Thursday, August 11, 2011
Steelers vs. Redskins: 5 Things to Watch During NFL Preseason Week 1 Matchup
Redskins Quarterbacks Against The Pittsburgh Defense
Now that Donovan McNabb has been traded to the Minnesota Vikings, quarterback is a question mark for the Redskins. John Beck is the anointed starter who had a few starts in his 2007 rookie year and hasn't seen the field since.
Beck's 2011 training camp got off to a rough start, where he developed a sore throwing arm and had to be shut down a few days. Washington brought back veteran journeyman Rex Grossman, who gave up a defensive touchdown the first time he touched the ball last year. This did not stop him from recently declaring the Redskins would win the NFC East this year, where most pundits expect them to dwell at the bottom of the standings.
Pittsburgh is full of skilled defenders who have helped the team reach two of the last three Super Bowls. Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, the innovator of the zone blitz, is 73-years young and has been a member of the NFL since 1959.
Called "Coach Dad" by his players, LeBeau is trusted and beloved by the Steelers defenders. He has a knack for putting players in the right positions to make plays, as well as unearth gems that other teams overlooked.
Whomever is behind center for the Redskins should expect a few blitzes and pressure while trying to unload the football. Beck will try to avoid meeting 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu in every way for the limited snaps the Pro Bowl strong safety will play for the Steelers.
There are changes on both teams offensive lines that have each franchise headed in a youthful direction. Washington cut veteran center Casey Rabach and Pittsburgh released veteran tackle Max Starks.
Cameron Heyward, the son of the late Pro Bowl fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, is Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick this year. He will get a good look to see how much he can push veterans Brett Keisal and Ziggy Hood at defensive end. Aaron Smith is a 35-year old defensive end who has been a Pro Bowler and Steelers defensive end for 13 seasons, but injuries have limited him to 11 games the past two years and he is now fighting to keep a job.
The Redskins have added veteran defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, while drafting Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Nield. Lousy versus the run in 2010, Washington is trying to get better at that area this year. First round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan will get his first look as a linebacker after spending his collegiate career at defensive end, a similar move made by Redskins Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo in 2009.
Washington will have a few new faces on the offensive line, but new starting center Will Montgomery's first snaps will come against wily veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton. Marcus Gilbert and Kevin Williams are a pair of rookie blockers the Steelers plan to work hard to get their feet wet.
Redskins Many Wide Receivers Take On A Ton Of Steelers Defensive Backs
Pittsburgh has an idea of who will start in their defensive secondary this year, but improving the depth chart is their goal. They will have 15 defensive backs suited up for this game, possibly the only game some players will ever get into.
Washington has 11 wide receivers. Three were drafted and two veterans were signed as free agents. Yet the one layer who may be most under the microscope is fourth-year pro Malcolm Kelly. Kelly's best move since being drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft has been cashing an undeserved paycheck.
This could be the final games of his career, but Washington has hopes for the 6'4" Kelly because he is by far the biggest receiver on the team. The hope is that he can add a dimension to their attack, especially in the red zone.
Placekicker Shaun Suisham played for the Redskins from 2006 to 2009. He was replaced by Graham Gano after 12 games into 2009 despite the fact he had missed just three field goals. Gano missed eight field goals in 2010 and is now being challenged in camp by veteran Shayne Graham, who grew up in the same town as Redskins legend Gary Clark in Radford, Virginia.
Suisham played seven games for Pittsburgh last year after veteran Jeff Reed had an off year. Suisham missed just one kick in 15 attempts for the Steelers during their Super Bowl run. He is one of just three players in in NFL history to kick four field goals of 40 yards or longer in one game.
Washington Attempts To Find Their 2011 Running Backs
Drafting two halfbacks in 2011 is a sign Washington wants to improve this area. Trading for the versatile Tim Hightower hammers in that point even further.
While 2010 was a pleasant surprise by the effectiveness of Ryan Torain, he once again went down to injuries. He has been carrying the label of being injury-prone since college. Undrafted Keiland Williams was also a nice find in his rookie year, showing to be an effective receiver.
James Davis has had a disappointing NFL career since being drafted in 2009. He has also dealt with several injuries since college. Rookie Roy Helu is another halfback who struggled with injuries in college.
Rookie Evan Royster is the only Penn State running back with three 1,000+ yard seasons, a school that produced such legends as Hall of Famer Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, and 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. He could be standing tall at the end if the competition goes down with injuries yet again.
While some expect Hightower to start this year, his reserves need to be settled. Williams has fullback experience, which improves his value. With the history of injuries most of the running backs in camp have, choosing the right reserves is both a gamble and critical to the success of the 2011 season.