5 Bold Predictions for Washington Redskins' Week 2 Matchup
In fairness, the NFC West club justified some of the fanfare by topping reigning conference champs the Seattle Seahawks in the opening week. These Rams still boast arguably the toughest defensive line rotation in football.
But it's on offense where a new day may be dawning. Nobody is going to mistake Nick Foles for Joe Montana, but he is certainly an upgrade over the carousel of no-names and also-rans who've operated under center for the Rams in recent years.
To score the upset, the Redskins need three of their opening game's top performers to repeat or preferably better their production in Week 2. It means a big game is needed from running back Alfred Morris, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and a new-look offensive line that held its own against the Miami Dolphins.
Defensively, Washington's pass-rushers must upstage their more illustrious counterparts. So Ryan Kerrigan, Jason Hatcher and Co. need to be on song.
Finally, the special teams unit just needs to make sure it doesn't lose another game.
Read on for five bold predictions about this matchup, including which ones can guarantee a Washington win.
Alfred Morris Will Again Top 120 Yards
Morris left the Dolphins smarting after he showed up their big-name defense with a huge rushing day in Week 1. No. 46 is now a good bet to repeat the performance against St. Louis.
Against the Seahawks, the Rams allowed Marshawn Lynch to bulldoze his way to 4.1 yards per carry. If anything, Seattle didn't favor Beast Mode enough in the gateway to the West.
Washington head coach Jay Gruden cannot make the same mistake with Morris. Instead, Gruden and his staff, specifically coordinator Sean McVay and line coach Bill Callahan, must lean on the run the way they did against Miami.
Morris lugged the rock 25 times last week. If he hits the same number or more in Week 2, the Rams don't stand a chance.
Like the Seahawks, the Redskins operate a ground scheme that still relies on zone principles to stretch a defensive front and create cutback lanes. Morris proved last week he's still one of the NFL's best at quickly identifying those lanes before attacking them with power.
He'll add another 120-yard day to his spectacular start to the new season.
Pierre Garcon Will Have a 100-Yard Day
There was a time when predicting 100 yards receiving from Pierre Garcon would be about as far from a bold prediction as you could get. But it's actually been quite a while since the 29-year-old posted triple digits on a Sunday.
In fact, the last time he managed it was Week 3 of last season against the Philadelphia Eagles. The common denominator between then and now is the presence of Kirk Cousins throwing passes.
Cousins just loves to target Garcon. In the game against the Eagles, he connected with No. 88 11 times for 138 yards. Last week, Garcon was on the end of six of Cousins' passes for 74 yards. The quarterback was also picked off when attempting to find Garcon with a jump ball.
Garcon will be even more effective against the Rams. Frankly, the Redskins need him to be. In an all too predictable turn of events, tight end Jordan Reed is already an injury doubt for Week 2.
The made-of-glass tight end is nursing a "tweaked" quad muscle. Although Gruden insists the ailment is "minor," according to ESPN.com's John Keim, it would shock nobody if Reed is unable to go.
But the extra pressure won't matter to Garcon. He's used to being something of a lone ranger. During his record-setting 2013 campaign, the one-time Indianapolis Colts starter reeled in 113 passes despite being Washington's only viable receiving threat.
Tough-as-nails Garcon won't be intimidated or outmuscled by the physical approach the Rams corners usually love to take. Instead, No. 88 will enjoy his biggest game in nearly a year.
Washington's Offensive Line Will Again Stand Up to a Marquee Pass Rush
Despite lining up opposite blue-chip pass-rushers Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, Washington allowed just a single sack in Week 1. Part of that was due to Cousins making quicker decisions in the pocket. But most of the credit belonged to Callahan's revamped offensive line.
In particular, the right side of Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses held its own against Wake and Suh. Thanks to a specific game plan and selective avoidance, Moses and Scherff passed the test against Miami's big-name one-two punch, according to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times: "They foiled Suh with double-teams and cut blocks, especially early, and ran the ball in the direction of Suh and Wake just twice in the first half."
This week's assignment is even tougher for the men up front in burgundy and gold. The Rams boast a D-line that's strong at every position.
It starts with bookends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who make up a truly terrifying pass-rush combination. They bracket formidable tackles Nick Fairley and the awesome Aaron Donald.
Controlling the latter will be key for the success of Morris and the running game. Fortunately, Washington's coaches can turn to some of the things they did to keep Suh quiet last week.
One of the main ploys was the use of formations and how it manipulated Suh into unfavorable positions, something detailed by Mark Bullock of the Washington Post: "Here, you can see the Redskins line up the tight end on the left side of the line, making that the strong side. The Dolphins respond by shifting their defensive line, moving Suh into the A gap. That gives Scherff an easy assignment, to cut block Suh on a run to the left."
Using scheme will be vital in helping players deal with the Rams' many options up front. Throw in rotational linemen the caliber of William Hayes, Eugene Sims and Michael Brockers, and St. Louis boasts a frightening array of weapons.
It's a group that knows no equal in the NFL, according to the Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. This destructive contingent dominated the Seahawks in Week 1.
To put that dominance in perspective, ESPN Stats & Info detailed how taking down Seattle's half-sized Houdini Russell Wilson six times was merely a familiar day's work. Edge pressure caused a lot of the breakdowns, as reflected by Quinn's high Pro Football Focus grade for Week 1.
This is the scale of the task in front of the Redskins. But it's not as if Callahan's group is lacking in talent.
Left tackle Trent Williams is a Pro Bowler, and Scherff is a top-five pick. Meanwhile, center Kory Lichtensteiger is a savvy veteran who rarely lets this team down.
Based on last week, Washington's line has the raw talent and smart enough coaching to cause a minor shock and silence the St. Louis pass rush.
Washington's Pass Rush Will Log More Sacks Than the Rams
Even on a day when the pressure they generated was far from consistent, the Redskins still logged a trio of sacks against Miami. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry can add that consistency by using all of his personnel in more creative ways.
He's going to start by giving rookie rush end Preston Smith more snaps, according to CSNMidAtlantic's Rich Tandler:
I think that Preston is definitely ready and able to play more. He will play more. I think you can never set a perfect number when you have a rotation. It was the same thing with Stephen Paea. We had a rotation, it's a series rotation. One guy's series would be three and out, the next guy's series goes eight plays, the numbers will get skewed. That's a good to have, when you have depth. Preston, his play numbers will increase every week.
Smith has been impressive in game action. He's displayed core attributes that every competent edge-rusher must possess. Namely, he's shown good takeoff speed and natural dip and bend when coming around the corner and working under offensive tackles.
He certainly has the players to do it. Trent Murphy, Smith and Kerrigan are all versatile enough to be moved around and rushed from standing alignments or out of three- and four-point stances. Barry and his staff have to use that flexibility.
They also need to be a little more aggressive with their play-calling and send more than four players after Foles.
The Seahawks only got to Foles twice last week. But it was significant how one of those sacks came from throwing something different at the St. Louis protection schemes, namely a cornerback blitz by Cary Williams. Barry must get creative with his pressure calls.
It will also help to get another big game from Hatcher. He looks ready to dominate this season after a quiet 2014.
A more consistent pass rush will decide this game for Washington. Foles, in typical boom-or-bust fashion, loves to force the ball long.
When it works, his numbers are great. They were against the Seahawks, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info.
But longer pass plays naturally put more pressure on an offensive line while giving a pass rush more time to get home. Washington's front seven will take advantage and feast on Foles.
By the end, Redskins pass-rushers will be talked about more than those big names on the Rams sideline.
Tavon Austin Won't Notch Another Return Score
Predicting Washington's special teams won't get burned by Tavon Austin in the return game is like saying you're going to win the lottery every time you play. But these are bold predictions, so I'm sticking with the belief that an otherwise dire Redskins special teams unit won't let Austin free.
Keeping him in check is obviously a tall order. He ran a punt back 75 yards for a score against Seattle. If it looked familiar to Washington's special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, it's because Austin gashed his unit for a 78-yard six-pointer in Week 14 last season.
Kotwica has had a week to prepare for the player who will pose the toughest challenge his group will face all season. Working on directional kicking with punter Tress Way should have been at the top of the agenda.
Way must try to pin Austin toward the sideline. He might even hang a few shorter kicks to prevent Austin's blockers from getting set and creating inviting return lanes.
Way was at fault for Jarvis Landry's game-winning return last week. But he's a good punter who can recover from that setback and avoid a similar error.
Way is determined to kick smart and box Austin in, according to Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post: "I want to try and make Tavon feel like he’s in a box like there’s not really much anywhere he can go. That’s distance, direction, hang time. There’s a lot of different factors."
Against all the odds, this will be a rare week when special teams gaffes won't hamstring Washington.
Speaking of upsetting the odds, the Redskins will do exactly that in Week 2. The team played well enough to win on opening day, only to see mental errors and familiar breakdowns deny a victory.
But things will be different this week. Led by Morris, Garcon and a swarming pass rush, Washington will shock the Rams and erase the memory of last season's 24-0 shutout.
All statistics and player information via NFL.com.