Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Monday's Redskins-Steelers 2016 Week 1 showdown at FedExField.
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DON'T LET PRIME TIME GET TO YOU
It will be a special night for the Redskins, opening the season against one of the league's top teams on Monday Night Football at FedExField.
The crowd will be electric well before kickoff and will remain that way throughout the game, but the Redskins should remain calm in the face of mounting pressure in front of a national audience.
"We're definitely excited about it, for sure. It's just keeping our nerves calm," starting strong safety David Bruton Jr. said. "Be excited come game time – we want to peak at the right time during the game. I know me personally, I'm excited going into a season as a starter; make a name for myself besides special teams. For me personally, it's been tough to try and keep calm, but I realize I have to."
Veteran cornerback Greg Toler, who signed with the Redskins in the offseason, said the team must remain "poised and focused," not letting the bright lights get in the way of their preparation.
"We're going in there with a game plan; just stay focused on your gameplan and execute at your best abilities," Toler said. "You're excited to go against different jerseys. You don't want to reach too much. You understand that you don't want to get too high. You don't want to get too low. You want to stay even planed because the ball can bounce a lot of different ways. Hopefully it bounces our way more than theirs."
Special teams captain Niles Paul will guide a unit that will be comprised of a lot of young players, some of whom will be making their NFL debuts.
"It's going to be a different feel out there," Paul said. "It's nothing like college football. Monday Night Football is definitely a different type of environment and you have to prepare for it. But there's nothing really I can say to them. You've just got to experience for yourself."
STOP BIG BEN ON FIRST TRY
One of the things that has made Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so difficult to stop over the years has been his ability to shed would-be sacks and turn them into large gains, often times resulting in touchdowns.
Roethlisberger is one of the biggest quarterbacks in the NFL today, checking in at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds.
"I think the No. 1 thing with him is that he's such a big body back there," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said this week. "He's a big man to come in and tackle. We talk about – and every time I've ever gone against him – the thing that we preach is you want to tackle the ball, you don't necessarily want to tackle him. Because he's been doing it for however long – 12 or 13 years. He's proven he's tough to tackle just because he's so big. Especially you see undersized linebackers or DBs literally just fall off him and bounce off him. He's able to make the unbalanced throws so well just because he's so big and so strong."
One of the players that will look to wrap up Roethlisberger – and keep him down – is second-year linebacker Preston Smith.
Smith came on strong at the end of his rookie season, as five of his eight sacks came in the final three games. But the Mississippi State product understands that the task of taking Big Ben down is easier said than done.
"You've got to make sure that you bring him down, that you bring everything with you and you're conscious of when you get attached to him," Smith said. "Make sure you hold him and you keep him from completing the pass because he completes passes with people attached to him. He still gets the ball off. He still extends plays with his size and his capability."
GET THE GROUND GAME GOING
Yes, the Redskins' passing attack has all of the components in place to go up and down the field on any defense this season.
But everyone from head coach Jay Gruden to quarterback Trent Williams understands that they need an effective running game to keep the offense from getting too one-dimensional against a Steelers defense that can cause quite a few problems.
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"We just have to do a better job," Gruden said. "Everybody – tight ends, running backs, linemen, quarterbacks getting us in the right run. It's a great challenge for us, especially against this defense. They were excellent in yards per carry against them last year, and they always have been pretty dang good against the run. I was in Cincinnati for three years playing against them and you feel like beating your head against the wall calling a running play against them sometimes. They're strong and they're physical, but it's a great challenge for us. It's something we have to do; we have to do to make sure we stay balanced."
Starting running back Rob Kelley (shoulder) is questionable for the game, but the second-year Florida product was a full participant in practices this week.
Even if healthy, though, the Redskins will want to get Chris Thompson and rookie Rob Kelley involved as well.
"We talk throughout the course of the week if there's a certain play that we might want to have Chris Thompson get, or Kelley get, or Matt, we always have communicated that ahead of time," offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. "If it's something that we anticipate getting to, we're talking about that on the headset beforehand. If a guy's in a rhythm—Coach Jordan having played the position for as long as he did—kind of has a feel for when a guy's hot and he kind of lets those guys roll."
CONTAIN ANTONIO BROWN
A perennial All-Pro player now, Brown has risen to the top of the wide receiving rankings in the NFL.
In four of the last five seasons, Brown has toppled 1,100 receiving yards. Last season, he caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.
One of the players that will be asked for the "tall task" in stopping Brown will be fellow All-Pro Josh Norman, the Redskins' marquee signing in the offseason.
"When you look at a wide receiver in the NFL, you don't have to stop anywhere other than Antonio Brown. It starts and it ends with him," Norman said. "That's going to be a tall task to take on and I respect that 110 percent. I'm looking forward to what he will bring because that matchup is obviously going to be a physical one and it's going to be a fun one."
But Norman won't be alone, as the Redskins could place the physical Bashaud Breeland on Brown some, too.
"I think with what Pittsburgh does, they do such a great job… It's easier to do that when a guy is in one spot all the time. When you say, 'OK, in this formation, he's going to be here. In this formation he's going to be here.' Kind of the theme with elite No. 1 wideouts with every team now, they do such a good job of moving him around so you can't get a bead on him," Barry said. "We'll deploy a certain, different number of players on him, but they counter-balance that just by moving him around."