After a long and drama-filled summer, the regular season is here. Finally. And, if you’re a Redskins fan, you’ve probably already recognized the need for Kirk Cousins and Co. to get off to a fast start. Indeed, there's an early opportunity. Their first three opponents finished third or worse in their respective divisions in 2014 while posting a combined record of 20-28. And the first two games are at home.
Up first are Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins, who visit FedEx Field on Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff (CBS). Before the game, be sure to tune into Redskins Kickoff on Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic at noon. We’ve got you covered after the game, as well; Redskins Postgame Live begins at 4.
Here are Tarik’s five keys to the opener:
1-Kirk Cousins. This game, no doubt, represents the biggest of his career. No longer in Robert Griffin III’s shadow, “It’s Kirk’s team,” as Coach Jay Gruden put it. But will it be Kirk’s time to shine and prove his legion of doubters wrong? Cousins’ bugaboo has always been his carelessness with the football. In fact, he threw nine interceptions in five starts last season. There are, however, many positives to his game, as well. For one, he’s a more polished pocket passer than Griffin, takes significantly fewer sacks and is a better fit for Gruden’s offense. Cousins also has good chemistry with No. 1 wide receiver DeSean Jackson and starting tight end Jordan Reed. Last season, Jackson had three 100-plus yard games and three touchdown receptions in games Cousins started. Against Arizona (the only game Cousins started and finished with Reed in the lineup), Cousins found his tight end eight times for 92 yards.
2-Offensive line. There will be no easing into the season for the young right side of the Redskins’ offensive line. Second year tackle Morgan Moses and rookie guard Brandon Scherff will be put on the spot immediately as they line up opposite Dolphins end Cameron Wake and four-time first team All-Pro tackle Ndamukong Suh. Wake, a Beltsville, Md. native, has 63 sacks since 2009 and his explosiveness off the snap is certain to test Moses, who will be making his second career start. Scherff, meantime, figures to see his fair share of Suh, who is arguably the most disruptive D-lineman in the game.
3-Joe Barry’s defense. The biggest moves of the offseason came on the defensive side of the ball. Terrance Knighton. Chris Culliver. Dashon Goldson. Stephen Paea. Ricky Jean-Francois. Sure, Junior Galette ended up on injured reserve, but he wasn’t part of the original plan; he fell into the Redskins’ lap. The original plan was to hire Barry and provide him with the pieces he needed to implement an aggressive front and a competent backend. On paper, the unit is improved over the group that yielded an NFL worst 35 passing touchdowns last season and 27.4 points per game (tied for third worst). But there are concerns. There are five new starters and the unit is still getting comfortable in Barry’s scheme, so it might take some time for the group to gel. And, of course, depth in the secondary could be an issue Sunday against Tannehill, whose 4,045 yards passing in 2014 ranked 11th. With Bashaud Breeland serving a one-game suspension, David Amerson and Justin Rogers are the third and fourth corners.
4-New returners. One of the Redskins’ biggest issues on special teams last season was the unit’s inability to break off chunks of yardage on punt and kickoff returns. In fact, Andre Roberts ranked 19th in both categories. So Roberts has been replaced rookie Jamison Crowder (punts) and Chris Thompson (kickoffs). Crowder, who was an electrifying returner at Duke, will be making his pro debut. He’s got the speed and shiftiness to make an impact in the NFL, but how is his decision making? Thompson, meanwhile, struggled as a returner in 2013 but showed enough in practice this offseason to warrant a second chance. Facing strong-legged Miami rookie kicker Andrew Franks, however, Thompson may not get many opportunities Sunday.
5-Injuries won’t be an excuse. As of Friday morning, the only Redskins whose status remain in question are Griffin (concussion) and offensive tackle Tom Compton (calf). Griffin is expected to the third string quarterback behind Cousins and Colt McCoy, meaning he’ll probably be inactive. Compton is listed on the depth chart as Trent Williams’ backup, but backup right tackle Ty Nsekhe can play both sides, as well. It’s possible, if not likely, that this will be the healthiest the Redskins will be all season. They need to take advantage of that.