The Washington Redskins’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday should be a special night for the Redskins, since it’s opening the season against one of the league’s top teams on Monday Night Football at FedExField. That means all eyes will be on them, and they are ready to shine on the big stage.
For sure, the fans and crowd will be electric way before kickoff in their tailgate partoes, and it should stay high charged throughout the game, but the Redskins will need to remain calm in the face of mounting pressure in front of a national audience and their home crowd.
“We’re definitely excited about it, for sure. It’s just keeping our nerves calm,” starting strong safety David Bruton Jr. said. “Be excited come game time – we want to peak at the right time during the game. I know me personally, I’m excited going into a season as a starter; make a name for myself besides special teams. For me personally, it’s been tough to try and keep calm, but I realize I have to.”
Veteran cornerback Greg Toler, who signed with the Redskins in the offseason, told media his team must remain “poised and focused,” not letting the bright lights daze and confuse them or get in the way of their game prep.
“We’re going in there with a game plan; just stay focused on your gameplan and execute at your best abilities,” Toler said. “You’re excited to go against different jerseys. You don’t want to reach too much. You understand that you don’t want to get too high. You don’t want to get too low. You want to stay even planed because the ball can bounce a lot of different ways. Hopefully it bounces our way more than theirs.”
Special teams captain Niles Paul will lead a unit that is made up of a lot of young players, a few who will even be making their NFL debuts. And that’s another reason to be excited.
“It’s going to be a different feel out there,” Paul said. “It’s nothing like college football. Monday Night Football is definitely a different type of environment and you have to prepare for it. But there’s nothing really I can say to them. You’ve just got to experience for yourself.”
Ben Roethlisberger is bascially one of the biggest quarterbacks in the NFL today, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. He’s one major reason the Steelers are so difficult to stop over the years, and he has shown his ability to shed would-be sacks and turn them into large gains, which has many times resulted in touchdowns.
“I think the No. 1 thing with him is that he’s such a big body back there,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said this week. “He’s a big man to come in and tackle. We talk about – and every time I’ve ever gone against him – the thing that we preach is you want to tackle the ball, you don’t necessarily want to tackle him. Because he’s been doing it for however long – 12 or 13 years. He’s proven he’s tough to tackle just because he’s so big. Especially you see undersized linebackers or DBs literally just fall off him and bounce off him. He’s able to make the unbalanced throws so well just because he’s so big and so strong.”
So look out for one of the Redskins players that will look to wrap up Roethlisberger, and try to keep him down, is second-year linebacker Preston Smith. Smith performed very well at the end of his rookie season finishing strong, as five of his eight sacks came in the final three games. But the Mississippi State grad understands that the assignment of taking down Big Ben is easier said than done.
“You’ve got to make sure that you bring him down, that you bring everything with you and you’re conscious of when you get attached to him,” Smith said. “Make sure you hold him and you keep him from completing the pass because he completes passes with people attached to him. He still gets the ball off. He still extends plays with his size and his capability.”
But for Washington they will have to work on sacking and tackling in general. There was no mistaking that the Redskins’ defense needed a major upgrade in the offseason. They ranked 28th in yards allowed per play. Their run defense was particularly bad. With poor tackling was to blame, 90 percent of the carries they allowed that gained 15 yards or more involving a missed tackle. That needs to be stopped at the root! Unfortnately they didn’t improve much up front in the draft either.
The Redskins though will catch a break on Monday night, with Pittsburgh’s running back Le’Veon Bell out serving a three-game suspension. But they’ll have to watch out for DeAngelo Williams instead, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season, and who will no doubt test the Redskins’ tackling skills.
The Steelers on the other side of thing will naturally lean heavily on Antonio Brown. And rightly so, since they need him now more than ever. But the question will be: what more can he do now? Only one other player in the history of the NFL caught more than the 136 receptions Brown caught last season. That player was the infamous Marvin Harrison who just got inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame! He caught more passes over the past two and three seasons than anyone ever, over a two- or three-year period. He caught more passes in a player’s first six years in the league than anyone in history. So he can’t work any more miracles.
With Le’Veon Bell out the first three games, and Martavis Bryant suspended all season, and since Heath Miller retired and Markus Wheaton nursing a shoulder injury, it’s obvious Brown cannot be Superman and the Fantastic Four at the same time. And that’s what the Redskins have to take advantage of.
“It’s hard to say ‘do more’ when you’re breaking records and doing those things,” said the man who delivers Brown the ball, Ben Roethlisberger. “Could he keep getting better? Yeah, but the other thing is defenses are going to keep keying in on him and those other things.”
So that’s the key for Washington, if they can eliminate Brown as a threat, they could win this thing at home, in front of the whole nation.