The Jeff Fisher era did not get off to a forgettable start. A painful 27-23 loss to the Lions provided us an exhibition of a talented defense that is only going to get better paired with an offense that is going to take some time to find its identity.
Still, there was optimism to be had. And then there's euphoria.
The Redskins' season opened with a performance from Robert Griffin III that resonated far beyond the District. So now what?
Now, we put two franchises on two different tracks together. It's not ironic that the two teams who produced the trade with the most impact in the 2012 NFL Draft play each other so early in the following season; it's fitting.
One one hand, there's a franchise reborn at the hands of the Texas-based quarterback phenom. On the other, a team that handed the reigns to a head coach who has swam in the waters of the NFL many, many times before.
This is what the NFL provides. An opportunity to put two teams from dissimilar backgrounds on dissimilar trajectories with a similar pursuit.
Preview after the jump.
For game-related info, check out the SBN page for the game. For Redskins news leading up the game, check out Hogs Haven. Here's the injury report.
St. Louis Rams, 0-1, t-3rd - NFC West
Washington Redskins, 1-0, t-1st - NFC East
Sep. 16, 4:05 p.m. ET - FOX
WAS pass v. STL pass D
Here we go again. I said last week that the Lions' passing offense and the Rams' passing defense was the marquee matchup. That was certainly the case. And while I lean toward the argument that the Rams' rushing offense and the Redskins' rushing defense might be the main battle, this could well be the top matchup again.
RGIII's debut certainly was memorable, but the Rams proved to be stiff opposition against an impressive Lions attack...at least for the first half. At this point, it looks like Pierre Garcon is going to be a game time decision. With that as the case, Griffin's best options will be Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson, as well the TE options in Fred Davis, Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen. It's not an overwhelming group, but as was shown last week, they have the talent to be effective with a QB as threatening as RGIII.
For the Rams, they'll look to build on a performance in Detroit that was at times perfect, at others wholly deficient. The Rams defended Calvin Johnson somewhat well; remove the 51-yard reception at the end of the first half and he put together 5 catches for just 60 yards. I guarantee, most NFL teams would love to have that kind of play on Johnson. Problematically, by negating Megatron's ability to find space, Stafford worked his tight ends often, combining for 10 catches on 18 targets for 107 yards. Given Fred Davis' capabilities, the Rams will need to do better this week. The big concern here is safety play. It was woeful in week one. It's on tape. The Redskins will no doubt try to take advantage of Craig Dahl's and Quintin Mikell's disappointing play.
WAS run v. STL run D
This is a crucial tie even in the absence of DT Michael Brockers. One one hand, the Redskins offer the three-headed attack of Alfred Morris, Evan Royster and Roy Helu. It's not the easiest group to defend. Throw on top of that the mobility of RGIII, and you might be looking at one of the best ground games in the NFC. The key is how RGIII interprets his play packages and how well Chris Long and Robert Quinn anchor the edges. It's a tough task. You play too wide, and you lose much of your pass rush capability. Overpursue, and RGIII escapes to the sideline for plenty of time and field to work with. And all this while throwing multiple looks pre-snap to try and force a mistake from a rookie QB.
In a sense, it's about discipline. Long and Quinn have to stay on the edge when playing without OLB support. The DTs can't allow huge gap lanes for RGIII to just tuck it, run for 10 yards and slide (a la Michael Vick in the second half of week one last year). The OLBs have to stay with their receivers or tight ends long enough to force RGIII to approach the line of scrimmage but need to identify when he's taking off and close off space. Such is the life of a defense dealing with a mobile QB.
WAS O-line v. STL D-line
If there's one area that might not be crucial on defense, it's this one. Even with impressive pass rushing, RGIII is likely to play a shorter passing game, at least early on. That puts little onus on the offensive line to sustain three of four seconds of protection. In the running game, there's likely to be support from the linebacking corps as well as some tight safety play. I wouldn't be surprised if the Skins throw a couple different combinations out there to allow for some different schemes.
And again, that means discipline for the Rams up front. Being overaggressive against an offense can be deadly. If the trust is there with the cornerbacks...and safeties...in coverage, the key is to let the game come to them. Collapse the pocket straightforwardly. Too many stunts and wraps only create more space for RGIII. More blitzing may be in order this Sunday than what we saw against the Lions.
STL pass v. WAS pass D
This is probably the most difficult matchup to predict. On one hand, Drew Brees threw for more than 330 yards and two TDs, carving up a secondary that includes CBs DeAngelo Hall, perhaps the most overrated player in the league, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin. Top that off with safeties Reed Doughty, Madieu Williams and Brandon Meriweather, and you're looking at the soft spot in this defense. On the other hand, they held that Saints offense to just 17 points through three quarters, on the back of two interceptions. That's no small feat.
Then there's the Rams' passing O. While it wasn't glamorous, it did produce a solid final stat line in such limited work for Sam Bradford: 17/25, 7.92 yds/att, and a beautiful TD throw to Brandon Gibson. He spread the ball around with six players making at least one reception, seven on targets if you include the late find of Chris Givens that could have been a special play. Will Brian Quick and Givens factor more in this game? Will Amendola increase his target rate into double digits? And what of the tight ends, who were targeted just three times? I have no idea what this group is going to do.
STL run v. WAS run D
This, however, will be more meaningful in the first half, in all likelihood. The Skins have a powerful front seven, highlighted by the pass rushing skills of OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. London Fletcher (yes, 37-year-old London Fletcher) and Perry Riley man the inside spots. It's a strong group. The Saints largely avoided this game, running the ball just 10 times while throwing 52 passes, albeit for a measly 32 yards.
The Rams have to do better. Steven Jackson has to help move the chains and force some overloaded looks. A combination of Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson have to spell Jackson while continuing to force the Redskins out of comfortable pass coverage. It won't be easy, but it's pretty much a must if the Rams want to win.
STL O-line v. WAS D-line
And this is where it has to start. The trio of Adam Carriker, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen isn't the most overwhelming group, but with the strength of their linebacking crew, they have comfortable jobs in filling in gaps in the running game.
The Rams, on the other hand, are already beset by injuries here. Scott Wells is gone for roughly another two months. Rokevious Watkins was injured mid-week. Rodger Saffold, impressively, might make it back for Sunday. Robert Turner and Quinn Ojinnaka will fill in for Wells and Watkins, respectively. Can they open things up in the running game? Can they allow Sam to find a modicum of protection to at least work in some intermediate schemes with 5-step drops? Can they avoid being the center of negative scrutiny after the game? I'm not entirely excited here.
This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by my three favorite stories this week:
Look, I love dogs. I even like dog shows. And so obviously, I'm a fan of Great Danes. On of my boys had one back in the day in Dallas, and it was a great dog. But this? That dog is damn near four feet tall. Unacceptable.
Similarly, the Rams' defense wasn't up to the tall tasks last weekend, particularly in the second half. The Lions were in need of statement drives twice. Twice, they ended those drives with touchdowns. Unacceptable.
The Rams' defense needs to show it's capable of elevating its game in the must-have moments, those situations that end up defining the difference between good teams who step up to the challenge, and those who aren't capable of doing do.
Change is both necessary and good. Those who avoid it in absolute terms are destined to fail.
The Rams have to change some things this week. They likely have to lean on a running attack early in a heavier fashion than they did in Detroit. They have to find ways to apply more pressure on the line, defensively; three-man fronts aren't going to cut it. They have to find ways to build on what they did well and change what they did poorly.
I love this story for so many reasons. New York City already stinks, and you're telling me this is just over the top? That's got to be horrendous. The sewer main that busted was 110 years old...I have this Mel Brooks-type idea in my head of a fictional mayor a la Blazing Saddles' Gov. Lepetomane playing paddleball when he's told that the sewers under his city are 110 years old. Here's a tip to all mayors of any city anywhere: if you have anything in your jurisdiction that's 110 years old, you might want to look into replacing it. My phone's a year and a half old, and it's time for this guy to go.
Tie-in to the Rams? Sure. The Rams can't play like a stanky 70-foot sinkhole. This is the home opener for the Jeff Fisher era. This isn't 110 years old. This is brand new. Play like it, damnit.