It will be the Washington Redskins’ strong running game and ball-control offense against the sack-happy St. Louis Rams defense Sunday with the Redskins hoping to avoid an 0-2 start at home.
Here’s a look at five things to watch as the Rams search for their first 2-0 start since 2001 (noon; TV: Fox Channel 2; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1):
1. Can Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive line continue the dominance displayed last week at home against the Seahawks?
Donald was virtually unblockable, finishing with two sacks and 11 tackles on his way to NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The Rams like to move the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year around, creating mismatches or freeing other up others for an easier path to the quarterback or running backs. Defensive end Robert Quinn also had two sacks and defensive end Chris Long remains a force along with tackle Michael Brockers and end William Hayes. Redskins rookie guard Brandon Scherff, the fifth overall pick in the draft out of Iowa, did a good job of limiting Miami all-pro lineman Ndamakong Suh last week.
2. What will the Rams’ running back situation look like against the Redskins?
Tre Mason, the Rams’ 2014 rushing leader, sat out last week because of a hamstring injury, but appears ready to roll after a full week of practice. Rams coach Jeff Fisher dropped hints all week that first-round pick Todd Gurley could be ready to make his debut, but it seems somewhat unlikely since there’s still no real reason to rush him back into the lineup after ACL surgery. Still, Gurley took a lot of reps with the first-team offense this week along with Mason and Benny Cunningham. Cunningham got the start in Week 1 and delivered 45 yards rushing and 77 yards receiving, although the Rams averaged only 2.9 yards per carry against the Seahawks (third-lowest in the NFL).
3. Who wins the battle of former Michigan State quarterbacks?
Rams quarterback Nick Foles and Washington starter Kirk Cousins were once teammates at Michigan State, although Foles eventually transferred to Arizona. Foles had a successful Rams debut, throwing the game-tying touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks and finishing 18-for-27 for 297 yards and one TD. Cousins beat out former second overall pick Robert Griffin III for the Redskins’ starting QB job. He threw a pair of interceptions last week and also will be directing an offense minus its top receiver in the injured DeSean Jackson.
4. How will the Rams defense handle Redskins running back Alfred Morris?
Fisher and several members of the Rams defense called Morris a “heavy” runner who lowers his pads and makes himself extremely tough to bring down. Morris had 121 yards on 25 carries last week against Miami and the Redskins ran for 161 yards overall. Since 2012, only Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has more rushing yards than Morris (4,083 yards). If Washington has success on the ground early, Morris could have a big day and perhaps help Cousins from being forced into the type of high-risk passes that had led to turnover problems in the past.
5. How will the inexperienced Rams offensive line deal with the Redskins defense?
Foles was sacked twice by the Seahawks last week, once on a blitz that led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown. As they did last week against Seattle, look for the Rams to use a lot of play-action and quick-release passing to slow down the Washington pass rush. Rams second-year left tackle Greg Robinson still struggles at times with pass protection while rookie right tackle Ron Havenstein and rookie left guard Jamon Brown both had good and shaky moments in the opener. The Redskins had three sacks against Miami last week with a strong pass rush led by linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy and an improved defensive front.