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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, September 12, the day the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Redskins Kickoff, 6:00, CSN; Steelers @ Redskins, 7:00, ESPN

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 246 days ago. The wait for another one ends today

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 6; Browns @ Redskins 20; Redskins @ Ravens 27

Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Steelers

Will the Redskins get their running game going? The Steelers were fifth in rush defense DVOA last year and there is no reason to think that they will be significantly worse. The Redskins were 32nd in offensive rushing DVOA and have essentially the same personnel back. It’s not impossible to see the Redskins winning without much success on the ground—they did win three games last year when rushing for less than 100 yards (lost six). But a running game will improve their chances. They were 6-1 when the did rush for over 100.

—Will the Redskins come out with something different? Something different on offense, like a lot more of the no-huddle attack? Some wrinkles to get Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson open? A blitzing defensive scheme? I’d be surprised if anything like that happened. I think that Jay Gruden would rather spend this year consolidating the gains the team made in 2015 and not stray too far off of that successful path. But the whole idea of doing something like that would be that it would be a surprise, right?

—The absence of WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) is a big deal for the Steelers if only because of the cumulative effect of them missing so many offensive weapons. The Steelers gained 6,327 yards last year. They are without the injured Wheaton, the retired TE Heath Miller, and the suspended RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant. Those players accounted for 2,605 yards from scrimmage, 41 percent of the Steelers’ total. That’s a pretty substantial chunk of total offense torn out of the lineup. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger has a way of finding ways to get it done and to make productive players out of ordinary ones but at some point the losses get difficult to overcome.

—Compared to past offseasons there has been relatively little focus on the Redskins’ quarterback position this year. That’s because Kirk Cousins is the unquestioned starter and there is no controversy. But the focus is about to change. His every move will be under the microscope, every incompletion, every (gasp!) interception will be closely scrutinized. I don’t think that Colt McCoy will become the most popular guy in town if the Redskins lose a couple in a row but Cousins’ $20 million salary means that the adage that the QB gets too much blame for losses will be magnified, starting tonight should they lose.

—I’ve been trying to come up with a prediction for this game ever since the schedule came out. The Steelers are the better team and that may not be offset by much of a home field advantage (I was there in 2008). But the Steelers’ injuries and other absences are something of an equalizer. I think this is a winnable game for the Redskins and if I had any confidence in their ability to run the ball I might pick the upset. But I don’t so . . .

Steelers 24, Redskins 21

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins fans want Zach Brown back. Bad. And for weeks there had been no news about contract talks between Washington and Brown. 

Now that's changed.

"We've been talking to his agent," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. 

Gruden, speaking from the Senior Bowl, explained that the team would like Brown back in 2018 but Washington also understands that the linebacker might want to explore the free agent market. 

"It’s a process," Gruden said (full video above). "These guys have a chance to be a free agent, they had a good year and they want to check what the market is sometimes. If we can get them before they get to free agency, great, but if not, the bidding wars will begin."

For Brown, free agency will look different in 2018 than it did last season when he signed a one-year. bargain deal with the Redskins. 

Prior to injuries forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, Brown led the NFL in tackles. For two straight years, 2016 in Buffalo and 2017 in Washington, Brown has proved to be a tackling machine and arguably the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Brown also signed new representation last offseason, Jason and Michael Katz of CSE Football, and should Brown hit the free agent market the Katz brothers will aggresively market their client. 

Washington Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaeffer will handle the contract discussions for Washington, and is known as a shrewd negotiator. 

Like many business deals, this will come down to money. Brown established himself as a fit in Washington, both on the field and in the locker room. Interior linebackers do not command top dollar like pass rushers do, but Brown will still expect to be compensated appropriately. 

Further complicating matters for Washington, the Redskins only have Josh Harvery-Clemmons, Zach Vigil and Martrell Speight under contract for 2018. 

It's too early to predict what "it's a process" means from Jay Gruden, but Redskins fans should draw some encouragement that talks have begun with Brown. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!