The Pittsburgh Steelers open their 2016 schedule with a road game against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. The Steelers have gotten a lot of love from NFL experts during the preseason, as a number of them believe Pittsburgh will win the AFC, with others even projecting them to win Super Bowl 51.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 9, 2016
If Mike Tomlin’s club is going to have a magical season, it would be nice to start it off with a road win over the defending NFC East champions. The Redskins offer a stiff first test for the Steelers, especially on offense.
Kirk Cousins is coming off of a season where he threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns and led the Redskins to a 9-7 record. Cousins has plenty of options to throw to, including DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Josh Doctson, and tight end Jordan Reed.
Last season, the Steelers’ defense ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense, as the unit allowed a whopping 271.9 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler will be looking for an improved performance from his guys, especially the secondary, in 2016.
The Steelers finished third in the NFL with 48 sacks in 2015, but the defense was still torched by opponents in the passing game. That proves that the issues don’t lie with the defensive line, but with the corners and safeties. The struggles in the defensive secondary led the Steelers to select University of Miami cornerback Artie Burns with their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and follow that up with Maryland safety Sean Davis in the second round.
Mitchell: “Communication is everything. The best defenses are defenses that are always talking.” pic.twitter.com/exib0CwNUR
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 10, 2016
Expect the Redskins to try and exploit the Pittsburgh Steelers’ deficiency in the passing game as Washington isn’t as adept at running the football. The Redskins finished 20th in the NFL last season in rush offense, while the Steelers’ defense was fifth in the NFL in run defense. With a banged up Matt Jones, Washington will almost assuredly attack Pittsburgh through the air.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers will be without wide receivers Martavis Bryant, who is serving a season-long suspension, and Markus Wheaton, who will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Also missing will be starting running back Le’Veon Bell, who will miss the first three games of the 2016 season due to suspension.
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) September 10, 2016
With Heath Miller now retired, the onus will fall on Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, and DeAngelo Williams to carry the offense against the Redskins. Brown is nearly unstoppable, while the Steelers return their entire starting offensive line from 2015, which should help create holes for Williams to run through.
Washington’s defense should be slightly improved in 2016 with the additions of cornerback Josh Norman, safety David Bruton, and defensive end Ziggy Hood, but this is a unit that finished 28th in the NFL in total defense last season, so there’s really nowhere to go but up. Expect the Steelers to have no problems moving the ball, but they must score touchdowns in the red zone and not settle for field goals.
In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a great shot to win Super Bowl 51, but beating the Washington Redskins on the road with so many missing pieces might prove too difficult a task. Look for Cousins and the Redskins’ offense to have a field day against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense in a 31-27 victory at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
[Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images]