Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's Week 2 game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has little to prove after his NFL debut—except to show that it wasn't a fluke. The pressure was on again this week, as the Redskins played homecoming opponent to yet another team on the road. After finding success against the mighty Saints last week, this proved to be a trap game for the Redskins in Week 2.
This was a dramatically-improved Rams team from a year ago, and the Redskins matched up well. A hard-fought contest boiled down to a handful of plays that may have gone differently in a friendlier venue. The Rams maximized their home field advantage today, handing Robert Griffin III and the 2012 Redskins the first loss of the season.
Griffin III was kept clean last week, but had significantly more company in the backfield this week. He responded to the harassment well, and the coaching staff designed rushing plays to keep the defenders off balance past the first quarter. On Griffin III's 15-yard run up the middle—the longest of his career—he was sandwiched between defenders, but still popped up and headed back to the huddle. For any NFL quarterback, especially one with mobility, mental and physical toughness are paramount. Griffin III showed that toughness today.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The top Redskins play happened on the very first play from scrimmage, as the Redskins defense gave up a 17-yard gain to Rams receiver Danny Amendola. After several Redskins defenders stood Amedola up, linebacker Perry Riley stripped Amendola of the ball, and cornerback Josh Wilson scooped up the fumble and raced 30 yards for the score. This was Wilson's first touchdown as a member of the Redskins, and his first since 2010 as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Since the arrival of Raheem Morris in Washington, no Redskin has benefitted more than DeAngelo Hall, who has been given the freedom he craves to move around and make plays on the ball. Hall did it again this week, collecting a team-high eight tackles, with a forced fumble on the first play, and a pass defensed later in the contest. Hall is an integral part of the Redskins secondary, and provided a spark again today.
With an 89-yard performance today, Redskins running back Alfred Morris has firmly seized control of the starting running back job in Washington. Through his first two games, Morris is averaging 92.5 yards per contest and a touchdown per game, while having already broken a season's worth of tackles. Was it not for another rookie leading the Redskins' offense, Morris would be getting the attention he deserves.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins are not just a finesse offense, as the Rams decided to make things chippy and physical throughout the game. Rams defenders went after Robert Griffin III and his receivers early, hitting them hard before and after the whistle. Griffin III and his teammates responded to the physicality and put together three touchdown to nearly match the Rams' production.
-- Redskins tight end Niles Paul will continue to develop on offense, but fills a major role on special teams, both in coverage and returns. On returns, he is frequently the second deep returner, providing Brandon Banks with his last line of protection. On kickoffs and punt coverage, he is one of the first defenders down the field to make the tackle. Paul had his breakout game in St. Louis last season with two special teams tackles, and had a fine encore today.
--Homecoming atmosphere: It is very hard to win on the road in the NFL, and a domed atmosphere amplifies the difficulty. Roughly 54,000 Rams fans made as much noise this week as 73,000 Saints fans made last week in the Superdome. The Redskins were unable to build the same lead this week, allowing the fans to hang around and play a role in the game. The Redskins were unable to spoil a second homecoming, but proved to be a very formidable opponent for their second game.
--Redskins rookie Alfred Morris has a chance to become the first all-purpose running back in Washington since Clinton Portis in the middle 2000's. First and foremost, he has the ability to pick up tough yards, which moves the chains and sets up the play action passes, like today's 68-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson. Secondly, he shows the awareness to follow his blocks through the crease and into the open field, like he did on his 27-yard gain in the first half. Morris is still developing at the pro level, but is showing early indications of consistent production.
--Trading for the No. 2 overall pick: When the Redskins traded for the No. 2 overall pick, Washington sent four draft picks to the Rams in exchange for one. Three of the selections were made, with the Redskins taking Griffin III, while the Rams selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first and cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the second round. This trade is still years away from being fairly assessed, but nothing happened in the first two weeks to suggest that the Redskins missed out on this trade.
--Kicker Billy Cundiff continued to inspire confidence on the fly, learning his teammates in a hostile environment. Discounting his desperation 62-yard miss to end the game, Cundiff is perfect in Washington and has done so with two different long snappers in two weeks. He has also been an asset on kickoffs, limiting the Rams to one return for 12 yards. Cundiff has done everything right to validate his coaches' confidence in him.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--Joshua Morgan's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty could not have come at a worse time on offense. Rather than having 3rd-and-1 at the Rams 30-yard line with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Redskins got the ball at the 45 with 3rd-and-16. One failed pass and an unlikely field goal attempt later, and the Redskins are walking off the field as three-point losers.
--For the second time in as many weeks, Redskins special teams gave up a blocked punt to Sav Rocca. Head coach Mike Shanahan said return teams would continue to test the Redskins' protection until they fixed the problem, and it worked again this week. Look for the Bengals to bring pressure next week, because the Redskins have a major problem in punt protection.
--Injury bug strikes: Not only did Brian Orakpo re-injure his shoulder/pectoral and leave the game, but defensive end Adam Carriker was lost to injury as well. With safety Brandon Meriweather already sidelined before the game, the Redskins were without three top defensive players for most of this contest.
--It was going to happen eventually, but Griffin III turned the ball over the first time, getting picked off by veteran defender Cortland Finnegan with 45 second remaining the second quarter. The turnover ultimately led to a Rams field goal, but more importantly gave the momentum back to the Rams right before halftime. Griffin III bounced back with a strong second half and still maintains a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio, but this was his first big mistake.
The Redskins finally travel home next week, celebrating the teams' 2012 home opener at FedExField against the Cincinnati Bengals. Griffin III will be matched by second-year starter Andy Dalton, who took his team to the playoffs in 2011, under the tutelage of former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The Redskins will be back on the road the following week, facing the Buccaneers for the second time in a month, making the trip to Tampa Bay and Raymond James Stadium for Week 4.
With a second road victory to open the season, the 2012 Redskins would have started out the season 2-0 on the road for the first time since 1982.
Credit the Redskins for holding their composure until late in the game, as the game atmosphere devolved into chaos in the first quarter. After the Redskins took an early lead, the Rams battled back by any means necessary, and eventually won on the scoreboard as well. In the end, the Redskins lost their composure with the game on the line, and lost a game they probably could have won.
On the other hand, the Redskins played with passion today, and refused to back down from a bully opponent. Today's extra-curricular activity was a product of many things, including playing a non-division opponent for three years in a row in the same location. Both teams had a lot to battle for today, and the Rams made a few more plays than the Redskins did.
The Redskins travel home next week with an opportunity to get back on track against another challenging opponent, welcoming the Bengals to FedExField for the first home game of the year. Look for the Redskins to bounce back physically and emotionally, as they begin their year-long battle against the AFC North.