Rams-Redskins: Revisiting our Prediction

Here’s a reprint of our original RamsHerd prediction for this game, a close-fought 13-12 loss, plus additional notes and comments:

In Week Two, Coach Spagnuolo faces off against a doubly familiar opponent: the NFC East’s Washington Redskins, running an offense eerily similar to the scheme that Pat Shurmur wants to install.

Week Date Opponent LY: Record LY: Points 3Y: Record 3Y: Points
2 Sept. 20 at Washington Redskins 8-8 265/296 22-26 906/982
Rams games vs opponent, last three seasons:
Week 16, 2006: Won 37-31 at home
Week 6, 2008: Won 19-17 at Washington

This one is a tough one. All the reasons I have for tearing down the Rams’ chances in Week 2 against Washington — the effectiveness of the Redskins’ run-based West Coast offense, the brute force of Clinton Portis in that offense, the stifling Redskin defense, the incredibly hot start the Redskins got off to in the first half of last season — were all working full steam against the Rams in Week 6 of last year. And yet, the Rams won that game, their first of the season.

This should have been known as the OJ Atogwe game, in that the first half ended with a dramatic 75-yard fumble recovery and return that scored the Rams’ only touchdown on the day. It was almost known as the Richie Incognito game, after the big lunkhead took a ridiculously poorly timed 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — after third down maybe a dozen seconds left, with his team in field goal range to WIN THE GAME. But it became known as the Josh Brown game — he who kicked 51- and 49-yard field goals to open and close the scoring for the Rams, and two others in between.

This game will likely be another closely-fought affair, and will feature a battle in the trenches for the ages: Albert Haynesworth versus Jason Brown, with supporting appearances from Bell, Incognito, and Karney to be sure. Haynesworth and Brown met last year in a seismic 13-10 game between the Titans and Ravens. Haynesworth’s squad got the better end, holding Willis McGahee to 64 yards on 22 pulverizing carries.

The Redskins haven’t done much to improve on offense from last season, and if anything should be more vulnerable to the same kind of letdown they suffered at the end of last season, now that Portis’s biological clock is rapidly ticking toward doomsday, and the offensive coaching staff betrayed a complete lack of faith in Jason Campbell. (Running backs at age 28 tend to simply stop working like they used to.) Moreover, Ron Bartell completely smothered Santana Moss, their most dangerous receiver, to the tune of 2 catches for 22 yards, and if anything the Rams’ defensive backfield is more talented and more capable now.

However, on defense, the Redskins have added pass-rushing terror Brian Orakpo, who could make his presence immediately felt with the Rams’ offensive line occupied with the Skins’ front four. He could become a difference maker.

As VanRam at the TurfShowTimes discussed, there are a lot of similarities between the 2008 Redskins rebuild under Jim Zorn, and the 2009 Rams offensive rebuild under Pat Shurmur. Both coaches fall from the Andy Reid coaching tree, and both want to install a hybrid power-running quick-passing West Coast offense. The advantage here goes to the Redskins, though, who will be in their second year digesting the system.

This is a game the Rams could win, with as many lucky bounces as they had in their matchup last season. If it comes down to another field goal battle, this one could… could… wind up 12-10 Rams. However, if a fresher-legged Portis and a mean-streaked Haynesworth and Orakpo wreak as much havoc as I think they can, it will end up 13-12 Redskins. And that’s my pick.

Obviously, Josh Brown has to be considered a huge question mark for the Rams right now. He clearly is not on his game, after missing a very makeable midrange FG attempt in his old stomping grounds. If the Rams are forced to give him 49- and 51-yard attempts to win the game, as they did in last year’s meeting, we are in trouble.

However, a point that may be in our favor is that Spagnuolo has dominated the Jim Zorn Redskins, holding them to a combined two touchdowns, in a 16-7 Week 1 matchup, and a 23-7 rematch in Washington.

And while the Redskins have gotten much stronger over the years on defense, with the addition of Haynesworth, Orakpo, and hard-hitting Chris Horton, they are still weak on the fringes — notably recalcitrant cornerback DeAngelo Hall. He should be a target as often as possible, particularly when matched up against the lanky Laurent Robinson.

As Football Outsiders noticed, Clinton Portis has become a part-time back, though he is still capable of contributing with limited touches. When he’s off the field, however, the Skins lose a potent pass-blocking and blitz-picking presence in the backfield. And as ProFootballFocus makes clear in their game scoring, this offensive line stunk against the Giants. This would be the perfect time for Chris Long to take the all-important Big Step Forward.

I’m still bearish on our chances to win, at least until the offense shows us something. And the hostile environs in Washington may not quite match those in Seattle, but it will be close, testing our discipline.

Speaking of discipline, is this a make-or-break game for Incognito? Hopefully he keeps his ferocity between the lines and inside the whistle, and we don’t have to find out how short Spagnuolo’s leash really is.

Game Preview linkage!

Recommended reads:

RamsGab: No Surprising the Redskins in 2009
RamsGab: Rams vs Redskins Preview
TurfShowTimes: Jason Brown and the Rams interior O-line can indeed grind it out against Albert Haynesworth