Strug­gling Red­skins face im­proved Rams on Sun­day.

Cousins needs to es­tab­lish rhythm

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

ASH­BURN | When the 2017 sched­ule was re­leased, the Red­skins’ Week 2 matchup against the Los An­ge­les Rams seemed like one of the eas­ier games to pen­cil in as a win.

Not any­more.

The Red­skins strug­gled out of the gate last Sun­day, while the Rams tram­pled the Scott Tolzien­led Colts 46-9. Yes, the Colts are bad, but the Rams were too last year. The blowout shows im­prove­ment, and Los An­ge­les is now fa­vored to win at home.

With tough games against the Raiders at home and the Chiefs in Kansas City com­ing in Weeks 3 and 4, the Red­skins need a win Sun­day. Lose, and they’ll be in a 0-2 hole with games against two of the NFL’s best teams com­ing be­fore the bye. Here’s a look at sev­eral crit­i­cal el­e­ments that will likely de­cide who wins and loses.

When the Red­skins have the ball

On of­fense, the most im­por­tant thing for Wash­ing­ton and Kirk Cousins to do will be to es­tab­lish a rhythm. Cousins made good throws in spots against the Ea­gles, but looked un­com­fort­able and strug­gled to get the easy com­ple­tions that made him one of the most ef­fi­cient quarterbacks in foot­ball last year.

Things won’t get any less pres­sure-based against Wade Phillips’ de­fense, es­pe­cially with de­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald ex­pected to play for the first time this year and with de­fen­sive end/out­side line­backer Robert Quinn’s snap count likely to in­crease from the 50 per­cent he played against the Colts.

Cousins will need bet­ter pro­tec­tion — the four sacks he took on Sun­day was the same amount Los An­ge­les got against Tolzien — but he’ll also need to get the ball out quickly and have his re­ceivers in

the right spots for in­cre­men­tal, chain-mov­ing gains. Jami­son Crow­der (14 yards against the Ea­gles), Jor­dan Reed (36) and Vernon Davis (zero) should have space to work un­der­neath, where Phillips usu­ally has his lineback­ers play man-to-man. The Red­skins can get fa­vor­able matchups against lineback­ers Alec Ogle­tree and Mark Bar­ron 1-on-1, and will need to take ad­van­tage.

“You can de­sign plays all you want for a per­son, but they can dou­ble them or they can roll to him or they can have zone cov­er­age un­der­neath him and some­body be­hind him,” coach Jay Gru­den said. “It’s not al­ways that easy just to throw a ball to one guy. So you try to move him around and get him in dif­fer­ent spots. Like Jor­dan [Reed], you try to play him in the slot, you try to play him out­side, and you try to play him in the core. And then Jami­son [Crow­der], you try to play him in­side, out­side, and you try to play him in the core.”

The Red­skins also need to — say it with me — recom­mit to the run game. If the Rams’ de­fen­sive front is go­ing to be pre­vented from tee­ing off on Cousins, Wash­ing­ton needs to stay multi-di­men­sional.

When the Rams have the ball

The Red­skins can down­play the role fa­mil­iar­ity with Sean McVay will play in Sun­day’s game, but one thing is cer­tain: They know he’ll pass the ball. Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff was 21-for-29 with a ca­reer-high 306 yards against the Colts. Goff looked bet­ter than he did at any point his rookie sea­son, and dis­trib­uted the ball ef­fec­tively with four pass-catch­ers over 50 yards.

Wash­ing­ton will have to de­cide what to do against Sammy Watkins, while also con­tain­ing Robert Woods, big slot re­ceiver Cooper Kupp and the Rams’ tight ends. Slot cor­ner­back Ken­dall Fuller had a good game Sun­day, but Kupp’s size and strength will be chal­leng­ing. Against Watkins, the Red­skins could have Josh Nor­man shadow him, or keep Nor­man on the left side like they did against the Ea­gles. A good start to the sea­son for Bashaud Bree­land may make that de­ci­sion a bit eas­ier, but the di­verse at­tack LA put on the field in Week 1 presents chal­lenges.

Jonathan Allen, Ryan Ker­ri­gan and Pre­ston Smith all had good games against the Ea­gles, and those dis­rup­tive play­ers in Wash­ing­ton’s front-seven should be able to win against the Rams of­fen­sive line and pres­sure Goff, which the Colts de­fense couldn’t do.

When Goff isn’t throw­ing, LA has a high-end weapon on the ground in Todd Gur­ley. Gur­ley’s ef­fec­tive in the re­ceiv­ing game, where he gained 56 yards against the Colts, but he’s still one of the most dy­namic run­ning backs in the game with the ball in his hands.

“A big threat,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Manusky said Thurs­day.

The Red­skins did well con­tain­ing the Ea­gles’ run game, but Gur­ley presents a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.

“We made some plays,” Manusky said. “I mean, Ryan [Ker­ri­gan] made a cou­ple of plays, Zach [Brown] made a cou­ple of plays in­side, [Jonathan] Allen made a cou­ple of plays. They’re do­ing a good job of mak­ing sure we make them a lit­tle bit one-di­men­sional and they started throw­ing the ball.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Los An­ge­les Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff threw a ca­reer-high 306 yards against the In­di­anapo­lis Colts last Sun­day.

RED­SKINS AT RAMS Sun­day: 4:25 p.m. TV: Fox wash­ing­ton­times.com /sports

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins de­fen­sive end Jonathan Allen should be able to pres­sure Los An­ge­les Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff on Sun­day.

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