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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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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

MORE REDSKINS: FIVE UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

RELATED: FIVE REDSKINS UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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