We all know the Sunday is huge for the St. Louis Rams, especially after a horrible last second loss to the Lions that was marred by a clock management error and failed officiating in the last couple of minutes. Although those mistakes may have contributed to the final outcome, the Rams lost the game because of their failure to convert turnovers into points. This week, St. Louis will play the Washington Redskins, coming off an emotional win over the down-spiraling New Orleans Saints. St. Louis needs a win if they are going to build from last Sunday’s loss, which many pointed to as a sign of progression of the team. However, a win on Sunday is not just a win for the 2012 season, but also for the 2013 draft, since, with every loss, the first-round draft choice given up by ‘Skins in exchange for the rights to RGIII creeps higher and higher up the board. This week can either be a doubly meaningful win, or a devastatingly double loss. Many have already counted the Rams out of the game, but there is a belief among some that St. Louis has quietly improved their team much more than the mainstream, NFL media would like to admit. It won’t be easy, but here are the key to a win on Sunday for the Rams…
1. Keep the chains, and the drive, moving down the field
The St. Louis Rams lost to Detroit because the offense failed to generate points, even when given great field position as a result of turnovers. Whether it was inability to open holes for Jackson out of the backfield, predictable play-calling, or the receivers inability to get separation against the Detroit secondary before the pass rush got the Bradford, the offense was not firing on all cylinders, or any cylinders for that matter. The Rams were a pathetic 25% in third down efficiency, converting on only 4 out of their 12 3rd down tries. In total, St. Louis racked up a mere 14 first downs, while allowing Stafford, and the passing attack, to throw for 23 first down, with an additional 5 on the ground. If the defense can play the way they did against the Lions, the offense should end up with some decent field position, whether that be a result or turnovers or forced punts. St. Louis cannot rely on the defense and Greg Zuerlein for all of their points if they want to pull out a win in the home opener.
2. More rushes, More passes
Attempts will go hand in hand with the Rams ability to convert first downs against the Redskins. The Detroit Lions were able to slow Jackson out of the backfield by stacking the box and getting a nasty push with their front four. Washington’s front four is not nearly as dominant as Detroit’s, but they are definitely nothing to overlook. Regardless of the push up front, Jackson will need more carries in the game. Even if seemingly ineffective in the box score, a consistent running attack will open up the play action and wear down the defensive, who will quickly grow tired of trying to wrangle down the 235 lbs., relentlessly running Steven Jackson. In 2010, which was the last full season of Jackson and Bradford in a West Coast style offense, the Rams were 5-1 in games were Jackson got more than 23 carries in the game. Even more surprising, the the Rams were 6-3 when Jackson ran for under 4.0 yards per carry, exemplifying that his effect on the game comes more from his wearing down of the defense than actual yards from scrimmage, although yards help too.
On the other side of the coin, Bradford will need to throw more then 25 times against Washington if there is any hope of putting points on the board. Referring back to 2010 again, St. Louis was 5-2 when Bradford had between 30-40 pass attempts in the game, which suggests that the offense was moving the ball well enough to maintain drives for longer than 3 plays. NFL Network’s Mike Lombradi dropped a “magic number” yesterday, which supposedly can determine the outcome of the game. He noted that if a team can get a total of 51 rushing attempts and pass completions, they will likely win the game. In the Rams’ case, the “magic number” seems to be a total of 45, with the 2010 squad going 6-3 when meeting the mark, and 1-6 when combining for 40 or less attempts/completions.
3. Staying in your lane and making tackles in punt coverage
The Rams special teams were seemingly the only consistent faculty in the game, with Greg Zuerlein booting a perfect 3 for 3 on field goal attempts. However, our punting unit was one of the weak spots, between Hekker fumbling his first snap to the poor lines by the coverage units. Detroits’ Stefan Logan averaged 10 yards per return last Sunday, including a 21 yarder that set Stafford up in beautiful field position. If the Rams plan on stopping the Redskins, they will need to give the defense as much help as they can.
4. Pressure and, preferably, hits on Griffin
The Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions are two different monsters when it comes to their offensive style. Stafford is going to line up in shotgun with 3+ wide outs and get rid of the ball within a couple of seconds of having the ball in his hands. The Rams managed little pressure in these sets, tallying only three hits and one sacks on the quarterback. The Washington Redskins run out of a much more traditional formation, typically lining up with 2 wide outs and utilizing the tight ends and running backs in both the running and passing game. We heard a ton this week about Griffin and the “run/pass” option that the offensive coordinator has given him during any given play. Although, this means that Griffin can adjust to what he sees on the line, it also means that the Rams will likely have more time to get the Griffin in the backfield. In the past, the quickness of our defensive ends has bode well against quarterbacks that like to scramble outside of the pocket. Against the Eagle in 2011, the Rams vastly inferior defense, at least compared to this year, racked up 3 sacks on Michael Vick, including a sack-fumble-fumble recovery. With the caliber of wide receiver taking a significant drop off from last week (especially with Pierre Garcon being held out or limited at practice this week) and the overall offensive scheme of the Redskins, Chris Long and Robert Quinn should have some additional opportunities to wrangle down the amazingly athletic Robert Griffith III unless he can unload the ball quickly.
5. “Bend, but don’t break” and force Alfred Morris and RGIII to win with their legs
Michael Brockers lit up the Twitter world by dropping the “bend, but don’t break defense” line during the first half against the Lions. Of course, he was referring the defense that allow Stafford into the red zone twice , but ended both of those drives with an interception. The Rams will need this same type of defense against the dynamic playmaking ability of RGIII, who, by himself, can extend a play and get yards when there really aren’t any to be had. If Detroit was any indication, the Rams will play primarily in the nickel package, employing a heavy dose of man-zone coverage. It should allow Mikell and Dahl to sit back in a deep Cover 2 and force the mediocre Redskins wideouts to create separation against two of the best man-to-man cover corners in the league. Tight coverage on the receivers not only means that the defensive end duo will have more time to hunt down Griffin (i.e. the “coverage sack”), but that the Redskins will likely have to rely more on RGIII’s legs than his arm. Fisher is going to want Washington to try and beat the team on the ground, which may or may not play into the hands of the Rams defense. The Rams front seven and secondary are superior in almost every way to the New Orleans Saints of last week (aside from the safety and defensive tackle), so Morris and RGIII will have to be on top of their game if they plan on hanging 40 against St. Louis on Sunday. Quick passes and accurate reads on the defense will be essential for the Redskins if they want to pass on Cortland Finnegan and the Rams young, talented secondary.
BONUS KEY: Keeping composure
This key is directed specifically at the offensive linemen and Brandon Gibson. False starts and unnecessary roughness are two of the most unintelligent penalties in football. A timely face mask or defensive holding can save a touchdown, but there is absolutely no excuse for jumping the snap when you are given the count directly from the quarterback before the play! I personally loved watch Gibson being chippy out on the field, but a 15 yard personal foul for throwing a corner to the ground when the football is on the opposite side of the field is just plain stupid. Help Bradford out by keeping your head in front of the home crowd… please.