Saturday, September 19, 2009

Week 2 Preview: Redskins vs. St. Louis Rams

A very quick overview of the Rams by position:

Quarterback – It has been a quick and hard fall for Marc Bulger. Just a couple years ago he was considered an up and coming star in the league, but now the term that is almost universally applied to him by the media is “shell-shocked.” After too much time playing behind shoddy protection, he has developed a reputation as a QB who is jumpy and lacks confidence. A little pressure can go a long with this guy.

Running Back – One of the few bright spots. Steven Jackson is the real deal, and deserves to be on a better team. The Redskins will probably play eight men in the box most of the time, as Jackson is talented enough to cause damage even with a mediocre line. He’s got speed, power, agility everything. And this offseason the Rams added a big lead-blocking fullback in Mike Karney. Jackson is also a very good receiver, and pass coverage may be one of the weaknesses of our linebacker crew. Presumably the Redskins will neutralize the passing game sufficiently to be able to focus on keeping Jackson under control, but if the game remains close longer than it should Steven Jackson could possibly hurt us.

Wide Receivers – Donnie Avery is fast as hell, and looks established as a quality NFL receiver, but he’s not particularly well rounded and he’s about all the Rams have got. The #2 is Laurent Robinson who could have potential, but there’s no question the defense will be focused on controlling Avery and Jackson and betting that the rest of the offense isn’t talented enough to threaten us.

Offensive Line – Probably better than last year, but that’s not saying much. They have a highly drafted rookie (Jason Smith) at RT and a solid free agent at center (Jason Brown) but Bulger got hit a lot last week as the Rams got shut out by the Seahawks. The remaining three are holdovers from 2008’s notoriously weak line, and if Haynesworth does his job and keeps the interior occupied Andre Carter should win some matchups against LT Alex Barron. If the Rams pull off an upset, it will be because the D-line failed to generate enough pressure against weak blockers and a highly jumpy QB.

Front Seven – Not much to worry about here. Their line is a mix of old-and-declining (DE Leonard Little and LB Will Witherspoon) and raw-and-undeveloped (DE Chris Long and LB James Laurinaitis). Unless we get fooled by complex blitzes there will be no excuse if the O-line is unable to protect Jason Campbell and get a good push in the running game.

Defensive Backs – The safeties are pretty decent: A.J. Otugwe has a lot of talent and playmaking ability, and they brought in James Butler because he’s familiar with Steve Spagnuolo’s system from New York so he should at least be steady. Cornerback, however, is a pretty big hole.

What this all means:
Last week the offense was based on a stubborn power running game to set up the deep pass off play action. But this is the Rams, and the gameplan that was awful against the Giants could be very effective this week. I thought dinking and dunking was necessary against the Giants’ superior defense, but here it may be a waste of time. Hopefully the offensive line will be able to physically dominate the Ram’s weak front seven. After ramming Portis down their throat long enough, we should be perfectly set up to hit Santana Moss deep. The seven step drops infuriated me against the Giants’ pass rush, but against the Rams the line to be able to give Jason Campbell plenty of time.
On defense, I see no reason not to be as aggressive as possible. Bulger is not the kind of QB who is inclined to make you pay for blitzing, and I hope we throw Landry or Horton at him enough times to keep him on his ever so jittery toes. And no more of the soft coverage we ran against the Giants. Bulger still has that talent he displayed in the past, and with adequate time he can still pick apart a defense. Remember the deep pass to Avery that got the Rams into position for the game winning field goal last year? That happened not because Avery beat the coverage – Leigh Torrence had him well blanketed. But then-rookie Kareem Moore was supposed to blitz and blew his assignment. With time to stand back there comfortably, Bulger remembered that he once was a confident, accurate quarterback and threw a beautiful pass that was placed perfectly to float just over Torrence and fall into Donnie Avery’s hands.
I want the Redskins to come out aggressive and get an early lead. The Rams offense should not be able to get consistent production, but they have enough big play ability with Avery and Jackson that it’s just not safe to go deep into the second half with only a narrow lead. You never know; Campbell could get blindsided, causing the ball to pop straight up into the air, falling by chance into the hands of an offensive lineman who instinctively catches it, then fumbles as soon as he is hit, and the fumble could be picked up by a DB with an open 75 yard path to the end zone. Don’t scoff – it could happen. It’s on the offense to take sufficient advantage of their weak opponent that a fluke like that won’t matter.

Some other previews, most of which can't help but see the Rams as a perfect confidence-builder after a deflating opening week:
Real Redskins predicts a dominant win, and a chance to finally get Malcolm Kelly into the game.
Hogs Haven also sees the Rams as the perfect opportunity for all the Redskins underachievers to live up to potential, and invites a Seahawks blogger who last week got to see his team treat the Rams as a tasty snack.
Curly R has a two-part series on Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his long and, to put it mildly, eventful relationship with the Redskins.
Football Outsider Doug Farrar goes on the Post to to preview the game and outlines how nearly all the matchups favor the Redskins.
There seems to be unanimity out there that last year loss was a fluke, and there is absolutely not excuse not to dominate this team. Last weeks loss was nothing to panic over. If the Redskins somehow manage to lose to the Rams for the second year in a row, we are going to have an awful lot to talk about next week.

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