5 Adjustments Washington Redskins Must Make in Week 2 Matchup vs. St. Louis Rams

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2015

5 Adjustments Washington Redskins Must Make in Week 2 Matchup vs. St. Louis Rams

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins should have won in Week 1. But the familiar combo of special teams gaffes and a litany of penalties punched the Burgundy and Gold down low against the Miami Dolphins.

    Those are the most obvious things head coach Jay Gruden and his staff must fix ahead of facing the St. Louis Rams in Week 2. Yet it will be equally important for Washington to add some adjustments in key areas on both sides of the ball.

    Defensively, coordinator Joe Barry's remit must be to add a little more variety to how his unit creates and brings pressure. Using his personnel in more creative ways would be a great start.

    On offense, quarterback Kirk Cousins can become efficient if he's allowed to utilize slot receivers more often. In the running game, the Redskins must try to stretch a high-energy St. Louis defensive front with sweep plays.

    Read on for a full breakdown of the five adjustments Washington can make to help beat the Rams in Week 2.

Work the Slot

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    The Redskins have to work the slot more often in their passing game in Week 2. Gruden knows he has the weapons to make this plan work.

    Young pass-catchers Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant are both ideally suited to work from the slot. In fact, it's somewhat strange that Washington's coaches insist on using Grant as an outside receiver so often.

    Crowder, in particular, needs to be given more opportunities than he received during the opening week. He was targeted once for a grand total of zero yards.

    But the team's fourth-round pick has the acceleration and sneaky moves to punish single coverage from the slot. There's two reasons why the Redskins will need that capability in Week 2.

    First, the Rams often like to match up in single coverage. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and head coach Jeff Fisher are from the "46" school of defense, the pressure-crazed philosophy developed and perfected by Buddy Ryan.

    But it's not just the opposing scheme that will impact Washington's passing game. The loss of marquee vertical threat DeSean Jackson, out for "three to four weeks" with a hamstring strain, per ESPN.com news services, will naturally shorten the field for the Redskins.

    As ESPN's John Keim noted, without the worry of Jackson stretching the field, teams are sure to condense their coverage:

    Jackson gets downfield in a hurry and does not always need to make a double move to get free. Others are more likely to do so, which means the protection will have to hold up just a little longer. Gruden said they can expect to see tighter coverage too and perhaps safeties creeping up just a little more.

    Utilizing a quick and diminutive receiver like 5'8", 185-pounder Crowder to squirm away from man coverage on option routes would be a great way to beat the Rams' adjustment.

Stretch the Defense

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    The Rams are a high-energy defense, but Washington can use that quality against them. The Redskins should play wear-down football in the running game by stretching the St. Louis defensive front with sweep plays.

    Although most of last week's 161 rushing yards came inside against the Dolphins, Washington also had success on some lateral runs. A toss play to rookie Matt Jones in the second quarter was a good example. In general, Redskins offensive linemen displayed excellent mobility to seal the edge and progress to the second level of Miami's defense.

    That ability can help get the Rams moving sideways in Week 2. Don't get me wrong, this won't work every time. After all, the Rams boast speed up front. Rush end Robert Quinn and D-tackle Aaron Donald are like running backs playing in the trenches.

    But this is a defense built to wreck plays at its source. It's a system built on attacking downhill and getting into the backfield quickly. Put another way, you'd rather run away from Donald and at Quinn than the other way around.

    Heading toward the sidelines on running plays isn't merely a ploy to neutralize the big-name St. Louis D-line. It's also about tiring out a fairly beefy set of linebackers.

    James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Akeem Ayers all tip the scales at 245 pounds or more. It's vital Washington gets these big guys sprinting sideways instead of blitzing downhill gaps.

Split the Carries a Little More on the Ground

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    This one is a bit tricky to fully endorse, but sharing the carries a little more evenly between Alfred Morris, Jones and Chris Thompson can help wear down the Rams defense.

    Of course, Morris may be in no mood to share after the way he gashed Miami's unit for 121 yards on 25 carries in Week 1. Fresh legs are vital in a plan designed to press the outside more often on the ground.

    In particular, both Jones and Thompson have the acceleration to cause problems off tackle on sweep, toss and pitch plays. The former showcased his potential on six solid carries against the Dolphins. But Jones needs more touches in Week 2.

    So does Thompson. Handing off to the pocket-edition pace merchant just three times wastes the different challenges he can pose for a defense.

    This doesn't have to be a major change. Morris doesn't have to go from 25 carries to 15 or less. But if five to seven of those carries are shared between Jones and Thompson to boost the totals they managed last week, Washington's very promising-looking rushing attack can keep the Rams guessing.

Use Personnel More Creatively Along the Defensive Front

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Three sacks couldn't mask the fact that too often in Week 1, Washington's defensive front got nowhere near the quarterback. Dolphins passer Ryan Tannehill had too long in the pocket, especially during the second half.

    As previously detailed, part of the issue was due to Joe Barry leaning on a four-man rush. In fairness, that's his philosophy. But he doesn't need to overhaul it to generate more of a rush against Nick Foles and the Rams.

    Instead, Barry can add a few wrinkles to how he uses his rushers up front. Specifically, Barry can mix up how he groups and aligns his personnel.

    It can be as simple as getting more pass-rushers on the field at once. Against the Dolphins, Washington primarily relied on a four-man front featuring Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy at ends while Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher lined up at tackle.

    Subbing out a natural run stuffer like Knighton for a rush end like rookie Preston Smith would increase the potential for pressure. So would re-aligning these rushers in creative ways.

    That could involve having all four pass-rushers stand up. It might involve stacking three inside to cover up both guards and the center while a fourth hovers around as a rover who can rush from any angle.

    Maybe Barry could include some one-down lineman fronts. A player like Hatcher or Stephen Paea could line up with his hand down while a quartet of standing rushers hover around him with malicious intent.

    The point is that with a host of versatile 'tweeners who can double as ends or outside linebackers, Barry has a plethora of options for creating pressure fronts without deviating from his desire to rush four and commit seven to coverage.

    Washington's defense has to make life in the pocket uncomfortable for Foles. He's a streaky quarterback who can be devastating once he gets in a groove. Consistently forcing him off his spot and disrupting his throwing lanes can keep Foles unnerved and inaccurate.

Cut out the Mistakes

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Okay, so this one's more an obvious general fix than an adjustment made specifically with the Rams in mind. But it doesn't matter who the Redskins play, they'll lose more often than not as long as they continue to beat themselves.

    So it must be a priority this week to fix the mistakes that plagued Washington against the Dolphins. That means no turnovers, no surrendering big plays on special teams and eliminating the penalties.

    It's not often Kirk Cousins pitches a flawless game in terms of efficiency. Even though he played well last week, No. 8 still tossed a pair of interceptions.

    The second owed as much, if not more, to a great play by the Miami defense, rather than a Cousins gaffe. But his first pick, snatched by Brent Grimes, was a reminder of all the things people worry about with 2012's fourth-round pick under center.

    He released a pass he shouldn't have thrown, one easy for Grimes to anticipate and break on. Rick Snider of the Washington Post believes this type of mistake is born from a specific weakness in Cousins' game: "Blame Cousins’ quick release and fast defensive reads, which sometimes keep him from seeing a play develop before he lets the ball fly."

    Ultimately, a quarterback who remains inexperienced, despite playing in his fourth season, has to learn when to throw it away and fight another play.

    By the same token, Washington's special teams has to learn how to play in sync. Punter Tress Way blamed himself for out-kicking his coverage on Jarvis Landry's game-deciding 69-yard return, per Keim. While Way was culpable, Keim also pointed out a key missed assignment from linebacker Perry Riley Jr.

    There's also a change at kicker, following Kai Forbath's release and the arrival of Dustin Hopkins, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

    This special teams is simply a mess in every area. Coordinator Ben Kotwica must at least find a way to steady the ship before Tavon Austin and the Rams come to town.

    Gruden has called on this calamity prone unit to "flip the script," per CSN Mid-Atlantic's Rich Tandler:

    It is deflating. We’ve got to flip that script. We have to get some of those. We have to change the momentum in our favor. Seems like the last couple years, the kickoff returns have gone against us, the punt returns have gone against us, the blocked punts have gone against us. 

    But the best thing Gruden can do this week is focus on eliminating penalties. The Redskins committed 11 against the Dolphins, per Keim.

    St. Louis is a team built to force mistakes. If Washington plays into that familiar trap, a repeat of last season's 24-0 home blanking against these Rams is possible.

    But if the Redskins make a few select adjustments to their offensive and defensive schemes, along with playing more efficient ball, a first win of the new season beckons.

    All statistics and player information via NFL.com, unless otherwise stated.


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