The Washington Redskins 2016 campaign will kickoff on Monday night in Landover against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a litmus test for the ‘Skins against a high-caliber opponent as well as an early chance for the Redskins to significantly affect the national view of their team. In advance of this game, I reached out to our friends over at Behind the Steel Curtain. Editor Jeff Hartman was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions I had for him about the match-up. Here’s what he had to say:
1. What are the biggest challenges that the Redskins defense will face Monday night aside from Antonio Brown?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very dynamic offense, and they are much more than just Antonio Brown. First, Ben Roethlisberger is the straw which stirs the offensive drink, but fans shouldn't sleep on DeAngelo Williams running behind this very talented offensive line. The Redskins struggled in rush defense in 2015, and Williams is very capable, both as a runner and receiver, to get the job done. Look for the Steelers to stay balanced on offense with a good mix of run and pass.
2. How concerned are Steelers fans about the Redskins skill players? It appears that the Steeler secondary is a bit of a question mark right now.
At first I don't think Steelers fans were very concerned at all, but after doing some research, most have found there are some big playmakers on that side of the field. Whether you are talking about Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson or the biggest threat in Jordan Reed, the Steelers defense will have their hands full. The hope is the Pittsburgh front 7 can get pressure on Cousins, especially interior pressure, to force early and arrant throws and disrupt the timing of plays. If Cousins has the time, I have no doubt he could pick apart a very questionable Steelers secondary.
3. The Steelers are 1-4 in their last five season openers. They were outscored 137 to 86 in those games. To what extent is this trend a concern? Why do the Steelers seem to struggle so much to begin their seasons?
Every opener has a story, and the Steelers have had some interesting ones. Looking at the last 3, the loss to the Tennessee Titans saw them lose their star center Maurkice Pouncey for a year, then they almost blew a huge lead against the Cleveland Browns, and without Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant came up short at New England last year. Ultimately, the Steelers seem to always have some type of issue entering the first week of the season. Maybe it is suspensions or injuries, but the team is experiencing both heading into this Week 1 prime time game. Bell and Bryant are both suspended, again, and the team has some questionable injuries they are dealing with. Will it derail their hopes of winning on the road? 2015 showed they can overcome adversity, but it won't be easy.
4. Beyond what we've already discussed, give us a match-up in this game that really favors Pittsburgh and one that really favors Washington, and why.
The matchup of Antonio Brown vs. the Redskins is a matchup which favors Pittsburgh. That isn't a knock on Washington's defense, but just the truth. Brown has had every type of defense thrown at him. Man coverage, bracketed coverage over the top, double team... you name it. He's abused them all. As an NFC opponent, you might not get to watch him all that often outside of highlights, but he is a nightmare for opposing defenses. He and Roethlisberger are on a different level in terms of on-field chemistry, and it shows.
As for the matchup which favors Washington, I'd have to go with Jordan Reed vs. the Steelers secondary. The Steelers secondary has improved from last year, but they are still vulnerable down the middle of the field... where Reed can be extremely dangerous. Pittsburgh has already shown to be vulnerable in this area of the field this preseason, and it could be their Achilles' heal in 2016.
5. What's your score prediction and why?
The Steelers offense is legit, even without Bell and Bryant. When I think about it I just don't see them being denied too often when they have the football. I expect this game to be closer than most are expecting, but I do see the Steelers pulling out a victory. Look for a late turnover to seal the deal.
Steelers - 28 / Redskins - 24