The Washington Redskins (2-1) head to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, to take on the St. Louis Rams (0-3). Both teams will be doing their absolute best to forget last week, and get on the winning track.
The Rams are coming off a 37-7 drubbing at the hands of the 2-1 Baltimore Ravens, in a game that saw rookie Torrey Smith's first three career receptions go for touchdowns (and 133 yards) in the first quarter. St. Louis couldn't stop Baltimore from doing anything in the first half, as the Ravens posted an incredible 406 yards, a 28-point lead, and never looked back.
The Redskins were in a much more tightly contested affair against the Dallas Cowboys, but that just made the 18-16 loss that much harder to swallow for Redskins Nation. Despite keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone completely, the Redskins could not stop kicker Dan Bailey, who was 6 for 6 on field goals - including the winner with less than two minutes to go. It was a deflating loss for a Redskins team that played well enough to steal a win in Dallas, but came away with nothing.
Expect both the Rams and the Redskins to rely heavily on the run-game in this match-up.
The Redskins got away from the run in the second half of the Cowboys game, and it cost them. Tim Hightower had just 14 carries for 41 yards against Dallas, and only five of those carries came in the second half. The end result, was the first game of 2011 that Washington came out on the losing end of the time of possession battle (the Cowboys had 31:30 to the Redskins 28:30). Previous to that, Washington dominated the first two games, and led the entire NFL with a 10 minute advantage over their opponents.
Steven Jackson is St. Louis' most dangerous player, and the Rams offense goes as he does. Last week he only saw minimal action (4 carries for 23 yards) due to a quadriceps injury he sustained the week before on a 47-yard touchdown run. He was limited in practice all week, but jackson himself said that he is, "expecting to see significant action," and hoping to see the ball more this week than he did against the Ravens. Last week Carnell Williams shouldered the load with 18 carries for 75 yards.
If the Redskins can stop Jackson and/or Cadillac though, St. Louis will be in trouble. Sam Bradford was pasted for five sacks last week (11 on the season), and in the process, injured his toe. It isn't likely to be a major factor, but it may limit his mobility, and that itself could become a factor with pass rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan taking rips at a struggling Rams offensive line (see match-up below). The Rams' receivers don't pose that much threat to Washington's secondary, and that could give the two young stud linebackers an extra beat to get to a hobbled Bradford.
St. Louis is hoping that the receiver corps will get a boost if Danny Amendola can get into the line-up. He has been trying a new brace for his dislocated elbow, after missing the last two games. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo said on Thursday that Amendola would be a game-time decision, but he seemed to be hesitant to say the receiver would play. Spagnuolo said that Amendola would like to play, but that he still didn't have much strength in the arm, and they would keep taking it day-by-day.
Regardless of whether or not Amendola can go, the Rams receivers will be in tough over the middle, as Sunday will be the second game for the safety tandem of LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe. Landry made his season debut last week against Dallas, after being sidelined for the entire season. Miraculously, despite being on the shelf for ten months, he showed no signs of rust whatsoever, and even delivered the game's best bone-crunching hit. With the first game now under his belt, expect huge things from Landry against the Rams. His game fitness will be up a little, his timing will be a little improved, and he's still hungry to get out there and make up for lost time.
Atogwe returns home to St, Louis where he spent all six years of his career before coming to Washington. Atogwe hasn't made any splashy plays yet in Washington, but NOT hearing the free safety's name at all, is usually a sign that they are doing their job effectively. Still, expect Atogwe to want to have a strong showing against his former team, and have an added impact on this game. Atogwe's effectiveness in coverage will allow the Redskins to cheat Landry into the box, to help shut down the running game, and to get pressure on Bradford. This is a dream match-up for the Redskins safeties, so expect both players to have a direct impact on the flow of this game.
Rex Grossman will look to rebound from his worst outing of the year. He was by no means the reason the Redskins lost to Dallas, but he was nowhere near as effective as he was in the first two games. Hi stat line wasn't too bad going 22 of 37 for 250 yards, but his two turnovers (1 interception, 1 fumble) were both costly. Grossman doesn't need to light up the Rams, so hopefully Kyle Shanahan goes back to the ground game, and lets Rex do what Rex does well - manage the game. Ideally the Redskins will have Grossman hand the ball off to Hightower and Helu, and look for some quick strikes off of play-action early on. The Redskins need to still be able to stretch the field to keep the Rams from putting eight men in the box to try and stop the run game.
Whether it's Fred Davis or Chris Cooley, one of the tight ends needs to loosen up the underneath for Grossman this week. Last week the Cowboys were able to keep Davis in check, and subsequently, limit the options available to the Redskins quarterback. Davis was exceptional in the first two games, and Cooley should be starting to get his legs back under him after not playing at all in the pre-season. The Redskins should be able to contend with the Rams pass rush (see match-ups below), so less tight end help will be needed in blocking. That should free up one of the tight ends to be a critical part of Sunday's offensive attack - especially in the red zone where Washington continues to struggle.
The Redskins could be without a couple of integral parts of that offense, as wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, and fullback Darrel Young, remain questionable for Sunday and will be game-time decisions. Both were limited at practice on Thursday, as was rookie safety DeJon Gomes. All three are nursing hamstring injuries. Considering that the Redskins have a bye week the following week, it isn't likely anyone will be rushed back. Having said that, Cooley had to play fullback in place of Young last week, so his return would help the Redskin offense. Despite the number of receivers in the Redskins corps, there isn't really anyone that can match Armstrong's skill-set. Donte Stallworth and Terrence Austin have been alternating in and out of the line-up, so expect to see both of them instead of just one, if Armstrong can't go against St. Louis.
The Redskins obviously had a short week of preparation thanks to the Monday Night game. Fortunately, they did not have significant injuries, and in this instance, it gives the Redskins less time to wallow in that crushing Cowboy defeat. Expect the Redskins to come out firing against the Rams on Sunday.
They feel like they have something to prove.
Key Player Match-Ups
Rams DE Chris Long vs Redskins OT Jammal Brown By: Grant Paulsen
In week-three, the Dallas Cowboys decided that their best chance to get to Rex Grossman was to line DeMarcus Ware up across from right tackle Jammal Brown. Ware traditionally plays on the right side of Dallas' defensive front but shifted to the left because he was beating Brown more consistently than he was left tackle Trent Williams. Why is this relevant this weekend? Because the St. Louis Rams' best pass-rusher is a natural left defensive end, meaning he's always going to be lined up across from Brown.
A seventh-year veteran, Brown has been inconsistent to start the 2011 season. He'll have to play four strong quarters against Long, a relentless rush-end who pairs elite athleticism with tireless effort. Long isn't as lethal a defender as Ware, and he's not a sexy enough game-changer to garner many national headlines; but if he's making plays, the Rams will be halting drives and the Redskins will be turning the football over. Brown can't let him make an impact.
Long has a sack in all three of St. Louis' early-season losses, and has now tallied 11.5 sacks in 19 starts since being moved to left-end. He's one of the few play-makers remaining on a mediocre Rams defense (ranked 31st after three weeks). If Brown has a stellar performance, Washington's offense will have a chance to sustain drives. If Brown struggles and the Redskins face third-and-long situations because Long is hitting Grossman or forcing him to throw the ball before he's ready to, the Redskins could be in for a frustrating afternoon.
Long doesn't have the supporting cast around him that Ware does, which will make Brown's task somewhat easier this weekend. Having struggled on a couple of key second half plays that hurt the Redskins' chances in Dallas, Brown was motivated to deliver a quality week of work. That should pay off for him on Sunday.
Edge: Jammal Brown.
The Redskins Front 7 vs The Rams O-line By: Andre Mitchell
Not only will this be an intriguing match-up, itís one of the most important match-ups to watch this week.
Pass blocking has been an issue so far this season for the Rams, as they are the 4th most sacked team in the NFL. The 2nd pick in the 2009 draft, right tackle Jason Smith, has really been struggling to the point that Steve Spagnuolo benched him in the second half of last weekís game against the Ravens.
Expect Haslett to attack that right side of the Rams offensive line with Ryan Kerrigan facing off with Smith, and also by sending London Fletcher through to blitz. Brian Orakpo takes on Rodger Saffold which will be a good battle that Orakpo should win a few times. Stephen Bowen working on Jacob Bell will be interesting, Bowenís motor was unmatched last week against the Cowboys and if he brings it this week Bell would be in for a long day.
The Rams are stronger running the ball ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing. The interior of the Rams line does a good job creating holes for the backs. The Redskins need Barry Cofield to occupy center Jason Brown and guard Harvey Dahl, while freeing up either a linebacker or a safety to make plays in the backfield with one of Jim Haslettís exotic blitzes. Rocky McIntosh will have to be disciplined and fill the holes that the Rams o-line can create. Itís key for the Redskins to stuff Steven Jackson early in the run, because once he gets to the second level he becomes nearly impossible to bring down.
This is a battle the Redskins need to win, it wasnít won last year and the scoreboard reflected it.
Edge: Redskins Front 7
Rams DB Justin King vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss By: Emmanual Benton
Fourth year defensive back Justin King, took over a starting role after Ron Bartell's season ending injury in the pre-season. King is coming off a horrible game against the Baltimore Ravens, in which he was burnt three times for touchdowns by Ravens rookie wide receiver, Torrey Smith (74, 41, and 18 yards)... all in one-quarter!
After reviewing the game-tape, a few things stuck out to me. On the first touchdown, King was in man coverage, and had perfect position on the football, but didn't get physical and didn't turn his head to track the ball. On the second touchdown, King was again in ideal position on the football, but handed the coverage to Rams safety Darian Stewart, who got burnt. The final touchdown was just a matter of strength and size. Torrey Smith simply outplayed King on the 18 yard TD, as King did not get physical at the line and was slow to turn his head as plays progressed.
King owned up to his performance, saying: "That's what I get paid to do. I'm paid to man-up on guys. He made (plays) and I got beat. I have to show character now and get back to work and fix the mistakes."
At 6ft, 186 pounds, and with 4.3 speed, King is better suited for off man coverage where he can use his athleticism to make plays; however, the Rams seem to use their CB's closer to the line, which isn't King's strength.
This week, King will be matched up with Redskins wide receiver, Santana Moss. King has not fared well against speedy receivers like Moss, and is susceptible to the deep ball. Santana Moss (averaging 12.9 yards a catch), chould have his best game of the season.
It's not going to be easy for Santana, because King will be determined to recover and prove his critics wrong.
Rams Passing Offense v Redskins Secondary By: Kevin Ewoldt
When the St. Louis Rams lost Danny Amendola with a dislocated elbow (listed as doubtful for this week), Sam Bradford turned to Mike Sims-Walker to be his go-to target. MSW has seen the most action of Rams WRs this year with 19 targets. Let's just say MSW has been about as effective as Malcolm Kelly with those chances (0 TDs). At least Sims-Walker is on the field though, right?
Week 1, MSW only had 1 reception for 5 yards. Week 2, Sam Bradford targeted Sims-Walker 11 times finishing with 6 receptions and 92 yards. And finally, last week vs the Ravens, Sims-Walker had a paltry 3 receptions for 36 yards (and the Rams were down early, which lends to a passing attack).
Pro Football Focus had an interesting stat on Bradford, who last week adjusted to making Brandon Gibson his top target:
"[Bradford] looked especially strong in this game when throwing to the right side of the field, completing 10 of 13 passes for 114 yards." Gibson had 55 yards and a TD last weekend. Given Gibson is shorter, Josh Wilson will likely be on him early. Either way, these WRs are sub-par and should not be making plays against this defense.
Even though Bradford is not getting the wins, statistically he has improved according to Pro Football Focus. This is a similar situation to Dallas last week. Smart QB surrounded by backup WRs (minus Dez obviously). The Redskins should continue their heavy blitz game plan with the exception of disguising it from time to time.
Edge: Redskins Secondary
Redskins RB Tim Hightower vs Rams MLB James Laurinaitis By: Justin Partlow
One of the key matchups this week will be Redskins RB Tim Hightower vs. Rams MLB James Laurinaitis. This is a match-up Hightower should win, but it won't come easy. Let's start with each player and what they do best.
People usually assume, that since heís a RB, Tim Hightower's best thing is running the football. Personally I think his best asset to any team is his 3rd down ability as a pass blocker and receiver. The man will lay the wood and stop a free rushing blitzer, but will also make the big catch to move the chains as witnessed on the TD drive vs. Dallas. Now this isnít to say Tim isnít a good RB, because he is, but the man has a special talent as a pass blocker and receiver.
What this team will need from Hightower this week though, is obviously his running. Hightower missed a couple of cutback lanes last week vs. Dallas and it did cost the Redskins some yards and time. What the Redskins need out of Tim is to find those cutback lanes and exploit the running lanes that should be created from the ZBS scheme. If Tim canít get it done, expect to see a lot more Roy Helu in the game. This is one of those games that if Hightower plays very well and sees the cutback lanes, heíll prove himself to be the number one RB for the foreseeable future - even with a young rookie right behind him ready to start.
James Laurinaitis is a young talented LB that coach Steve Spagnuolo uses as his 2nd Defensive Coordinator on the field. James was once seen as not being that good of a LB when he got to the next level, and in essence, didnít have the perfect size and speed to be a dominating force. Well heís proven many wrong and become one of the top young LBís in the game. What he does well is his recognition of the play and he reacts to it faster than most players. What he may not have in speed, he makes up for with his recognition of the play and how to attack it. What is to be loved about his game is his blitz timing. Every time he blitzes, it always seems to be at the right moment.
This matchup though comes down to two key things. Can Hightower read what James is doing on either blitzing or pass coverage? And will Laurinaitis be able to make the key plays to stop Hightower in the run game and help lead a winless Rams team to victory. Definitely one of the more underrated matchups to watch.
This article is the combined effort of six people. Thanks to all of them for their time and efforts. Here is everyone's contact information:
Kevin Ewoldt - Hogs Haven