1. Are the Redskins better?
Yes. The question is, by how much. Their defense could be very solid -- you can't be better than that without a pass rush. What was encouraging during the preseason was the Redskins' ability to collapse the pocket from the middle. Pay attention to that Sunday and this season. Much of that came this summer from Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Demetric Evans in rush situations. Offensively, it's uncertain how much better they are. Too many questions remain unanswered, which is why it's hard to predict a postseason berth.
2. How will Jason Campbell look?
Better. That is, as long as he's not getting beaten up by the rush. Campbell is as relaxed as a young QB can be, cracking jokes during interviews and simply walking around without oozing any tension. That's a good sign. Our concern with Campbell is this: the ability to always recognize blitzes. It's still a weakness. And he must show that he can look off the safety more consistently. He still needs to grow as a QB and the Redskins will suffer the pains along the way. The good thing for him is that he can make plays with his legs, too, and that can make a big difference in easing some growing pains. We like him a lot, but aren't ready to proclaim he's going to be a star. But there's something different about him compared to other QBs who have passed through here of late -- and it's not just talent.
3. Is the offense ready to take off?
Well, much of that depends on Campbell's growth and it's hard to imagine it looking crisp this weekend. Two key players, Chris Samuels and Clinton Portis, have not played a game this summer. How sharp can they be? Fortunately for Portis, he has Ladell Betts behind him. There's also a new left guard in Pete Kendall, though that should be less of a factor than other players' rustiness. What helps the Redskins is that 10 of the 11 starters are experienced playing together in this offense. That will make a difference; we just don't know when that difference will show. They need to hit some big plays downfield. Don't forget, as well as Betts ran last year, it's not like the offense was high-powered.
4. What gives the offense a good chance to have a big game?
The health of Santana Moss. When he's right, he's scary. Eventually, we worry about his durability. But the guy is ready to play and when healthy he usually produces in a big way. That's what we expect Sunday.
5. What worries you offensively?
The same thing that troubles everyone else: holding off Miami's rush. The Dolphins will move end Jason Taylor around, trying to create mismatches. But it's not just him as end Matt Roth has played well this summer and DT Vonnie Holliday is troublesome as well. The Redskins' tackles need to have good games and not rely on help. Can they do so? Jon Jansen needs a good start to silence a growing whisper of doubts. If they can't handle the rush, then Chris Cooley has to stay in to block and that removes the second option they need. If he's a factor in the passing game, they'll have success.
6. What minor battle must they win?
They can't let Keith Traylor clog too much of the middle. His beefiness allows undersized Zach Thomas to have success at MLB. The Redskins need to run with power against this D. Some players were upset that in the Steelers' game their first play was a draw. They want power, power, power. You can't rely just on that, but it is their calling card. Use it.
7. Will the defense finally create a turnover?
Listen, we can predict this every week and eventually be right. It's surprising that they didn't do a better job in this area in the summer given the increased speed. That usually translates into tipped balls, more defenders around the ball, which means more guys to possibly strip the ball. We say they'll get at least one pick. And here's the stunner: it'll be Carlos Rogers who gets it. Talk about setting a tone. (OK, that's either really prescient -- or really foolish given his stone hands).
8. What worries you about the Dolphins' O?
The playcalling of Cam Cameron and the savviness of Trent Green. The Redskins have tried to construct their defense from the back seven, trying to beat teams with various looks and schemes rather than with pressure. That can work against less-experienced QBs, but not against guys like Green -- he won't be fooled by LaRon Landry's whereabouts. That is, if they have time. But here's the thing: Green is still finding his way with this team and his offensive line is not all that good. This is actually a good time to play this offense as you'd expect it to improve throughout the season.
9. What's the defensive key?
They must make Ronnie Brown and the running game ineffective. That'll prove they've turned a corner after allowing 4.5 yards per carry last season. The Big Fellas in the middle need to allow London Fletcher to run free. Green excels at play action and if there's no reason to worry about the run, it'll remove that element. We're also anxious to see how creative this D is given the added speed and athleticism.
10. Who will win?
Both teams have good defenses, though I worry about the age of Miami's D. The drop can be sudden when players get older. Will that happen now? We doubt it'll happen in the first game so that's irrelevant. But the Redskins' O is in much better position to face a good D than the Dolphins. Playing at home will help, too. The Redskins start well and win, 17-9.
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