1. Grabbing Griffin
THE KEY: You’d be hard pressed to find a quarterback with a better debut than the one made by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III in last week’s Redskins’ win against New Orleans.
The No. 2 overall draft pick carved up the Saints with a nearly flawless performance, boasting a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 at halftime of that game. When all was said and done, Griffin became the first signal caller in league history to debut with 300-plus passing yards, two or more touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Griffin’s final stat line: 19-of-26 for 320 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 139.9. He also chipped in 42 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Of course, the Saints were working at a deficit with no real film to watch on how Washington intended to use Griffin. At least the Rams will have one week of game film to work from.
As most Mike Shanahan coached teams are want to do, Griffin is used on a lot of play action with rollouts and bootlegs regularly part of the repertoire. That means the Rams must be very disciplined in staying at home defensively and hope they can force Griffin into some rookie mistakes much like the errors made by Detroit’s Matthew Stafford last week.
“The thing about Robert is he’s kind of ahead of the curve as far as being a pocket passer, especially with his athleticism,” end
THE ANSWER: Griffin was impressive, finishing with 82 yards on 11 carries for two scores and chipping in 206 more yards passing with a touchdown and an interception for a rating of 86.3. But he wasn’t the tour de force he was last week and that was just enough for the Rams to get the home victory.
2. Slowing Morris
THE KEY: Another hallmark of Shanahan’s offenses is the use of a running back by committee approach that makes it difficult to stop the one cut and go rushing attack he prefers. It might drive fantasy football players crazy but Shanahan has a way of unearthing running backs and turning them into productive NFL players.
This year’s version of Olandis Gary or Mike Anderson or, if he really takes off, Terrell Davis could be Alfred Morris. Morris emerged out of nowhere as a rookie from Florida Atlantic to claim the starting job over incumbents Roy Helu and Evan Royster.
Morris rewarded Shanahan’s confidence with 28 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Last week against Detroit, the Lions finished with just 83 yards on the ground but had an average of 4.6 yards per attempt. Part of that success was predicated on a defensive game plan that openly invited Detroit to run the ball.
This week, the Rams will almost certainly have more focus on stopping the run. Like with Griffin, the defense must be disciplined against Washington’s run scheme. Shanahan’s offenses want to run it wide and wait for someone to get out of position then hit a single cutback for big gains.
“You want to be disciplined but you don’t want to let them dictate everything to you,” Long said. “You do have to try to dictate the tempo of the way things are going to be up front to them. But it does create problems for defenses. When everybody starts running sideways, all hell can break loose. But you do have to be disciplined but don’t let it take you out of being fast.”
THE ANSWER: Morris quietly picked up 89 yards on 16 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per attempt. The Rams would like to be better in that area but at least held Morris down late when the Redskins were trying to make a comeback.
3. More Line Dancing
THE KEY: The Rams had a big question mark at left guard last week as many wondered who would get the start – rookie
Injuries to Watkins, left tackle
The good news, for the Rams, though, is the quick recovery of Saffold, who returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday but finished out the week and looks likely to start against the Redskins.
Considering Washington’s pass rushing firepower and the love of the blitz possessed by coordinator Jim Haslett, the Rams’ reconfigured line will have a tough task on its hands on Sunday.
Last week, the protection for quarterback
No matter who lines up on the line, the onus will fall on that front five to keep Bradford protected.
“You look at what they did last week against New Orleans – they got after them pretty good,” Bradford said. “Their pass rush, those guys on the edge are big, physical, athletic pass rushers. It seemed like they gave the New Orleans wide receivers some problems last week playing some tight man coverage. I think they probably made (Saints QB) Drew (Brees) hold onto the ball a little longer than he would have liked to. They got after him pretty good, so we’re definitely up for a challenge this week. We’re going to have to be very good with our communication as far as blitzes. They like to bring pressure. Tuned in pre-snap, keys, tells, everything like that. There’s no doubt that we’re in for a challenge this week.”
THE ANSWER: Saffold went out with a knee injury early in the game but
4. Rev Up the Run
THE KEY: One way for a remixed line to get some chemistry and continuity is to run the ball effectively, something the Rams are committed to offensively regardless of how many defenders are in the box.
The Rams pounded away against a stout Detroit defense last week and finished with 78 yards on 27 carries, an average of just 2.9 yards per attempt. Running back
Haslett knows Jackson well and will almost certainly still gear up his defense to slow him down. Middle linebacker London Fletcher is seemingly ageless and will be the guy charged with the task of slowing Jackson and the running game.
If the Rams can get the ground game up to par and wear down the Redskins, it not only keeps Griffin on the sideline but could allow for some big plays in the passing game via play action.
“We just kind of put ourselves in a tough spot,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “We didn’t have a lot of success running the ball on first down which puts you in a tough spot. Eight man fronts and penetration got us a little bit, the noise probably hurt us a little bit but this week it’s about getting back to basics. Fundamentals, alignments, coming off the ball, targets, things like that and (last week) is not our standard. We think we can get back to it this weekend.”
THE ANSWER: Jackson had it rolling early, posting nine carries for 58 yards but when he left with a groin injury, Richardson more than capably filled in. He carried 15 times for 83 yards and added two catches for 19 more yards. A late fumble hurt but the defense did enough to secure the win.
5. Third Down Woes
THE KEY: While Fisher didn’t place much emphasis on what happened during the preseason, there was one area that he was consistently not pleased with in the four exhibition contests.
On both sides of the ball, the Rams struggled through the preseason to keep drives alive on offense and get off the field on defense.
Things didn’t improve much last week against Detroit, especially on offense. The Rams converted just four of 12 opportunities on third down and allowed the Lions to convert on four-of-nine chances on their third downs.
The Rams appeared to make some strides against the Lions, converting their first two third downs but then missed on seven in a row before getting another. Then, of course, they missed on the most important conversion late in the game with a chance to move the chains then run the clock down before booting a game winning field goal.
In his assessment of the offense, Fisher again pointed to third downs as a negative mark, making a point to show that his team’s struggles on first and second down set up some long third down opportunities.
It’s an area on both sides that will need to improve for the Rams to get a win this week.
“We weren’t as good as we would have liked to have been on third down,” Fisher said. “We had seven or eight third downs over third-and-seven plus and those are difficult to convert.”
THE ANSWER: The Rams improved greatly in this area Sunday. Offensively, the group was seven-of-12 on third down, a conversion rate of 58 percent. On the other side, the Rams held Washington to four-of-13 on their opportunities, a number that could have been even better save for a pair of penalties that turned stops into continued drives.