Hog Heaven Opponent Scouting: the St. Louis Rams

In their week three game against Baltimore, the defense of the St. Louis Rams played right into the hands of Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, practically doing his job for him en route to a blowout loss at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

The Rams have all sorts of problems with their roster that would effectively remove this 0-3 team from playoff contention in any division except the NFC West.  This team has a very good defensive line with a very good player in Chris Long who should be an NFL All-Pro before too long.  They have a very instinctive, intelligent run defender in MLB James Laurinaitis.  And they have a fantastic all-world safety in Quentin Mikell.  But there are about 5 starters on the Rams defense that wouldn’t even be able to get on the field for the Redskins.

It’s a result of a number of injuries as well as some poor design in the offseason.  Head coach Steve Spagnuolo loves to bring the blitz and play all sorts of fun coverages behind it, but he simply does not have the personnel to do so.  There are too many coverage weaknesses for the Rams to do anything but to sit in zone coverage and let players like Chris Long and eventually Robert Quinn rush the passer, and the sooner they come to this conclusion, the better of a chance they will have to turn their season around.

As alluded to above, the Rams made it too easy on Joe Flacco to turn rookie WR Torrey Smith into an instant star in Baltimore.  Credit Smith as well for showing the ability to win one on ones against the defensive backs the Rams were running out there; we had a guy here in Devin Thomas who never once showed that ability.

Whenever the Rams blitzed the Ravens, the Ravens seemed to always have the perfect blitz beater called to make one or more Rams defenders look very foolish.  The Redskins, however, do not use blitz beaters in their offense that often, rather, they show the tendency to pick up the blitz and adjust the route on the outside to make positive gains against the blitz.  While this means they will miss out on a chance to exploit the Rams when they are weakest, the Redskins should not have an issue against St. Louis’ multiple blitz packages unless Spagnuolo can actually break down the protection schemes of the Redskins, which has not been done since the Shanahan’s took over.  If there’s one thing that Kyle Shanahan is proficient at, it is protecting his quarterback.

The two Rams linebackers outside of Laurinaitis are Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber, two free agents brought in who have proven to be liabilities.  The Ravens run the stretch run that the Redskins do and the Rams linebackers could not fill the gaps and take away the cutback lanes.  They are simply not athletic enough to do so.  It’s a team built for NFC West contention.

In short, with mismatches all over the field, needing only to identify where #27 (Mikell) is on every play, there’s no excuse for the Redskins offense to not move the ball through the air and on the ground this week.  To be dominanted by a good defensive line is one thing, but if the Redskins receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks don’t all enjoy a good day, we’re looking at a very long season on the offensive side of the football.

Now, offensively, the Rams might be even worse.  Steven Jackson did look healthy enough to play last week, but because of the first half point outburst by the Ravens, he was pretty much a non-factor.  With the Rams passing game totally out of sync, you can expect the Redskins to get a big dose of Steven Jackson until they prove they can stop him.  If they can’t, the Rams are going to have a lead in this game late at some point, and then the game might once again come down to heroics from Grossman (like in week 2) or the lack thereof (like in week 3).

The Rams offensive line is a run blocking group that is struggling mightily to protect Bradford.  Now, as bad as the Rams offense was last week, what the Rams defense gave up in the first quarter is what put them in a horrible position to begin with.  If the score is close, this group will be able to find success against the Redskins defense.  LaRon Landry is going to have a chance to make some impact plays against the pass, but only if the seven guys in front of him can handle the run first.

With no receivers to key on (TE Lance Kendricks is the most dangerous Rams target), the Redskins need to make stopping Jackson priority one, two, and three this week.  When you consider how good the Redskins were against Felix Jones in the first half, and how much damage he did to them in the second, you can understand why the Redskins are in trouble if the play up front doesn’t improve.

Sam Bradford is at his best on broken plays, which is another thing working against the Redskins this week.

There’s not a whole lot of weapons for the Redskins to fear this week in St. Louis; and there’s not a legitimate danger of the Redskins coming out and playing a really fundamentally sound game, and getting beat anyway.  If the Redskins fix the issues in run defense from last week, and come out and tackle well, continue to not be penalized, and hit big plays out of the passing game while running the ball to say in good down and distances, they’ll win fairly easily.  The problem for the Redskins this week are themselves.  The Rams will not play like a beatable team if the Redskins spend half the time beating themselves or now decide that this is a good time to get undisciplined on offense with the bye week coming up.

There’s big games to be had here for guys like Steven Jackson, Lance Kendricks, Chris Long, and Brandon Gibson.  If the Redskins take care of their business, none of these guys should have a particularly big day.  But at the same time, they’ll be more of a challege than Dallas was if the Redskins don’t correct their issues.  

The Redskins aren’t a good enough team to consider St. Louis an easy opponent.  It is critical they treat this game as a second shot at Dallas week, and not as an easy win the schedule makers give them going into this week.  If they do the former, they will hit the bye week at 3-1.  But the attitude taken by the latter team will lead to a disappointing 2-2 mark, and plenty more questions than answers.

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