|New quarterbacks, RB Peterson highlight Redskins-Cards matchup|
The Washington Redskins have a roster dotted with potential Pro Bowlers in their primes and questions all over as they prepare to play at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in the regular-season opener.
It's a fitting place to start. The Redskins and Cardinals will play for the fourth time in five seasons. Add in that Washington is 0-4 in season openers under head coach Jay Gruden and Week 1 suddenly takes on a critical context for a team that can't afford another slow start.
The biggest challenge facing the Cardinals when they entered training camp was making sure they kept veteran quarterback Sam Bradford healthy. Mission accomplished on that end. Now the team's biggest concern entering the regular season is, you guessed it, making sure they keep Sam Bradford healthy.
For his part, Bradford, who has a career 62.5 completion percentage, said he can't wait to finally put his injury history behind him and finally get to enjoy a season where all of his hard work will pay off.
"He's been doing that throughout preseason, in my opinion," Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said. "I think right now, his knee is healthy. We went through the process and (after taking a few hits) I think he got the jitters out, so I think he's on track. I think he's going to continue to strengthen that knee and work on it throughout the year. Hopefully, we can do everything we can to keep him healthy."
The Redskins, meanwhile, moved on from quarterback Kirk Cousins and acquired Alex Smith in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. They hoped to upgrade the running game by selecting Derrius Guice in the second of the draft. But he suffered a torn ACL early in camp.
Enter Adrian Peterson, who was signed by the Cardinals last year after David Johnson was lost for the season because of a wrist injury.
Peterson had 56 yards on 11 carries in his lone preseason game Aug. 24 against the Denver Broncos and Washington hopes he's a bridge to Guice when he's ready to go again next summer.
Meanwhile, Johnson is completely recovered and will be the Cardinals' main weapon for opposing defenses to contend with
"It's an identity that we talked about," Wilks said. "I said that we want to run the football, and I believe right now, the strength is in our offensive line, and we want to continue to set the tone up front."
In Sunday's game, Smith will see a tough Arizona secondary led by cornerback Patrick Peterson. The offensive line is well positioned to deal with pass rusher Chandler Jones as it has Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams on one side and the steady Morgan Moses on the other.
Much of Washington's offense is built around getting that running game going so it can take advantage of its weapons in the passing game. Without Guice, Peterson was brought in to help. But no one knows how much he has left.
Some intriguing individual matchups should produce highlights. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has averaged more than 100 catches and 1,000 receptions each of the last three years, will often face Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who didn't register an interception last season.
Fitzgerald is sneaky good at getting open and turning short receptions into bigger gains. Norman is still an elite corner who knows how to lock down receivers, and the best way to handle Fitzgerald is by being physical with him and hitting him at the snap of the ball. One mistake, though, and Fitzgerald can still burn you.
Then, there's the aforementioned Jones and Williams. The Arizona defensive end led the NFL with 17 sacks last season, while Washingtion's left tackle has been selected to six straight Pro Bowls. Jones has an array of moves he likes to use when motoring his way into opponents' backfields and his repertoire makes it difficult for tackles and tight ends to slow him down because he's hard to game-plan against. Williams, though, is a savvy, nine-year vet who has virtually seen it all, making this one of the best individual NFC matchups to watch in Week 1.
Finally, Gruden noted the uncertainty in preparing for a team with a new coaching staff. With preseason games difficult to evaluate, Gruden said, "We have to go back to when (Cardinals offensive coordinator) coach (Mike) McCoy was an offensive coordinator last year (with Denver) and you have to go back to when coach Wilks was a defensive coordinator last year at Carolina (Panthers).
"So we do have a lot of film to look at. Sometimes you have too much film to look at. You're not sure how they're going to make all the pieces fit."