Following their surprise run to the NFC East title in 2015, expectations are heightened for the Washington Redskins as they prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night in the season opener for both teams. Washington is looking to build upon its closing run a year ago, when it finished the regular season with four consecutive victories.
"We have a great opportunity to go be effective and play well and that's exciting and something for our fans to be excited about," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "But, we've got to go out and prove it." Washington made a bold move to bolster its defense by signing Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman, setting up a marquee matchup with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh will be without a pair of key weapons as running back Le'Veon Bell is serving a three-game suspension and wide receiver Martavis Bryant is out for the year for violations of the league's substance abuse policy. The offense should still be potent behind the leadership of two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but there are concerns over a defense that ranked 30th against the pass last season.
TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Steelers -3. O/U: 50
ABOUT THE STEELERS (2015: 10-6, second in the AFC North): Once renowned for its Steel Curtain defense, Pittsburgh has evolved into an offensive juggernaut, with Roethlisberger leading the league with an average of 328.2 yards per game last season and Brown hauling in a mind-boggling 375 receptions and 31 touchdown catches in the past three years. "It starts and it ends with him," Norman said of Brown. "That's going to be a tall task to take on." DeAngelo Williams was more than a capable replacement last season while subbing for a suspended and injured Bell, rushing for 11 TDs and 907 yards. Defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier are top talents but the secondary remains suspect after yielding an average of 271.9 yards in 2015.
ABOUT THE REDSKINS (2015: 9-7, first in the NFC East): One knock against Washington last season, aside from being the only team to finish above .500 in its division, was not beating one opponent with a winning record. Nonetheless, Cousins thrived in his first full season as the starter, becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for at least 4,000 yards (4,166) and 25 touchdowns (29), and has one of the league's top tight ends in Jordan Reed, who enjoyed a breakout season with 87 receptions and 11 scores. There are questions about a ground game headed by Matt Jones, who returned to practice Wednesday after missing much of the preseason with a shoulder injury, and a defense that ranked 28th last year despite 9.5 sacks from linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
1. Pittsburgh's 41 wins on Kickoff Weekend are the most by any AFC team.
2. Redskins WR DeSean Jackson averages 17.7 yards per catch in his career, the most in the league since 2008.
3. Brown tied for the NFL lead with 136 receptions in 2015 and his 265 catches in the past two seasons are the most in any two-year span.
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