Key Matchups: St Louis Rams at Washington Redskins

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Week 14 of the NFL season sees the St Louis Rams head to the nation’s capital to face the 3-9 Washington Redskins. The progress of the NFC East team has drawn many comparisons with the Rams over the last few seasons, the reason of course being the trade that saw St Louis surrender the number two overall draft pick in 2012 draft. With the third-year quarterback looking more likely to be playing elsewhere in 2015, it is beyond any doubt that the gamble taken by the Redskins in making that trade has been a massive failure. After last weeks’ thrashing of the Oakland Raiders and with Washington in turmoil, the Rams will likely be favourites to pick up a second consecutive win. To achieve this, here is my weekly selection of the key one-on-one matchups that must be won.

Alfred Morris vs Aaron Donald

Featuring in this column for the sixth time this season, Pro Football Focus’ league-leading defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been just as effective stopping the run as he has applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Averaging a sack every other game and with 32 total tackles on the season, Donald is proving to be huge headache for opposing coaches. With the quarterback situation in Washington something of a mess, the Redskins fortunately have a top tier running back in Alfred Morris to rely on. Morris has seven touchdowns on the ground this year, and with four games still to play is only 107 yards short of tipping the 1000 mark to make it three years out of three that he has reached that landmark since being drafted at what now seems like a steal in the sixth round in 2012. With the Rams having allowed five opposing running backs to reach over 100 yards in a game this year, and only one of those (DeMarco Murray) ahead of the league’s overall 7th placed Morris, preventing the Redskins leading rusher will be crucial in getting the Washington offence off the field.

Stedman Bailey vs Bashaud Breeland

In the first quarter against Oakland, Bailey showed Rams fans the full extent of his talent. Currently with a team-high grading of +6.2 on PFF, Bailey is fast overtaking the injured Brian Quick as the breakout receiver of 2014. Washington ranks quite poorly in pass defence, conceding 8.2 yards per attempt (worst in league) 26 touchdowns (3rd worst in league) and an average opposing quarterback rating of 107.8 (worst in league). If Shaun Hill can regularly find Bailey downfield, it could be a highly productive afternoon for the Rams’ 2013 3rd round draft pick. Hoping to stop Bailey will be Redskins rookie cornerback, Bashaud Breeland. After participating in only 14 plays over the first two weeks, Breeland is now a clear starter, missing only 3 out of 510 defensive snaps in weeks 5 through 13. The 4th round selection from Clemson has 8 passes defended this year, double the next highest defensive back on the Redskins roster, as well as two forced fumbles and an interception. This not a classic vertical battle between a lofty receiver and cornerback, with Bailey and Breeland both below 6’ tall. However, with only an inch separating them in height and considering that the pair had an identical 34.5 vertical jump in their respective scouting combines, it will be interesting to see who can get up to the ball on the day.

Chris Long vs Tom Compton

In a week where highlights were not hard to come by against the Raiders, one of the most pleasing features for Rams fans was the return from injury of defensive end and Twitter legend, Chris Long. The third-quarter sack on Derek Carr drew one of the biggest cheers of the night, demonstrating just how popular Long is among the St Louis faithful. Featuring in fractionally below half the defensive plays last week (40/81), as Long continues his approach to full fitness we can expect to see his playing time increase and the sack count along with it. In the firing line this week is Washington’s right tackle, Tom Compton. It will be a tough ask for the man drafted in the 6th round in 2012, who currently grades only 56th of 77 offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus, at -8.5. Worryingly for Washington, this grading breaks down to show his pass protection grade (-5.9) is substantially worse than his performance in run blocking. While clearly too late to have a realistic chance of catching up to Robert Quinn, Long will definitely hope to add to the three sacks Compton has allowed in the last three weeks on Sunday afternoon.