Rams vs. Redskins: What's the Game Plan for St. Louis?

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 19, 2015

Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy (16) looks for and opening to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

When the St. Louis Rams take on the Washington Redskins on Sunday, St. Louis will have a shot at starting 2-0 for the first time since 2001.

Spirits are high at Rams Park following a bold Week 1 victory over the defending NFC champion, the Seattle Seahawks, but those positive feelings will diminish if the team becomes complacent. The on-field product in St. Louis has been terribly inconsistent in recent years—the Rams seem to produce one miserable loss for every quality win—and that needs to change.

Take the 2014 season, for example. The Rams fell 34-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8—a game in which the players put up almost zero fight—only to stun the Denver Broncos with a 22-7 victory several weeks later.

The 2015 season is all about shedding that reputation. Defeating the Redskins and securing a 2-0 start will certainly help that cause.

For the Rams to be successful against Washington, the team needs a solid game plan that exposes the Redskins' weaknesses. Here's what to look for.

The Most Crucial Step Is Stopping the Run

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Washington knows its strengths on offense. Kirk Cousins is incapable of carrying the team on his shoulders, so the Redskins have put their faith in Alfred Morris and the ground game. 

Despite Washington's 17-10 loss to Miami, the run game still managed to thrive. Morris had a remarkable 2015 debut with 121 yards on 25 carries. Rookie Matt Jones added another 28 yards on six runs. 

The run game carried the Washington offense during both its scoring drives. The first-quarter field-goal drive saw seven runs in 12 plays. In the second quarter, Washington passed the ball just six times in 17 total plays in a drive that ended with a touchdown.

All of the Redskins' points in that game came from successfully running the football. If St. Louis can take away the ground attack, victory will be inevitable.

It all comes down to stacking the box with eight players on virtually every play. Four linemen, three linebackers and one of the run-stuffing safeties—T.J. McDonald or Mark Barron—will crowd the line and make those ground yards hard to come by.

This not only makes it tougher for Washington to run the football, but it forces Cousins to try to win with his arm. Given his two-pick performance against Miami and the absence of DeSean Jackson, that's a matchup that clearly favors St. Louis. 

The Redskins abandoned the run against the Rams when the two teams faced off last season. Washington ran the ball just 12 times and asked Colt McCoy to get it done through the air.

The end result was a 24-0 shutout and a Rams victory.

If St. Louis can force the Redskins into another desperate aerial game plan, we can expect a similar outcome. 

St. Louis' Offense Will Center Around Nick Foles' Arm

The St. Louis defense was undoubtedly the MVP of the Week 1 win, but on offense, it was Nick Foles and the passing game.

Foles hit tight end Jared Cook for a 30-yard gain to set up a rushing touchdown. Lance Kendricks caught a 37-yard touchdown pass to tie up the game in the fourth quarter. In overtime, Foles hit Stedman Bailey on a gutsy 22-yard strike between two defenders, which set up the field goal that ultimately won the game.

The Rams used the offseason to help build a run-first attack, but the passing game is carrying the team.

The St. Louis offensive line features two rookies and three first-year starters. Running back Tre Mason has been nursing a hamstring injury, per NFL.com, while Todd Gurley has yet to make his NFL debut. The injuries and overall inexperience has forced Jeff Fisher to put his dream of a ground-and-pound attack on the back burner.

Eventually, the core pieces of the ground game will ripen and become a key part of the St. Louis blueprint. Until then, the point production will depend on the St. Louis receivers and the arm of Foles. 

That's certainly not a bad thing considering Foles has a solid track record against the Redskins. 

With the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, Foles faced Washington and completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 298 yards. In his 2014 game against the Redskins, he completed 65.9 percent of his passes and torched the Washington secondary for 325 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles won both games and Foles did not commit a single turnover. 

Foles did throw two picks in a 31-6 loss to the Redskins in 2012—his only appearance at FedEx Field—but that was his rookie season and his first career start. 

Given Foles' 2-1 record against the Redskins and his gaudy numbers against that secondary, the Rams have to be feeling pretty confident in their quarterback for Week 2. 

It's important for the Rams to establish some type of run game and take a conservative approach. Even so, the offense will center around Foles' arm.

Key Players and Matchups

Janoris Jenkins vs. Pierre Garcon

As mentioned in the game preview, the matchup between Janoris Jenkins and Pierre Garcon will be vital. The Rams need Jenkins to come through in coverage. 

Washington primarily depends on the run, and the absence of Jackson will take away the deep-ball threat. Even so, Garcon is a dangerous receiver in his own right, and the Rams cannot afford to sleep on him.

Garcon is two years removed from his 1,346-yard campaign in 2013, but he's still making noise in a quieter fashion. His 70-yard touchdown grab in Week 7 of last season helped the Redskins put away the Tennessee Titans. He also had success against the Rams secondary last year, hauling in nine passes for 95 yards.

Last time out, he led the Washington receivers with six grabs and 74 yards. The 29-year old appears to be in good form, so he'll be a handful for Jenkins in this game. 

The St. Louis secondary did an excellent job against Seattle, allowing just three catches that exceeded 20 yards and not a single reception over 25 yards. Still, it's just a matter of time before Jenkins' gambles in coverage result in a big play, so he'll have to ensure it doesn't happen in Week 2. 

Washington plays very good defense, so this could very well be a low-scoring affair. If Jenkins blows his coverage against Garcon even once, it could be the difference between a win or loss. 

Tom Gannam/Associated Press

Brandon Scherff vs. Aaron Donald

The Redskins offensive line was generally praised by the media for its competent performance against a tough Miami defensive front. 

According to the Washington Times, Trent Williams had the following to say regarding rookie Brandon Scherff and first-year starter Morgan Moses:

The guys knew they had a big challenge. They came out here with their big hat on today. Brandon did a good job on [Ndamukong Suh]. Morgan did a good job on [Cameron Wake]. You know, we just knew we had to keep Kirk [Cousins] clean a few seconds and let him find his receivers downfield and he was going to let the ball go.

Unfortunately for Scherff, things are about to get much worse, as he'll be lining up across from Pro Bowler Aaron Donald.

Donald just finished making another first-year starter—Seattle center Drew Nowak—appear inept. He finished with two sacks and nine tackles against the Seahawks, including the backfield stuffing of Marshawn Lynch in overtime to win the game.

The Redskins better hope Scherff lives up to his top-five draft status sooner rather than later or else it could be a long day for the Washington offense.

Greg Robinson vs. Ryan Kerrigan

Ryan Kerrigan led Washington with 13.5 sacks in 2014 and remains the top pass-rusher for that defense. He finished with half a sack in Week 1, and stopping him will be a challenge.

Kerrigan will be facing St. Louis left tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson comes from an Auburn program that almost exclusively ran the football, so he's still very green when it comes to pass protection. He has the athleticism to eventually develop into a star, but the Rams need to see more out of him before they're totally comfortable with this type of unfavorable matchup.

Expect St. Louis to keep an extra blocking tight end on the blindside to help with Kerrigan. Until Robinson begins to play like a No. 2 overall pick, he'll need all the help he can get.

Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams featured columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' 2015 game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.