Monday, September 21, 2009

A Heartbreaker in D.C.: Redskins 9, Rams 7

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 11:30 AM

-- Alright, first off, I'm just going to admit it: I was very impressed with the Rams' defense yesterday. They held a Washington Redskins offense that boasts an impressive array of weapons to just three field goals, no mean feat. I give Steve Spagnuolo and Ken Flajole all the credit in the world for an excellent game plan, and the players on the defensive side the same for executing said game plan. 
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In fact, to be honest, I found myself getting rather excited about what this team might be in the future watching the Rams stymie the 'Skins in the red zone. Time and time again as Washington drove down into scoring range, the Rams' defense stiffened up and got the stop. They stopped the run, they stopped the pass, they stopped pretty much everything the Redskins threw at them when their backs were against the wall. 

I'll say it right now: if the defense we saw from the Rams yesterday was the real thing, and not just offensive ineptitude on the part of Washington (and I don't think it was, but it's tough to say this early in the season), then this thing may just turn around quicker than I thought. There are still miles and miles to go before this is anything resembling even a decent NFL team, but a defense of the sort the Rams showed yesterday will keep a team in plenty of games while they try to fix the rest of the mess. 
-- James Laurinaitis was one of the most impressive players on the field for the Rams again yesterday. He was extremely active against both the pass and run, and made several exceptional plays, including the stop on 4th-and-1 that gave the Rams one last chance to try and get it right on offense. I think the Rams may really have something with this guy. 

-- In fact, I'm going to go on record as saying the whole secondary looked very, very good for the Rams yesterday. James Butler is looking more and more like a great signing, as he recorded seven tackles against the 'Skins. Both of the corners, Ron Bartell and Jonathan Wade, played solid coverage and wrapped their men up when making tackles. And Oshimago Atogwe continues to be one of the more underrated defensive players in football, making plays everywhere on the field. He isn't quite Troy Polamalu, but he isn't a far off as you might think. 

The only real complaints I have with the secondary, in fact, is the amount of cushion they often give, especially the corners. Both Wade and Bartell have the athleticism to make plays on pretty much any receiver, yet they both play as if they're afraid of giving up the big play. As a result, they rarely get beaten deep, but get beaten underneath much more often than you like to see. Wade in particular needs to play a little less conservatively and play closer to his man. Sure, he might get beaten downfield once in a while, and that will most definitely suck. On the other hand, you look at how easily teams are able to move the chains between the 20s, and you can see the pass coverage guys are just giving a bit too much space. 

-- On the other hand, the pass rush wasn't very good at all. Chris Long did nearly force a safety, but other than that there was very little pressure on Washington QB Jason Campbell. The secondary did an admirable job covering their targets, but when you consistently give a quarterback time to throw, he'll find his receivers. Someone will get open. Still, the line was much, much better against the run than they were Week 1, so even here there is a real positive to take away. 

Okay, that's the good stuff. Now for the bad. 

-- This offense sucks. No two ways about it. They suck. Marc Bulger got rid of the ball more quickly yesterday, but let's face it: he threw for 125 yards. I'm sorry, but that just isn't going to get it done. I'm torn on Bulger here, because ordinarily he holds the ball too long and gets sacked, and he definitely didn't do that yesterday. On the other hand, he also made several really awful decisions and failed to generate any sort of creativity out on the field. 

-- Even worse than Bulger -- far worse, in fact -- were the receivers he was throwing to. I'll give Laurent Robinson a solid grade, but the other options for Bulger were just awful. My colleague Keegan Hamilton has already offered a nice take on Donnie Avery, so I'm not going to belabour his struggles. 

On the other hand, I'm perfectly willing to talk about Randy McMichael. Remember how good we were told McMichael's hands were? Well, I'm still waiting to see any signs of his ability to catch the tough ball in traffic. His routes are sloppy, he lacks any sort of explosiveness, and I honestly wonder if McMichael isn't afraid of contact. He just seems completely incapable of hanging on to the ball in a tough situation. And this guy is supposed to be one of the Rams' primary offensive weapons. 

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