Redskins 27 - Rams 20
Hello friends. I know it's been a while since last we chatted, but I am back again for season number 13. Much like many of my previous seasons covering this franchise, the Washington Redskins did not get off to the best of starts with their 2017 campaign -- snapping a five-game winning streak over the Philadelphia Eagles with a disheartening 30-17 loss.Whether it was due to nerves or the first-team offense not getting enough reps throughout the preseason, quarterback Kirk Cousins was more inaccurate than 'Skins fans are used to seeing. While Terrelle Pryor's drops weren't helping, the franchised quarterback sailed more than a few passes over the head of his intended targets – most notably on the soul-crushing red-zone interception that essentially ended Washington's chances for victory in Week 1.As trite as it is to say, this offense will only go as far as Cousins' arm takes it. Do you know what helps a quarterback struggling with accuracy? A big, reliable target. You know just who might fill that bill? Second-year wide out Josh Doctson.While Santana Moss said Doctson "might be the best receiver on this team," we'll have to take his word for it until head coach Jay Gruden actually lets him get onto the field with any regularity. Until then, Redskins fans will have to settle for large doses of Ryan Grant and not throwing to Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed. Consider me dubious of the chatter this week about Doctson not being 100 percent. It was much more telling when, during the same press conference, Gruden said Doctson has to earn more playing time. Look, in theory it's great to play hard ass and hold playing time over a young guy's head to show him you mean business. But, in reality, this offense hasn't look good since Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson were let go, so letting a quality asset ride the pine just to make a statement isn't exactly what's best for business.
You know what else helps a quarterback get into rhythm? A running game.Stop me if you've heard this before: the rushing attack got off to a slow start, leading Gruden to abandon the ground game almost entirely (17 run plays versus 40 passing plays). From there, the team's one-dimensional attack became even more narrowly focused thanks to Cousins' insistence on forcing the ball to receiver-in-training Pryor. In related news, Philadelphia had little trouble shutting down the Redskins’ offense.Thanks largely to struggles along the offensive line (Cousins was pressured on 19 of 47 dropbacks), the Redskins allowed five sacks and the team turned the ball over four times. Right tackle Morgan Moses in particular had an off day, seemingly bested by whoever lined up against him. If Washington is going to actually produce yards on the ground or give Cousins enough time to complete his three-step drop, it’ll have to start with better output from Moses.During the Jeff Fisher era, the Rams were chronically mediocre – winning seven or eight games per season while being completely unwatchable in the process. After five forgettable seasons, Fisher was let go and replaced by 31-year-old Sean McVay.Anyone watching "All or Nothing: A Season with the Los Angeles Rams" on Amazon Prime immediately noticed the stark contrast between Fisher and the former Redskins offensive coordinator, who comes across as someone you'd love to work for in any capacity.While Fisher couldn't be bothered to develop talent on offense, McVay seems to have been just what the doctor ordered for the Rams, who struggled to put points on the board last year, but scored five touchdowns in a 46-9 blowout over the Indianapolis Colts last week.
Prior to the arrival of the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, quarterback Jared Goff was destined to be a bust, running back Todd Gurley looked lost and no receiver on the Rams roster appeared to be anything other than average.With McVay calling the shots last season, the Redskins offense averaged more than 400 yards per game for the first time in franchise history while also finishing as the league’s third-best offense. So it should come as no surprise that McVay looks like he’s doing more of the same in Los Angeles.Goff completed 21 of 29 attempts for 306 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Gurley picked up a total of 96 yards (40 rushing and 56 receiving) and a touchdown (although he was limited to just 2.1 yards per carry). And a rookie wide out allegedly named Cooper Kupp burst onto the scene with four catches on six targets for 76 yards and a touchdown.In summary: the Rams already look leaps and bounds better than at any point in recent memory under Fisher.
McVay knows the Redskins organization as well as anybody -- warts and all. Those who know him best call him detail oriented, so it's safe to assume he'll be prepared to take on the franchise he called home for the last seven seasons.
Where might he look to attack? For starters, I'm guessing he's looking forward to exploiting Washington's deficiencies on 3rd-and-long. While outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan scored the team’s first touchdown of the 2017 season, inside linebacker Zach Brown and cornerback Kendall Fuller were the two best defenders wearing burgundy and gold in Week 1. For the record, cornerback Josh Norman had a solid outing as well, but wasn’t as involved as Brown or Fuller.Those three alone weren’t enough to get the job done however, as the defense still allowed the Eagles to convert eight (out of 14) 3rd downs. Simply put, that’s not good enough.
The areas that I am focused on heading into this pivotal match-up:1. Will head coach Jay Gruden actually stick with the Redskins running game long enough to keep the Rams defense honest?2. Can the safety combination of D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett rebound from their uneven Week 1 effort?3. Which team limits mistakes and wins the turnover battle?I have a feeling the answers to those three questions will go a long way towards determining the mood and/or panic level at Redskins Park next week.