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Initial Thoughts: Rams 30, Redskins 16

Here’s what I’m thinking after the Redskins’ 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

This is a bad one, folks, as if you didn’t already know that. The Week 1 win over Dallas might as well have happened in another lifetime. This wasn’t an overconfident Redskins team stumbling in some sort of trap game. This was St. Louis exposing the Redskins as a flawed football team. I’ve stuck with my pre-training camp prediction of a 6-10 finish because the Redskins have too many holes to seriously contend for the playoffs. Their defensive personnel doesn’t entirely fit the 3-4 scheme, the offense lacks threats at receiver and running back, the offensive line has not been fixed and the team generally lacks quality depth. That’s not to say I saw this loss coming. I didn’t. My pick was 20-10 Redskins. But the Rams exploited all of those problems today.

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Let’s start with the defense. This is fact: Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defensive scheme, the one coordinator Jim Haslett has installed, needs a dominant nose tackle and two dominant outside linebackers to succeed. The Redskins have only one of those three components currently on the roster (ROLB Brian Orakpo). One reason for that is the fact that the Redskins had too many holes to fill last offseason and didn’t have enough resources to fill them. They used their first draft pick on an offensive lineman—something everyone would agree was a smart move. They traded their second-rounder for a quarterback—which most of us would agree was a needed upgrade. The Redskins’ third-round pick was expended by the previous regime. Throw in the fact that more than 250 potential unrestricted free agents were restricted because of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement, and it’s clear that it’s going to take another offseason cycle or two for the Redskins to get the parts in place.

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You can’t do much about all that now, so let’s look at the guys who actually were on the field. The defensive line as a whole did not play well enough to win. Part of the job is anchoring against double teams, but too frequently members of the front three were driven back. NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu and RDE Kedric Golston immediately come to mind, but LDE Adam Carriker was moved out at times, too. I don’t see Kemoeatu clogging things up as he needs to. On the occasions that he does, the run defense is quality. When he doesn’t, things fall apart. Perhaps he isn’t back to his old self after missing the 2009 season with an Achilles’ tear. Meanwhile, the Redskins inside linebackers are taking on linemen too often. Rams C Jason Brown got to ILB London Fletcher on Steven Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown and took him out of the play. The backers on the edges, specifically Andre Carter, aren’t getting off blocks to make tackles.

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It’s clear that there’s something wrong with the secondary playing all this zone coverage. Rams QB Sam Bradford beat the blitz with quick throws and either found holes in the zone or took advantage of soft coverage. CB DeAngelo Hall lauded the zone coverage during training camp because he believes it gives corners a chance to read the quarterback and make plays on the ball. That’s not happening often enough, though. Jim Haslett referred last Wednesday to a play in the Houston game on which the Redskins didn’t play Tampa 2 coverage correctly. He has to coach them up. The Redskins’ defense allowed the Rams to convert seven of 16 third-down attempts, and coverage deficiencies were a big reason.

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Speaking of Hall, he didn’t have a very good game—especially for a player who spoke out early last week. He fell on several plays. He finished with eight tackles, second-most on the team, because Bradford went after him.

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I’m dumbfounded by the fact that the Redskins, for the second week in a row, abandoned the run in the second half. They ran 12 times for 115 yards in the first half. The second half? Try five carries for one yard. Granted, the blocking up front this week again was hit-or-miss, but the Redskins had two second-half drives during which they did not run the ball, and the deficit on those series was still eight points or less. I don’t get it.

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Along those lines, I also don’t understand why RB Clinton Portis’ playing time diminished in the second half. He carried only once after halftime. I realize that coach Mike Shanahan said it was the Redskins’ game plan to play recently-promoted RB Ryan Torain on first and second downs and get Portis in the game on third downs, but Portis had 45 rushing yards in the first half and all of them came on first or second down. Something doesn’t add up here.

I’m not saying the Redskins’ would have won if Portis had played the whole game—goodness knows he’s not dominating games (I’m not sure why he slid down on that early 27-yard run)—but he’s this team’s workhorse. He’s the veteran, the grinder. He’s done it before. Gotta feed him the rock with the game still close.

Torain was fine. His 5-yard run around the right edge on second-and-goal from the 7 in the third quarter was a nice example of how he can plant and drive upfield. But his 36-yarder was set up by great blocking on the edge by TE Chris Cooley and FB Mike Sellers. That’s another way of saying that the success of the Redskins’ running game right now is determined by the quality of the blocking, not necessarily who’s carrying the ball.

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The Redskins’ offense is handcuffed by its lack of receiving depth behind Santana Moss. No wideouts besides Moss had a catch until garbage time. It’s a problem. The Redskins emerged from last week’s game against Houston with a sense that Joey Galloway could be a deep threat and that others could pitch in. That didn’t carry over, though. TE Chris Cooley didn’t threaten the deep middle as in past weeks. Perhaps it was because he stayed in more to block or because the Rams keyed on him. The game film will tell us.

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The Redskins were an awful 1-of-10 on third downs. Their average distance to-go on third down was 8.7 yards. Half of their third downs required 10 or more yards, and only two were shorter than seven yards. That’s simply not manageable. It’s a sign that the running game isn’t gaining chunks of yards and that the Redskins aren’t committing to it.

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Credit the Redskins for punching back after a horrific start. Yes, their early miscues ultimately gave the Rams the belief they could win, but Washington at least countered with 16 unanswered points. There were positives in there: McNabb’s touchdown pass to Moss, Phillip Daniels’ blocked field goal, Reed Doughty’s forced fumble. They are something to cling to, I suppose.

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It was a bit ironic to see FS Kareem Moore come up empty on his attempt to tackle RB Steven Jackson on Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown. As Moore was faked out of his cleats and never tried to wrap up, I thought that Reed Doughty wouldn’t have missed the tackle like that. But then Moore intercepted Bradford on the Rams’ next play from scrimmage with an athletic play on a throw that was behind him. Moore’s skills represent a tradeoff from Doughty’s. Neither is truly a complete player.

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It appears that Derrick Dockery is now “backup left guard Derrick Dockery.” I didn’t notice him play a single snap on offense, but I’ll have to double check that. Of course, Dockery could be plugged back in next week. I don’t think new starter Kory Lichtensteiger played particularly well, especially in the run game.

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DL Albert Haynesworth made a positive impact at times. He occupied the left tackle and left guard to free OLB Brian Orakpo for a second-quarter sack. He also got good penetration on a couple of short-yardage plays. It’s clear, however, that he’s just a situational player in this defense. That’s not exactly what you want for the money, but it’s better than nothing.

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K Graham Gano did an admirable job filling in for injured punter Josh Bidwell. He had four punts for an average of 35.3 yards. It sounds as though Bidwell aggravated his surgically repaired right hip. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be surprising if they move on without him.

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Here are a couple stats that will make you nauseous: The Rams had lost 27 of their previous 28 games coming into the day. They also had lost 14 straight home games. The Redskins, meanwhile, have lost 11 of their last 12 on the road.

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Up 27-10 in the third quarter against Houston last week, the Redskins seemed to be looking at a 3-0 start. Now, with Philly, Green Bay and Indianapolis lined up on the schedule, 1-5 is a real possibility. Oof.

…that’s all for now. I’m sure you’re in the mood to vent, so feel free to do so by leaving a comment, shooting me an email or hitting me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

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