The Washington Redskins first 2016 opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished the 2015 season with a 10-6 record, good for 2nd in the AFC North. The Steelers averaged 26.4 points per game scored, 4th best in the league, and gave up 19.9 points per game allowed, 11th in the league. The Steelers won their wild card playoff game versus the Cincinnati Bengals 18-16 and lost their AFC divisional championship game 23-16 to eventual Super Bowl winners the Denver Broncos.
The Steelers are coached by Mike Tomlin, 44, of Hampton, VA, a William And Mary graduate, who is in his 11th season as head coach. He enters the season with a career record of 92-52, with a career 6-5 playoff record, a 2008 Super Bowl champonship, and a 2010 AFC Conference championship to his credit. The Steelers have never had a losing season record under Tomlin.
The Steelers are led offensively by 34 year old Ben Roethlisberger, who is entering his 13th NFL season with a career record of 113-56. Roethlisberger comes off a season in which he only started 11 games and only played in 12, going 7-4, completing 68.0% of his pass attempts for 3,938 yards and 21 TDs. His passing offense averaged 328.2 yards per game and his season QBRating was 94.5.
The Steelers rushing attack is led by 33 year old Deangelo Williams, entering his 11th NFL season, who finished the 2015 season with 200 attempts for 907 yards with 11TDs and 40 receptions for 367 yards, and the currently suspended Le’veon Bell, who finished the 2015 season with 113 attempts for 556 yards and 3TDs.
Antonio Brown, entering his 7th NFL season, led all NFL receivers with 136 receptions for 1,834 yards with 10TDs.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward led the Steelers with 7.0 sacks last season. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 77 tackles and was 2nd with 5.0 sacks.
As for the 2015 Redskins, it is doubtful anyone needs a recap but here one is, if only for comparison:
The Redskins finished the 2015 season 9-7, good for 1st in the NFC East, with a first round 35-18 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Redskins socred 388 points, good for 10th in the league, and allowed 379 points, good for 17th.
The Redskins are led by Jay Gruden, entering his 3rd season as head coach, with a 13-19 career record, 0-1 in playoff games.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins enters his 5th NFL season on the franchise tag. His career record is 11-14. Last season he posted a 69.8 completion percentage with 4,166 yards passing, 29TDs, and most importantly, only 11 INTs. Cousins averaged 260.4 passing yards per game and finished the 2015 season with a 101.6 QB Rating.
Presumed starter Matt Jones was the backup to the departed Alfred Morris. Jones has 144 career rushing attempts for 490 yards with 3TDs in his lone NFL season. Jones is backed up by thrid down back Chris Thompson, who is entering his 4th NFL season. Thompson has 38 career rushing attempts for 228 yards. He also has 41 career receptions for 267 yards with 3TDs. Undrafted free agent rookie Robert Kelley is expected to see double digit carries per game in a primary backup role. Kelley is both a rushing and a receiving threat and Gruden has stated he anticipates Kelley filling the role Matt Jones filled last season behind Morris.
The receiving corps is led by Desean Jackson, who is entering his 9th NFL season. Jackson had a rough 2015 campaign, playing just 10 games. He finished the season with 30 receptions for 528 yards and 4TDs. He is accompanied by Pierre Garcon, also entering his 9th NFL season, who finished the 2015 year with 72 receptions for 777 yards with 6TDs. Joining the two in the slot is 2nd year receiver Jamison Crowder, who finished the 2015 season with 59 receptions for 604 yards with 2TDs. Jordan Reed, entering his 4th NFL season, is perhaps the most dangerous receiving tight end in football, when healthy. He finished the 2015 season with 87 receptions for 852 yards with 11TDs. This formidable starting group is backed up by rookie Josh Doctson, who was recently cleared from the PUP list and off-season acquisition Vernon Davis, who enters his 11th NFL season looking for a career resurgence.
Defensively, the Redskins are led by the secondary. 2015 leading tackler Dashon Goldson is no longer with the team. He has been replaced with cornerback-turned safety Deangelo Hall who could excel in that role. 2nd leading tackler Bashaud Breeland finished the 2015 season with 59 tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 FFs. He is flanked by free agent Josh Norman, who finished the 2015 seasons with 48 tackles, 4 INTs, 3FFs, and 2TDs.
The pass rush is expected to come primarily from linebackers Ryan Kerrigan, who finished the 2015 season with 9.5 sacks, and Preston Smith, who replaces the (again) injured Junior Galette. Smith finished the 2015 NFL season with 8.0 sacks in ONE game started. Backing them up will be linebacker-turned-lineman-turned-linebacker Trent Murphy, who unfortunately gained weight for the purpose of playing defensive end, and 2016 NFL draft selection Sua Cravens, who will be used in both a WLB linebacker and a safety role according to defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who has requested Cravens be officially listed as “H” on the roster, meaning hybrid.
The defensive line is anchored by 7th year defensive tackle / end Chris Baker, who finished the 2015 with 6.0 sacks. Joining Baker will be some combination of Kedric Golston, Kendall Reyes, Rick-Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier, and Ziggy Hood. Quite frankly, no one knows what to expect from this group. It could be the weak link in the defense or a top 15 unit.