If it weren’t for the boiling frustrations that came from watching a 24-10 letdown, one could almost appreciate how the Redskins beat the Rams last Sunday.
Since the second half of last season, it’s been fun watching the Rams play defense under Gregg Williams. They’re relentless, aggressive, and they make a point of emphasis to get after the quarterback. They don’t read-and-react: they get off the ball fast and attempt to dictate where they want the play to go, as opposed to the other way around.
But on Sunday at FedEx Field, the Redskins moved the ball at will on the ground. By the time the Rams adjusted, they trailed 17-0 and with the offense completely stagnant, they had little margin for error when it came to mounting a comeback (which they couldn’t pull off in the end).
After watching Aaron Donald destroy Seattle’s game plan the week prior, Washington must have made it a point to allow the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year to crash the backfield as if he were pass-rushing on every play.
On two big runs in the first quarter, Donald came within inches of disrupting the play in the backfield. But the runs were just wide enough that Washington wound up using the Rams’ aggressiveness against itself.
On Alfred Morris’ 35-yard run in the first quarter, Washington ran a stretch play and released guard Brandon Scherff to the second level after Donald shot through the gap. With nobody to slow Scherff from building a head of steam, he was able to block linebacker James Laurinaitis and create a massive running lane for Morris to exploit. Safety Rodney McLeod came down to properly fill the lane, but he missed the tackle as Morris burst up field.
While Washington deserves credit for executing the play, the takeaway for the Rams is that they turned a five-yard gain into a 35-yard run.
Two plays later, Matt Jones ran for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead. This time, it was center Kory Lichtensteiger that released to block Laurinaitis, while tight end Jordan Reed came off the line free to take on Alec Ogletree.
McLeod wound up blocking himself when he decided to run inside to fill the gap instead of flowing over-the-top, and Jones raced 39 yards up the sidelined for the Redskins’ second explosive run of the quarter, and their first score of the game.
These weren’t the only plays where Washington effectively allowed Donald to jet up field only to release an interior lineman to wash out a linebacker. Throughout the first half, damaging runs by Jones and Morris came out of 12 (1RB/2TEs) and 13 (1RB/3TEs) personnel, which the Redskins effectively used to execute a game plan that everyone saw coming.
The Rams knew Washington’s offense wasn’t going to run through quarterback Kirk Cousins, especially not with DeSean Jackson out with a hamstring injury. They needed to stop the run from the outset, which didn’t happen.
None of this is to suggest that Donald or any one player was at fault for Sunday’s surprising loss in Landover. No, that sort of defeat takes a collective effort.
From the defensive line creating wide running lanes, to the linebackers not getting off blocks, and safeties missing tackles, it was a mess from the start.
The offense didn’t do the defense any favors, either.
Its inability to run the ball created plenty lot of third-and-longs for Nick Foles, which led to multiple three-and-outs. By the time Pierre Garcon made the score 17-0 with a second quarter touchdown reception, the defense was completely gassed from being on the field for too long.
As previously mentioned, the Rams did adjust. In the Redskins’ first drive of the second half, Donald started to flow down the line instead of crashing the backfield. This helped the Rams clog running lanes and create more traffic for Washington’s backs to work through, but by that point the damage had been done (and the offense wasn’t doing its job).
The Steelers aren’t stupid.
They’d be stubborn not to take Washington’s blueprint and utilize formations with multiple tight ends in order to run the ball and subsequently keep the Rams’ pass rush at bay. While Pittsburgh has a drastically better passing attack than Washington, the Steelers aren’t going to subject Ben Roethlisberger to St. Louis’ pass rush if Le’Veon Bell can take over the game on the ground.
Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t what it once was so an effective running game will also keep that unit off the field and fresh.
In order to flip the script, it’ll be up to the Rams’ defense to play with more discipline, and for the offense to sustain drives.
If neither happens…well, we’ve already seen the end result.