(Sports Network) - The Washington Redskins will hit the road for the first time in 2010 and look to get their stagnant ground attack in gear with a showdown against the winless St. Louis Rams from the Edward Jones Dome.
New quarterback Donovan McNabb has the Redskins rated seventh in passing after two games this season, averaging nearly 300 yards per game, and has shouldered the load for a running attack ranked last in the NFL. Clinton Portis has been a mainstay at running back in Washington for many years, but two of his backups have been cut already in Willie Parker and Larry Johnson. The latter was released this week, while Parker received his walking papers earlier this month.
Portis said this week that the Redskins are throwing the ball around and he just has to be patient with head coach Mike Shanahan's offense. He should know by now that Shanahan will eventually get the run game going once he sees that its a productive facet of his game plan. The Redskins are averaging only 53.5 rushing yards this season and completely neglected that facet in last week's 30-27 overtime loss to the Houston Texans, posting just 18 yards on 17 carries. Portis had a pair of one-yard touchdown runs, but otherwise racked up a paltry 33 yards on 13 touches.
Shanahan is aware of the situation and understands everything must come into place in order to have success.
"One thing about the running game, you have to be hitting on all cylinders," Shanahan said on the team's site. "It can be just one guy off just a little bit here, and a 10-yard gain becomes a two-yard gain. That's what happened through most of the [Texans] game. We had some possibilities there."
The Redskins, who blew a 17-point lead, must take advantage of their opportunities when they face a St. Louis unit rated 30th in the league in run defense. The Rams are also 24th in stopping the pass, something McNabb has excelled at his entire career.
The strong-armed veteran had a fantastic performance with 426 passing yards and a touchdown for a 119.0 quarterback rating in the close loss to Houston. He seems to have the timing down with his receivers and is grasping Shanahan's offense. McNabb has a good shot at proving it this week in the Gateway City, but must not overlook St. Louis for next week's battle in Philadelphia, which drafted him No. 2 overall in 1999.
Meanwhile, St. Louis has lost its first two games of the season for a fourth consecutive year and has started 0-4 in each of the previous three campaigns.
Rookie quarterback and last April's No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford is still getting adjusted to the NFL and owns four touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 57.5 completion percentage over his first two games as a pro. All rookie signal-callers strive for success, stamina and longevity at this level, and Bradford can look across the sidelines and see that in McNabb. That's where any young quarterback like Bradford strives to be someday.
Opposing defenses will try anything to prevent that from happening.
"They're a blitz team, they like to pressure," Bradford said of Washington's defense. "We have to be ready for the pressure to come from all different positions at any time."
Bradford also added that when the Redskins blitz, it creates more opportunities for his receivers to get open since there are less defenders in coverage. Unfortunately for the youngster, the Rams' receivers aren't household names and seem average at best. Mark Clayton has been his favorite target so far and leads the team with 12 catches, while Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson are second and third, respectively, in receptions.
Finishing games, penalties and giving up big plays has killed the Rams so far this season. The defense has been stuck on the field most of the second half in back-to-back weeks and head coach Steve Spagnuolo said it's his fault for not having his players prepared or in better position to prevent that from occurring.
Jackson is a great example of what Spagnuolo said, having produced 114 yards on 22 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per touch in the opening half of the first two games. He has just 42 yards on 19 carries over the final 30 minutes of those games.
The Redskins hold a 21-8-1 lead in their all-time series with the Rams, including a 9-7 victory when the teams met at FedEx Field last season. St. Louis won the previous two meetings, including a 37-31 overtime triumph when the clubs last met at the Edward Jones Dome, in Week 16 of the 2006 season at the Edward Jones Dome. Washington last won in St. Louis in 2005.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have split four all-time postseason matchups. The then-Cleveland Rams defeated the Redskins for the 1945 NFL Championship, and the L.A. Rams took down Washington in a 1974 NFC Divisional Playoff. The Skins returned the favor by downing the Rams in a 1983 NFC Divisional Playoff and a 1986 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Shanahan is 2-3 in his career against the Rams, including a loss while at the helm of the Raiders in 1988 and a 2-2 mark during his tenure in Denver (1995-2008). Spagnuolo is 0-1 in his career against the Redskins, and will be facing Shanahan for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
The addition of McNabb (597 passing yards, 1 TD) has made the Redskins a legitimate playoff contender, and the strong-armed signal-caller has already put his throwing and running skills on display. He has only has one touchdown pass to show for his play, however, but is doing his best to spread the ball around. This week against the Rams is a good time to get even more acclimated with Shanahan's system. It might not go as smoothly with rookie left tackle Trent Williams missing practice with a knee injury, though. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and he hasn't been ruled out for this week. If Williams is unable to go, Stephon Heyer or Jammal Brown are expected to protect McNabb's blind side. Brown started the first two games at right tackle and made the Pro Bowl from the left side with New Orleans a few years back. Derrick Dockery and Kory Lichtensteiger are battling for the left guard spot, with Dockery having the edge with his bevy of experience. Either way, both will still have an impact on a running game desperate for success. Portis (96 rushing yards, 2 TD) is doing his best to remain patient and confident the offense will gain some semblance before it gets too deep into the season. Expect to see more action from rookie running back Keiland Williams on Sunday. Wide receiver Santana Moss (16 receptions, 166 yards) leads the corps in catches and yards, while tight end Chris Cooley (9 receptions, 144 yards, TD) has the team's only scoring catch.
While the Redskins enter this matchup hoping to get something going on the ground, St. Louis hopes to tighten up its run defense. In last week's loss to Oakland, the Raiders' Darren McFadden ran for 145 yards on 30 carries and completely wore out the Rams' defense. Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan did not play against the Raiders because of migraine issues and is still uncertain for this week's contest. He first missed practice last week because of a headache that was causing nausea and illness, and did not travel to Oakland. Fred Robbins (7 tackles, 1 sack) and Gary Gibson are the regular starters at the tackle spot, with Dorell Scott (2 tackles) mixing in as well if Ryan is unable to play versus the Redskins. Also, safety Craig Dahl (14 tackles) has been bothered by symptoms of a concussion suffered in last week's game against the Raiders. James Butler (3 tackles, 1 INT) would handle Dahl's duties as a starter with rookie Darian Stewart serving as backup. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (15 tackles) and linebacker James Laurinaitis (14 tackles, sack) are among the team leaders in tackles, though Atogwe is nursing a thigh issue.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
St. Louis is near the bottom in passing yards, which has somewhat to do with working Bradford (420 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT) into the league at a comfortable pace. He got the Rams on the board first in last week's loss to Oakland and finished with a career-high two touchdown passes. He has taken a liking to Clayton (12 receptions, 143 yards, 2 TD), who leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. On paper, Bradford and the Rams' anemic offense have no chance against a tested Washington pass defense, but stranger things have happened, such as the Redskins blowing a 17-point advantage to the pass-happy Texans. After Clayton, Bradford really doesn't have many options. Amendola (10 receptions) is second on the team in catches and receiving yards, but would be a step away from any one of the other team's practice squads. With tight end Billy Bajema (4 receptions) expected to miss the next two-to-four weeks with a knee injury, Spagnuolo may have to turn to Darcy Johnson and rookie Fendi Onobun for extended roles at the position. Speaking of more repetitions, rookie wideout Mardy Gilyard is expected to see plenty of action versus the Redskins. Jackson (156 rushing yards) will carry the load once again between the tackles and hopes the Redskins will enter the Edward Jones Dome with a high volume of overconfidence. He needs 97 rushing yards to pass Marshall Faulk for second-most in team history.
After containing the NFC East-favorite Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 at FedEx Field, the Redskins' defense suffered a hiccup in last Sunday's aerial show by the Texans. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub carved up Washington's secondary for 497 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-tying score to stud wideout Andre Johnson in the waning moments of regulation. Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers (15 tackles, 1 INT) intercepted Schaub, but the secondary is still shaky under first-year coordinator Jim Haslett. Perhaps cornerback DeAngelo Hall (21 tackles) ignited the fire for daring the Texas to throw often, saying how that creates more chances to "make plays on the back end". Hall reportedly even went as far as saying he wouldn't listen to Haslett if he did not approve of the confident cornerback covering the opponent's top receiver. Blowing a 17-point lead can frustrate teams, and the Redskins must put that behind them with a rookie quarterback on the horizon. Linebackers Rocky McIntosh (24 tackles, 1 sack) and London Fletcher (18 tackles, 1 sack) have two of the teams' six sacks on the season. McIntosh and safety Reed Doughty (19 tackles) both had 14 stops last week, while Hall ended with 13 and safety LaRon Landry recorded 11. Landry (28 tackles, sack) leads the team and NFL in tackles.
McNabb still has just one touchdown pass, but a plethora of yards in his first two weeks in a Redskins uniform. Expect at least two scoring strikes against the Rams this Sunday. It's hard to put any Washington running back in the lineup, but Portis has said all the right things this week about the play- calling and may get his wish for more touches. He's a starter in this league and should be in the lineup anyway. Moss and Cooley are the only other reliable fantasy options for the 'Skins.
St. Louis only has two definite options this week in Jackson and Clayton. Jackson often carries the bulk of the load and someone has to throw the ball to Clayton, so using Bradford may not be such a bad idea. A solid option for next season in most keeper leagues, Bradford is improving on a weekly basis.
The Redskins must set the tone early defensively after they allowed 526 total yards and 497 passing yards to Houston. Washington blew a 17-point second-half lead because of defensive breakdowns, and Shanahan said the team needs to leave the Edward Jones Dome with a win. The Redskins will be on the road for the first time in 2010 and came away with only one win in eight away tries a season ago. Bradford, meanwhile, is still searching for his first win as a pro. Facing a veteran Washington defense won't make that quest any easier, so expect to see another learning experience for the top pick in last April's draft.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 21, Rams 10