In a new BTSC feature, we will outline the entire 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers schedule by the week.
About the opponent:
The Redskins finished the 2015 season with a 9-7 record, which was good enough to capture the NFC East Division title and a home playoff game. They were promptly booted from the playoffs by the Green Bay Packers, yet hopes are high in the nation's capital that the team will return to the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The last time the Redskins made the playoffs in consecutive seasons was way back in 1990, '91, and '92.
The organization certainly isn't resting on last year's accomplishments, as they made several moves during the off-season to help them improve.
The biggest move was franchising quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins enters his fifth season, and his second as the team's full-time starting signal caller. Many criticized the Redskins' brass for selecting him with their fourth pick in the 2012 draft, right after taking RGIII second overall in the same draft.
However, RGIII's career has fizzled quickly and the organization appears all the wiser for picking Cousins.
What's more, Cousins is rapidly developing into one of the better quarterbacks in the league. His career passer rating is 91.3, and last season he threw for 4166 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Cousins' efficiency could pose some problems for the re-tooled Steelers secondary. Given that this matchup takes place on the NFL's opening weekend, chances are the Steelers defense won't have worked out all the kinks.
Possibly compounding the issue is the Redskins formidable wide receiver corps. Leading the way is DeSean Jackson, who's got plenty of speed and big play ability. Last season, he averaged 17.6 yards/catch. His achilles heel, however, has been his durability. He missed several games last season, but should be in top health for the opener.
In addition to Jackson, the offense also features Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder. Both are highly productive receivers. Garcon has averaged nearly 70 catches and 750 yards over the last two years, while Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards in 2015, his first in the NFL.
The team also drafted Josh Doctson from TCU with their first pick in this year's draft.
The Redskins' running game doesn't pose as big a threat, but they do have some capable backs in Matt Jones and Chris Thompson. According to The Washington Post, Jones is "a big, physical runner who coaches hope continues to learn how to use his size (6 feet 1, 231 pounds) to his advantage. Chris Thompson is a smaller (5-8, 193), shiftier back who provides both a good change of pace as a runner, and a receiving threat out of the backfield."
There's a good chance the Steelers will need to simply outscore the ‘Skins in order to beat them. Can they do it? It would appear so, based on numbers from last season. The Redskins' defense, while average in total points allowed per game (17th in the league, 23.7 points/game), ranked near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed per game (258 yards, ranked 25th), rushing yards allowed per game (122.6 yards, ranked 26th), and total yards allowed per game (380.6 yards, ranked 28th).
Like the Steelers, the Redskins have taken steps to try and improve their defense, particularly the secondary, through free agency and the draft. The team signed strong safety David Bruton Jr. from the Super Bowl champion Broncos, and added safety Su'a Cravens from USC with their 2nd pick in the draft and cornerback Kendall Fuller from Virginia Tech in the third round. They'll join 13-year veteran, DeAngelo Hall, who's making a switch from corner to safety.
They've also added depth along the defensive line and linebacking unit.
The Bottom Line:
As with the Steelers, Washington's defense may also be experiencing some glitches that the pre-season will not have fixed. Even with Martavis Bryant sidelined for the season, Ben Roethlisberger and company should be able to exploit the weaknesses. The same could happen for Kirk Cousins against the Steelers defense, however. Before it's over, there's a good chance that this opening Monday night matchup will be a high-scoring affair.
*Note: this article is the first in a series.