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Prediction: Strange things happen when Redskins, Rams meet

Prediction: Strange things happen when Redskins, Rams meet

Over the last decade or so, strange things tend to happen when the Redskins play the Rams.

In 2008, guard Pete Kendall caught a Jason Campbell pass that had been batted in the air. He fumbled and future Redskins safety O. J. Atogwe scooped up the ball and went 75 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Rams, in their first game under interim coach Jim Haslett, a lead they never relinquished in a 19-17 win.

In 2012 the Redskins went to St. Louis for the second game of the Robert Griffin III era. Griffin wasn’t as spectacular as he had been in New Orleans for his NFL debut but he had the Redskins in position to send the game into overtime with a late field goal. But receiver Josh Morgan was flagged for throwing the ball at cornerback Courtland Finnegan and Billy Cudiff’s 62-yard attempt never had a chance.

Last December the meeting between the two teams was not really all that strange. The Rams were playing well and the Redskins were in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Colt McCoy is not very good at avoiding sacks and it was a bad matchup as he got sacked six times by the Rams’ very active defense. They eventually knocked McCoy out of the game and Griffin came in and took one more sack. The Rams won 24-0.

The game at FedEx Field this Sunday looks to many like an easy Rams win. The guys in Vegas have the road team favored by about a field goal, which means they see the visitors as the clearly superior team. And they could well be. But we really don’t know yet.

The Rams were a 6-10 team last year; they lost their last three games. They couldn’t build off of the momentum from posting back to back shutouts against the Raiders and Redskins. They finished the year in a middle of the pack defensively in terms of yards and points scored and near the bottom on offense. They had their moments, including home wins over the Seahawks and Broncos, but they couldn’t generate anything consistently.

Under Jeff Fisher, who has been the coach since 2012, they have four two-game winning streaks, none longer. They have five losing streaks of three games or longer. Their record has gotten worse each year Fisher has been there, going from 7-8-1 in 2012 to 7-9 to 6-10 last year. If you are what your record says you are the Rams are not getting better under Fisher.

Are the Rams talented enough and consistent enough to come off of a big win at home on an artificial surface that maximizes their speed on both sides of the ball and win a road game on grass? Will they get two return touchdowns like they got and needed to beat the Seahawks, especially considering the Redskins are unlikely to punt the ball anywhere Tavon Austin?

From their point of view, for the Redskins to have a chance to win they will have to take advantage of whatever opportunities the Rams may present them. Let’s compare what the Redskins did on Sunday to what the Broncos did in their win over the Chiefs on Thursday night.

Peyton Manning passed for about 50 more yards than Kirk Cousins did against the Dolphins, but he needed 14 more pass attempts to get there. Denver could not run the ball, rushing for just 61 yards on 22 carries, less than half of the 125 yards that Alfred Morris posted alone.

So why did the Broncos win and the Redskins lose? For one thing, Manning was able to get his team in for the tying score in the late going while Cousins could not. That’s just Manning being who he is and Cousins being who he is.

But the Broncos defense took advantage of opportunities. When Aqib Talib and Chris Harris had their hands on Alex Smith passes, they held on. The Redskins dropped at least two potential interceptions of Ryan Tannehill, one of which would been six points or at least a first and goal. When the ball was on the ground late in the game in Kansas City, Denver got the scoop and score. When the second-half kickoff was fumbled by Miami and was there for the taking, Dashon Goldson couldn’t come up with it. If the Redskins had taken advantage of their opportunities like the Broncos maximized some of theirs, the outcome last Sunday may have been different.

So we have the Rams, who have yet to show that they can play consistent, winning football week after week, against the Redskins, who can’t put together a winning streak either and didn’t take advantage of some golden opportunities last week. I’m not so sure that Rams will come to town ready to play lights out again, perhaps suffering a bit of a hangover after their big win over the defending NFC champs.

The problem for the Redskins here is that the Rams can be off their game to an extent and still win if the home team doesn’t make some breaks. And before I can predict that the Redskins will create opportunities and take advantage of them I need to see them do it on a somewhat consistent basis.

Rams 20, Redskins 10

Prediction record this season: 1-0

 

 

The Redskins have the talent to win the game. But do they have the heart and brains?

 

This style? https://www.evernote.com/shard/s32/nl/896911159/4d06dce3-639d-4742-985f-904fb0944d19/

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

More Redskins: When the talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags before

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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