 yards—Perine will get things figured out enough to take some carries before the season gets too old—but Gruden will make sure that he gets fed plenty as long as he is available. 

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