The Washington Redskins on Sunday open the season against the New York Giants, and will try to end their NFC East rival’s dominance after having lost nine of the last 10.
The Redskins haven’t beaten the Giants at FedEx Field since 2005, but are looking to kick off Year 2 of the Mike Shanahan Era on a positive note.
Here are five storylines to follow Sunday afternoon.
1. Grossman’s rebirth —
Rex Grossman hasn’t entered a season as
his team’s starting quarterback since 2007, when he and the Bears were coming off of their Super Bowl appearance. That year, Grossman was benched after just three games. Since then, he has been trying to get his career back on track. After starting the final three games of 2010 and following a quarterback duel with John Beck, Grossman is ‘The Guy” again. He insists he is a more mature, more disciplined and more effective quarterback than the version everyone saw in Chicago. During the preseason, Grossman operated Washington’s offense at a crisp pace and effectively spread the ball around to receivers. Can he continue his success in the regular season?
2. Kerrigan’s debut — Washington desperately needed a complement to Brian Orakpo’s pass rush off the right edge, and so they drafted Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue to be that guy. The converted defensive end remains a work in progress, but coaches are pleased with his development and No. 91 will start right off the bat. The 6-foot-4, 263-pound Kerrigan recorded 10 tackles and two sacks in the preseason. Kerrigan has work to do in the pass-coverage department, but he’s picking things up quickly, and should help ease pressure on Orakpo.
3. Running game — The Clinton Portis era has ended, and Tim Hightower overtook Ryan Torain as the go-to guy. Hightower appears to be a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking run game. During the preseason, the fifth-year pro averaged 6.8 yards a carry while rushing for two touchdowns and ripping off several big runs, including one for 58 yards. In addition to his running skills, the Redskins like Hightower’s versatility as a pass catcher and pass blocker. Hightower believes 2011 will be his breakout year.
4. Defensive front — The Redskins spent this preseason to bring in former Giant Barry Cofield to be the anchor of their 3-4 defensive front and Stephen Bowen to further bolster that line. The Redskins’ Achilles’ heel when playing the Giants has been their inability to stop the run. Will the additions of Cofield and Bowen, and another year of familiarity with Jim Haslett’s defense make a differences for Washington this time around? The Redskins are bracing for a heavy dose of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. If they can hold them in check, their chances of winning this game are greatly improved.
5. Field position — How will the new kickoff rules impact the Redskins and the Giants? Graham Gano regularly nailed touchbacks during the preseason, and the strong-legged, second-year pro is likely to send them booming again. If healthy, Brandon Banks has the ability to bring the ball out from deep in the end zone and still turn in a significant return. The Redskins are also hoping for more turnovers out of their defense to set them up with shorter fields to work with. Punter Sav Rocca did nicely in the preseason and helped keep opponents’ punt return yardage to a minimum. Obviously, pinning the Giants deep in their own territory also should help the Redskins’ chances of holding Eli Manning & Co. in check.