For the second straight week, a young Washington Redskins offensive line will be tested by one of the best defensive lines in the NFL -- this time in the Rams.
The task doesn't get any easier for the Washington Redskins' offensive line this week.
Last Sunday, the Miami Dolphins and their defensive line featuring Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake came to town. For the most part, especially the right side of the line with Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff, were able to subdue their pass rush.
Now this week, the St. Louis Rams are in Washington and they boast perhaps the best front seven in the league, led by 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Robert Quinn and 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald.
"There are never any breaks in the NFL," Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams said. "Week to week is going to present a challenge. This week like last week is another challenge in the trenches where the strong point of their team is their front seven. We have another challenge that we have to step up to the plate for. We got to be good. We have to communicate. We got to all be on the same page. We got to try to neutralize their front four. They are extremely talented."
Last season when the two teams faced off for a late-season matchup at FedExField, the Rams stifled the Redskins' offense, holding them to just 206 yards and zero points for their first shutout in more than three years.
The Rams also recorded seven sacks on the day.
"They're all extremely athletic," Williams said. "They're a strong front. Four, five first rounders, so the talent is there, no secret in that. All those guys are ultra productive. All those guys do a really good job in everything the pass and in the run game. They're going to present their own challenge. It's an extremely athletic bunch. We have to work together. We have to be on the same page or it can be a long day."
Donald got off to a strong start last week, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a nine-tackle, two-sack performance against the Seahawks.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Donald is "just really active" on the field, able to get "up the field so fast."
"You think you can just run the ball at him because he's not as big as a 3-technique or a defensive lineman as some of these guys are, but he's so active and so quick off the snap that he gets penetration and he's disruptive in the run game, also," Gruden said. "Then, obviously, in the pass game, he's as good as a pass rusher as there is at the defensive lineman position. He just plays hard all the time and is very active, like I said. Then you have Quinn on defensive end over Trent, and obviously, [Chris] Long who's done a lot of good things. Then, [William] Hayes who comes in as a very strong, powerful guy, [Alec] Ogletree can run at linebacker and [James] Laurinaitis… they're a solid defense."
The Redskins may be able to limit the Rams' potential, though, if they can find ways to stretch the field while still sticking to their plan of running the ball early and often.
Of course DeSean Jackson – perhaps the game's biggest deep threat -- will not play this weekend following the hamstring injury he suffered last Sunday.
"They feel like their corners can cover in their single-high deal," Gruden said. "They do mix up some two-high eventually down the road once you get moving the ball on them. We're going to have to run the ball – eight-man, seven-man, six-man boxes – effectively. Figure out a way but when we do throw it, protection is the first priority. They bring a lot of different blitzes. They have got great pass rushers even when they don't blitz. It'll be a great challenge for us. Obviously they took it to us last year, shutting us out. Hopefully we'll be ready for them."
Kirk Cousins will be making his first start against the Rams after not appearing in the game last December.
Cousins was sacked only once last weekend, thanks in large part to the play of Scherff and Moses.
A difficult one-two punch to deal with to start his NFL career, Cousins told Scherff it "just comes after you week after week," but that he has confidence in the first-year Iowa product.
"That's what makes this league so great and how it can separate the pretenders from the contenders," Cousins said. "Its part of the NFL, yeah, great defensive line and we're going to see great defensive lines down the road consistently week in and week out. It's a test and I think our guys will be ready for the challenge and they're certainly working very hard this week to be prepared."