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NFL Preview - St. Louis (0-1) at Washington (0-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Rams have been a disaster the past two years and started the 2009 season in similar fashion. They also haven't won a game since last October, but will try to give new head coach Steve Spagnuolo his first victory this Sunday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
St. Louis suffered a 28-0 loss to Seattle in last week's season opener and has dropped 11 in a row since a 34-14 thumping of Dallas on October 19, 2008. Spagnuolo, a defensive-minded coach, saw his stop unit give up 446 yards to the Seahawks, including 279 yards through the air. The Rams never got anything going offensively either, as stud running back Steven Jackson was held to 67 yards on 16 carries.
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger entered this season fresh and revived from two previous years of futility, only to finish 17-of-36 for 191 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The offense is playing with a lot of young players, including receivers Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson, who combined for 133 yards on 11 receptions.
St. Louis will need more from its youth movement and more discipline from its offensive line, which was flagged quite a few times in last Sunday's loss to Seattle. Rookie right tackle Jason Smith allowed one of three sacks on the day, while veteran guard Richie Incognito killed some momentum with personal foul penalties.
The Rams now must put this game behind them and focus on Washington. St. Louis is 5-28 since the start of the 2007 campaign.
Washington, meanwhile, didn't kick off its season in winning fashion after suffering a 23-17 loss to the NFC East-rival New York Giants last Sunday. Quarterback Jason Campbell appeared uncomfortable the entire day at Giants Stadium, much like he did last year in the season opener at the Meadowlands. The former first-round pick passed for 211 yards with a touchdown and an interception and still gets criticism for his rocky relationship with head coach Jim Zorn.
Granted that Campbell was facing one of the best defenses in the NFL last week, but now he must redeem himself versus a lowly St. Louis squad in the Redskins' 2009 home opener.
Washington gave up 351 yards of offense to the Giants last week and posted just one sack. On a brighter note for the defense, middle linebacker London Fletcher had a game-high 18 tackles and made an early case for his first Pro Bowl nod. The veteran played with St. Louis from 1998-2001 and started for the Rams in the team's Super Bowl XXXIV win over Tennessee.
The Redskins hold a 20-8-1 lead in their all-time series with the Rams, but have lost their last two meetings with St. Louis. Washington handed the Rams one of their two wins of the 2008 season with a 19-17 decision at FedEx Field in Week 6 of last season, and the Redskins were 37-31 overtime losers in the previous meeting, in Week 16 of the 2006 season at the Edward Jones Dome. Washington won the three previous meetings, including a 24-9 road win in 2005 and a 20-7 triumph in D.C. in 2002.
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.
Zorn is 0-1 in his career against the Rams, while Spagnuolo will be meeting both Zorn and the Redskins for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Bulger (191 passing yards) is 2-0 in his career against the Redskins, but this is a different season and a much different quarterback from previous years. Perhaps his decline is related to losing Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt over the years and not having a potential breakout receiver to handle the load. Avery broke onto the scene last year as a rookie and Robinson (87 yards) had a decent debut as a Ram, as the ex-Atlanta Falcon totaled five receptions for 87 yards. Avery ended with a team-high six catches for the Rams, who were just 2- for-12 on third downs against the Seahawks. Seattle was able to get to Bulger three times and finished with eight passes defensed. Bulger won't have as much of an easy time throwing against the Redskins as the Giants' Eli Manning did, because New York has better options at receiver.
Redskins defensive end Andre Carter (3 tackles, 1 sack) recorded the team's only sack in the opener, and Washington barely pressured Manning, who passed for 256 yards with a touchdown but threw one interception to DeAngelo Hall (7 tackles). The Giants were able to convert 6-of-13 chances on third down. St. Louis doesn't have a threatening pass attack, but Bulger could break out with a freak performance as an underdog. Cornerback Carlos Rogers (1 tackle) had a pair of passes defensed last week for Washington, which will begin a stretch of games against St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Kansas City -- teams that all lost their first contests.
Jackson (67 rushing yards) carried the ball 16 times for an average of 4.2 yards per touch in Sunday's loss to Seattle, and could have an even tougher time with Washington, which played a solid game against New York's vaunted ground attack. Even with rookie Smith at right tackle and free-agent acquisition Jason Brown playing center, Jackson still had trouble showing off his quickness for a big back, thanks also to a myriad of penalties on the line. If Spagnuolo can instill discipline this week, then perhaps Jackson will become a big factor for St. Louis and its quest for the team's first win since last October. If that happens, expect the Rams to post more than the 246 yards of offense they did a week ago.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (4 tackles) made his debut with the Redskins last Sunday and finished with four tackles. Haynesworth, who inked a huge deal in the offseason, did leave the game on a few occasions to take breaks, putting his conditioning into question, and also had the wind knocked out of him by Giants big back Brandon Jacobs. He will have another tough assignment in trying to clog the running lanes for Jackson. Fletcher (18 tackles) had a big day, but that's usual for him, while fellow linebacker Rocky McIntosh (6 tackles) also had a strong game for a defense that held the top rushing team in the NFL last year to 103 yards on the ground and an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Campbell (211 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) didn't throw a touchdown pass until 1:30 remaining in the game last Sunday, as the Washington offense sputtered the entire game. The team's other touchdown was on a trick field goal by punter Hunter Smith. Campbell was also sacked three times and had no time to establish a rhythm with his receivers. Antwaan Randle El (98 receiving yards) finished tied for the team lead in receptions with seven, while top wideout Santana Moss recorded only two catches for six yards. Tight end Chris Cooley has seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown and appears to be the most reliable target for Campbell. Cooley now has 29 touchdown catches since the 2004 campaign. Second-year wideouts Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas and sophomore tight end Fred Davis combined for one catch for six yards last week.
The Rams were torched for 279 yards and three touchdowns by Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the opener, but were able to come away with a pair of interceptions. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (8 tackles, 1 INT) had one of those picks, the 18th of his career and 14th since the start of the 2007 campaign. Since 2007, Baltimore All-Pro safety Ed Reed is the only NFL player with more interceptions (16). St. Louis made the mistake of allowing Hasselbeck to get into a groove, something they can not let Campbell do on Sunday. Safety James Butler (5 tackles) had the team's other interception of Hasselbeck, while corners Ron Bartell (5 tackles) and Jonathan Wade (3 tackles) will be responsible for containing Moss, Randle El and Washington's young trio of receivers. On a brighter note, Seahawks new wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh was relatively quiet last week, but receiver Nate Burleson and tight end John Carlson picked up the slack.
Washington running back Clinton Portis (62 rushing yards) had a promising start to last week's game after ripping off a 34-yard run, but was held to 62 yards on 16 carries for the day. Portis is another year older but still has the speed and quickness to break out for the Redskins, who gained a total of 85 yards rushing against a tough New York defense. Since Washington played from behind the entire afternoon, Campbell was forced to throw the ball. Things should be much better for the 'Skins this weekend against St. Louis' suspect defense, although the team's revamped offensive line has a lot to prove. The group didn't create many opportunities and even watched Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora strip Campbell of the football and scamper to the end zone for a touchdown.
Rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (14 tackles) had an impressive debut for the Rams and put all questions of being undersized to the wayside. He did battle with a knee problem during practice this week, but should be ready to go for Sunday. Second-year defensive end Chris Long (6 tackles) didn't get to Hasselbeck last week because of double teams and the fact that Seattle has a solid offensive line. Seahawks running back Julius Jones carried the ball 19 times for 117 yards against the Rams, including a 62-yard touchdown run to close out the scoring. Portis and backup Ladell Betts are home-run hitters too, so the Rams must plug the gaps. Standout defensive end Leonard Little posted just one stop last weekend.
There wasn't much going on fantasy-wise for the Rams last week, since they didn't score any points. This week's matchup should favor Jackson, but the Redskins were able to shut down New York's running game in a Week 1 loss at the Meadowlands. Bulger is still a questionable call if he was even drafted, while Avery is his best target. As for Washington, Portis will be primed for a big game after he was kept out of the end zone last Sunday. Cooley and the Redskins defense are definite starts this week. Campbell and the offense seemed as if they were in quicksand for three-plus quarters in New York, which makes the quarterback a risky start.
Zorn was criticized for his play-calling against the Giants, but has a chance to redeem himself in front of the FedEx Field faithful with St. Louis coming to town. Campbell never got into a groove with his receivers, while Portis started off hot but was eventually held in check by New York's tenacious stop unit. If Zorn can get Portis rolling early and Washington's defense plays better against the pass, then the Redskins will easily even their mark at 1-1. However, Jackson is also in search of a breakout game after the Seahawks contained the dreadlocked running back in Week 1. Bulger and his quartet of young wideouts are poised to end a lengthy losing streak, but in the end Washington's defense will prevail.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 21, Rams 13
09/17 18:32:56 ET