In Week Six of the 2008 NFL regular season, the red hot Washington Redskins host the ice cold St. Louis Rams. At first glance, the Rams post no real threat to the Redskins. Their statistics are low enough in league wide rankings that one might assume that the Rams stand little or no chance of being competitive.
The highest ranking in any of the four significant defensive rankings is 28th, and their highest offensive ranking isn't much better, 26th. But it will be important for the Redskins to understand that while the Rams are certainly struggling, and have been for quite some time, this team has talent on both sides of the ball.
With Jim Haslett being named interim head coach entering their bye week, the Rams hope to have shaken things up enough to get those players to "step up" and lead this team out of free fall THIS SEASON.
As I look closely at the Rams defense, Haslett was defensive coordinator before being elevated to head coach, this turnaround could start with La'Roi Glover and Adam Carricker at the two tackle spots on the defensive line along with rookie defensive end Chris Long.
Glover has been, at times in his career, a disruptive force in the middle. And while some may consider Carricker a bit of a disappointment, he is likely playing out of position at tackle, he was mostly considered an end coming out of college. Rookie right defensive end Chris Long has played well at times, having recorded two sacks and 16 tackles on the season.
Glover may simply have lost a step or three at 34 years old, but he is still a capable tackle. But with only two tackles in each game this season, he has been largely invisible. Carricker hasn't done any better, finishing the game against Kansas City Chiefs without a single tackle, his status as an "up and comer" will need to be re-defined if he cannot get things going soon.
Carricker added weight last year to play inside, but in doing so he seems to have lost the quickness that intrigued so many as he entered the 2007 draft. Long may be the catalyst for change however.
He plays with energy, but has been susceptible to the run. He will need to hold the edge this week in order to slow down the Redskins' 5th ranked running game. And Carricker and Glover will need to find the gaps in the interior of the Redskins' offensive line in order to slow the league's number two running back, Redskins' Clinton Portis.
Portis is averaging over 100 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry this season. There is no secret as to how the Redskins are doing what they do with Portis. The Redskins predominantly run to the offensive left side, behind pro-bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and veteran left guard Pete Kendall. This means Long and Carricker will be tested early and often.
The only team to slow down Portis this season was the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in Week One. They were able to do it with penetration at the point of attack and prevent Portis from picking his holes. They also were able to commit a safety to the line of scrimmage as Redksins' quarterback Jason Campbell was out of sync early and stayed that way for the entirety of the game.
And there is the formula. Get Campbell out of his comfort zone and keep him there so the Rams can help the linebackers in run support.
The Rams must expect the Redskins to find space at the line of scrimmage for Portis, but they cannot allow Portis to turn those holes into seven, nine, 15 yard gains. Redskins' head coach Jim Zorn has shown a solid understanding of his team's make up.
The Redskins were largely built by retired head coach Joe Gibbs, which means they were built for a power running game, and Zorn has used it to it's fullest. The Redskins have run the ball 167 times, and only passed 155 times. Not the run/pass ratio most had guessed Zorn would use. But it has worked to perfection, controlling games and keeping opposing offenses off the field.
But the Rams will also need to handle Campbell. With wide receiver Santana Moss sixth in the NFL with 421 yards receiving (this after being held without a catch last week), the Redskins' passing game is not to be taken lightly.
With star tight end Chris Cooley ranked second in the NFL among tight ends in both catches and yards, the Rams will need to be able to slow down Portis early without needing to use eight players in the box. A tall task indeed.
Ultimately, the Rams should probably do their best to copy the Redskins' formula. Ball control, keep the Redskins' offense off the field and their defense on the sideline. This could mean that the best defensive player the Rams have doesn't even play of that side of the ball, running back Stephen Jackson.
In their last two games Jackson's touches have increased dramatically. That increase hadn't translated into better production in each game, but it will need to continue in order for the Rams to make strides offensively. He has also been a force in the passing game, something the Redskins could have difficulty with. Jackson has size and speed, which creates troublesome match-ups for the Redskins' defense.
Jackson is also built very much like the only running back to have any success against the Redskins this season, Giants' running back Brandon Jacobs. If the Rams can get Jackson involved early, and show the patience to keep him involved even if there is little early success, it will go a long way towards helping their defense get the Redskins' offense out of rhythm.
The question is, will they?