September 10, 2016
FedExField, Landover, Maryland
Monday, September 12, 2016, 7:10 p.m. (ET)
DeAngelo Williams vs. the Redskins run defense. It is true that the Steelers have a potent air-attack which includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown(maybe the best passing duo in the NFL right now). But Washington finished a putrid 26th against the run last year and allowed just under 123 yards per game. The Redskins do have some new personnel up front, namely former Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, but getting Williams going early (especially out of the no huddle) could open things up for Pittsburgh’s offense as the game progresses.
The Steelers Win If…
The consensus is the Steelers offense could be unstoppable this season. Yes, running back Le’Veon Bell has been suspended for the first three games, and receiver Martavis Bryant has been suspended for the entire 2016 season. However, in 2015, Pittsburgh was without one or both players at various times and still managed to score nearly 27 points per game. For all the firepower the Steelers possess, the key to the offense is a stellar line that’s headed by center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro. As long as the offensive line protects Roethlisberger and opens holes for the running game, there’s no reason Pittsburgh can’t move the ball and score often against a Redskins defense that finished near the bottom in most key categories a year ago–including 28th overall, 26th against the run and 25th against the pass.
As for the Steelers defense. It’s not going to be a piece of cake. The Redskins are no slouches when it comes to offensive skill-position players. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a great year in 2015, as he passed for over 4,100 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Furthermore, he completed just under 70 percent of his passes (69.8) and was only sacked 26 times in 543 attempts. Therefore, the burden appears to be on Pittsburgh’s ultra-talented defensive line, led by Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and the rookie Javon Hargrave, to get penetration and be a disruptive force. With the Steelers uncertainty in the secondary, that might not be enough to shut Washington’s offense down. But dominance upfront could lead to a turnover or two, which might pave the way for a difference-making score.
The Steelers Lose If…
Receiver Markus Wheaton has missed practice time this week due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him most of the preseason. With Bryant obviously gone and free agent acquisition Ladarius Green missing at the tight end spot after being placed on the PUP list, an absent Wheaton may dwindle Roethlisberger’s potent targets significantly. Outside of Brown, who could spend the evening going against accomplished corner Josh Norman, the majority of targets would fall to receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers, along with second-year tight end Jesse James. Heyward-Bey is a veteran, but with suspect hands. As for Coates, Rogers and James, while they showed promise during the preseason–even flashes of brilliance in Rogers’ case–they’re virtual unknowns. For as refined as Roethlisberger has become in recent years, he struggled with interceptions down-the-stretch in 2015 (15 of his 16 interceptions occurred after he returned from a sprained MCL in Week 8). Throwing to receivers he may not be in perfect rhythm with (or who may not possess the talents of a Bryant, Wheaton and/or Green) might lead to one too many ill-timed interceptions against a Redskins defense that had 21 a year ago.
On defense, the Steelers finished 30th against the pass in 2015. While the Redskins were rather pedestrian on offense in terms of their overall rankings, they do have some fairly decent receiving targets. Wide-outs Pierre Garson and the ultra-speedy DeSean Jackson will present a handful to corners William Gay and Ross Cockrell. Throw in tight end Jordan Reed, who caught 87 passes for nearly 1,000 yards in 2015, and things could get ugly on the back-end. Rookie second round pick Sean Davis is slated to play the slot on Monday, and Robert Golden will start at strong safety, after spending his first four seasons primarily on special teams. Needless to say, that’s a lot of inexperience in a secondary that’s already questionable to begin with. If Washington can create match-up problems, that could lead to miscommunication, which could lead to big plays down-field. And, obviously, that could lead to a loss in Week 1.