The talk in DC this week has been about how the Redskins "should win" this weekend's game against the St. Louis Rams. Such talk makes me nervous -- for the past several seasons, the pre-game talk in most cities has been about how their team "should win" against the Redskins. Coming off 3 consecutive sub-.500 seasons (4 straight years with a negative scoring differential -- a more meaningful measure of team strength than record), the Skins (and their fans) have no business talking about any game as a "should win" proposition.
That's not to say that Washington shouldn't be favored. They appear to be the better team, and they'll kickoff as 3.5-point favorites Sunday afternoon. But, anyone can beat anyone in the NFL, especially a team like the Redskins, which hasn't shown the ability in the past few seasons to follow up a strong performance one week with a strong performance the next.
So, here are five keys to Washington beating the St. Louis Rams and running their record to 2-0:
- Control Chris Long -- Long took a couple years to hit his stride after being picked 2nd overall in the 2008 draft, but the defensive end has emerged as a pass-rushing force. He has increased his sack total each year of his career -- last season he had 13. The job of stopping him from crushing rookie QB Robert Griffin III falls primarily to Tyler Polumbus, the street free agent Washington picked up in mid-season last year. Polumbus struggled in both run and pass protection last week, so I'd anticipate seeing the coaching staff giving him some help -- at minimum with some chip blocks from tight ends and/or running backs.
- Find the Tight Ends Early and Often -- Last season, the Rams allowed just 33 receiving yards per game to opposing tight ends. In week one, the Lions torched them for 126. The Redskins tight ends were fairly quiet against the Saints, but Fred Davis and Niles Paul are potentially dangerous weapons. Paul, in particular, has a unique combination of size and speed that makes him a tough matchup for opposing linebackers and safeties. I anticipate seeing the Skins finding ways to target him Sunday against the Rams.
- Shut Down the St. Louis Receivers -- On defense, Washington has a good line and first-rate linebackers. Their secondary: sucks. The Rams lack playmakers in their receiving corps, but the Redskins lackluster defensive backs still must play well to shut them down. A good pass rush will help, but they're still going to need to cover better than they did in the preseason and against the Saints.
- Beat Up Sam Bradford -- A good way to limit the Rams' passing attack will be to knock the quarterback down with regularity. The St. Louis offensive line was iffy even before injuries to a couple starters. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was virtually unstoppable against New Orleans, and Brian Orakpo was nearly as good. If the Redskins can get to Bradford consistently, the St. Louis passing game will grind to a halt.
- Solid Play from RG3 -- Griffin was terrific against the Saints -- arguably the best rookie debut performance in league history. He probably won't be that good against St. Louis, but then he really doesn't need to be. If he can make good decisions, throw the ball with accuracy and use his feet to stay out of trouble, there's enough on film to make this offense score regularly.
On the defensive side, I'm hoping to see better play from Jarvis Jenkins. Jenkins showed great promise in the team's 2011 training camp before wrecking his knee in a preseason game. He's working his way back, but hasn't returned to that "immovable force" style of play yet.
Perhaps my biggest worry for Sunday is returner Brandon Banks. He's an exciting player, but fumbles way too much for my taste. Last week, he laid the ball on the ground twice, which has to be cause for concern. If he can't hang on to the ball, Washington will need to find someone else to return kicks.
Washington Redskins 27
St. Louis Rams 18