NFL Preview - Washington (2-1) at St. Louis (0-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - There's a limited amount of time in the NFL to ponder wins and losses, as preparation for the next opponent usually begins immediately after the preceding game.
The Washington Redskins are one of those teams that must deal with putting their last result quickly behind them. After suffering their first loss of the season Monday night in Dallas, they'll be hoping a visit to the Edward Jones Dome for this Sunday's game against the winless St. Louis Rams can lift their spirits.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan shared some of his feelings about the short week.
"Like I told our football team, everybody is disappointed," said Shanahan of Monday's loss. "Any time you put your heart and soul into a game, and you lose especially like we did, it hurts.
"But you don't have time to feel sorry for yourself. You have to get ready on Wednesday for a new opponent, you have a day-and-a-half less of recovery time, and you still have to put together a game plan."
Dallas squeezed out an 18-16 victory over the rival Redskins, who were aiming for a third straight victory to begin the new campaign. Now Washington will be trying to become 3-1 for the first time since 2008, though it still finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs that year.
The Redskins led most of the second half in Big D, but a late facemask penalty by outspoken cornerback DeAngelo Hall on Dallas receiver Dez Bryant put the Cowboys in range for the go-ahead field goal with 1:47 left.
Redskins linebacker London Fletcher put the blame on his unit afterwards.
"[The Cowboys'] defense just made more big plays. They came up with a couple more plays than we did," Fletcher noted. "We really needed to make one more play defensively to win this ballgame, but we didn't."
Washington will enter its bye week following Sunday's visit to the Gateway City and hasn't won at St. Louis since Dec. 4, 2005, when it recorded a 24-9 victory. The Rams handed the Redskins a 30-16 loss at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 3 of last season.
The Redskins will also need to amp their ground attack up a bit after mustering only 65 net rushing yards on Monday, as top ball-carrier Tim Hightower was held to 41 yards on 14 carries after averaging 84 yards rushing in the first two weeks of the season.
St. Louis has the luxury of remaining at home for this week's battle, but was embarrassed by the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's 37-7 defeat. Rams defensive- minded head coach Steve Spagnuolo had to be fuming after his team's performance, in which the Rams surrendered 553 total yards and 385 through the air.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco made mincemeat out of the Rams' secondary, passing for 389 yards with three scores and no interceptions. On the other side, St. Louis second-year signal-caller Sam Bradford completed only 16 of his 32 pass attempts for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Bradford was also sacked five times and never seemed to establish any sort of comfort in the pocket.
Bradford was more positive about the team's outlook later in the week.
"You just have to find a way to win," he said. "I think we're all frustrated. I think everyone is disappointed and I think we know we're better than 0-3. But at this point, it just becomes all about us coming together as a team and finding a way to win, whether that's running the football all day, [or] throwing the football all day."
Bradford never had much of a chance to find an open receiver against a bullying Ravens defense, with Brandon Gibson leading the corps with 55 yards and a touchdown on five receptions for the Rams, who are hoping to avoid their first 0-4 start since beginning the 2009 campaign with seven straight defeats en route to a terrible 1-15 finish.
Bradford was nursing a sprained toe during the week, though it shouldn't affect his preparation for the Redskins.
Rams running back Steven Jackson returned last week from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps injury, but was limited to short yardage and third-down opportunities. Jackson was hurt in a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, leaving the bulk of the running duties on Cadillac Williams for the last two contests.
It appears the Rams will use the same approach this week, with Jackson likely not yet back at full strength.
Despite last season's previously-noted victory, the Rams are just 9-21-1 in 31 lifetime meetings with Washington, though St. Louis has taken three of the last four matchups between the teams. One of those wins was a 37-31 overtime decision at the Edward Jones Dome in 2006, with the Rams avenging a 24-9 home loss to Washington the previous year. The Redskins had won five straight times as the visitor in this series prior to that 2006 setback.
In addition to the regular season set, the teams have split four all-time postseason matchups. The then-Cleveland Rams defeated the Redskins for the 1945 NFL Championship, and the Los Angeles Rams took down Washington in a 1974 NFC Divisional Playoff. The Redskins returned the favor by downing the Rams in a 1983 NFC Divisional Playoff as well as a 1986 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Shanahan is 2-4 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 14-year tenure in Denver from 1995-2008. Spagnuolo is 1-1 versus Washington since taking over the Rams in 2009, while last year's victory was his only head-to-head encounter with Shanahan to date.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Redskins tight end Chris Cooley (6 receptions) said after Monday's loss in Dallas that the week of preparation felt like a waste and that it was disappointing to have a division opponent on the ropes and fall short. Cooley, who carried the ball for the first two times in his career against the Cowboys, is one catch shy of tying Mike Ditka for 18th all-time in receptions by a tight end. Washington quarterback Rex Grossman (846 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) didn't have a great game last week after two strong outings to begin the season, finishing 22-of-37 for 250 yards with an interception versus Dallas. He was sacked three times and also came up with a big fumble near the end of the game. Grossman's one-yard touchdown pass to Hightower in the third quarter had given the Redskins a 16-9 lead, but they never crossed midfield after that, producing three punts and a lost fumble. Hightower (209 rushing yards, 1 TD) has a rushing touchdown in four of six career meetings with the Rams and hasn't fumbled since last December, spanning five games and 157 carries. Tight end Fred Davis (12 receptions, 214 yards, 1 TD) leads the team in receiving yards, while veteran wide receiver Santana Moss (207 yards, 1 TD) is first among Redskins with 16 catches. He is still Washington's main receiving threat.
Pass defense was a major area of concern for Spagnuolo after the Ravens shredded St. Louis' defensive backfield last week. Rams cornerback Justin King (22 tackles, 1 sack) was placed under the microscope for his struggles against Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith, who came through with a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown on Baltimore's second play from scrimmage and scored three times in the first quarter. Spagnuolo will stick with King despite the defender's continued struggles, saying he would "go to war with King" for how hard he fought and remained calm under pressure. Safety Darian Stewart (13 tackles) suffered a finger injury against the Ravens but should be ready to go Sunday, while defensive tackle Darell Scott (5 tackles) is hampered with an ailing thumb. Defensive end Chris Long (6 tackles) is seventh in the NFL with three sacks and is looking for his fourth game in a row with a quarterback takedown. He has recorded a sack in five of his last six games. Defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan hope to stuff the running lanes for Hightower and make it hot around the collar for Grossman as well. Safeties Quintin Mikell (17 tackles, 1 INT) and Craig Dahl (17 tackles) will be key in preventing big plays from Moss and Cooley, and Mikell has plenty of experience in this series from his lengthy tenure with Philadelphia. Mikell's former teammate with the Eagles, cornerback Rod Hood, was signed by the Rams this week.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
It was a good sign for the Rams to see Jackson (79 rushing yards, 1 TD) back in the fold, even though he carried the ball only four times for 23 yards against the Ravens. Jackson is an integral piece to the St. Louis offense and will be protected again this week in order to avoid further damage to his quad. His role could be expanded against the Redskins, however, but there's a good chance Williams (202 rushing yards) will do much of the toting. Williams has yet to reach the end zone this season and has been used sparingly in the pass attack, and won't be much of a threat out of the backfield if Bradford (685 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) doesn't get good protection. Bradford was sacked five times and hurried 11 times last Sunday, and was moving a bit slowly after the beating Baltimore put on. The 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, who set a career high with 331 passing yards in Week 2 against the Giants, will be aiming for his sixth win in his past 10 home starts. Gibson (12 receptions, 1 TD) leads the Rams in catches and receiving yards (157), while newcomer Mike Sims-Walker is second on the team with 10 grabs. The Redskins have a strong pass defense, so it could be tough for Bradford and St. Louis.
A costly facemask penalty by Hall (16 tackles) helped put the Cowboys in position for the game-winning points, and the former Virginia Tech star was vehemently displeased with the call, telling the referee "that might have been his worst call of the game." The talented but emotional defensive back, named a team captain prior to the season, also called out defensive coordinator Jim Haslett when the coach called for an all-out blitz on 3rd-and-21 late in Monday's game. Hall was one of five players with six or more tackles against the Cowboys, while safety LaRon Landry made his season debut after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury. The hard-hitting Landry notched four tackles and forced a fumble in his first game since Nov. 15, 2010 against Philadelphia. Redskins rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (12 tackles) has a sack in each of his last two games, while former Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe returns to St. Louis for the first time since he was released by the team this past offseason. Haslett also coached in St. Louis from 2006-08.
KEYS TO THE GAME
If the Rams can protect Bradford, they will have an much better chance to win the game. As obvious as that sounds, St. Louis could have had a respectable showing last week versus Baltimore if the offensive line hadn't played sloppy football for 60 minutes.
Hightower seems to be the nucleus of the Washington offense, and how he goes the Redskins go. The hard-running back was held in check by Dallas, and must get back to his production from Weeks 1 and 2 in order to give Washington its third win.
How effective will Jackson be this week? Bothered by a quadriceps injury in a Week 1 loss to the Eagles, Jackson missed the next week before gradually getting back in gear against the Ravens. Washington is allowing only 97.7 rushing yards per game, but will face two talented rushers in Williams and Jackson this week.
Instead of arguing with referees, Hall will focus on what he does best this week, and that's shutting down receivers and picking off passes. There's no reason why the Redskins should lose this one against a Rams' offense that is banged up at running back and features no serious threat in the passing game. Grossman must get back on board with his targets and heavy-hitting linebackers Fletcher and Brian Orakpo have to inflict pressure on Bradford in order for Washington to come out on top, but that's certainly possible with St. Louis' recent problems on defense and pass protection. Bradford said he never felt they way he did after he played Baltimore, and it could be deja vu from another NFL team touching down in the Gateway to the West.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 24, Rams 13
09/29 15:48:12 ET