After facing the league's No. 1-ranked offense a week ago, the Washington Redskins' defense knows it certainly has its work cut out for it again on Sunday, when it takes on the St. Louis Rams at FedExField.
Last week, the Rams exploded for six offensive touchdowns – two passing and four rushing – in their 52-0 blowout victory over the Oakland Raiders, tossing their No. 25 ranking in total offense out the window in the process.
Washington's defenders say their main challenge on Sunday will be slowing down the Rams' momentum, particularly in their run game, which is led by Tre Mason, who leads all NFC rookies with 562 rushing yards, including a career-best 117 last week against the Raiders.
"I like their running backs," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "The young guy Mason they picked up… he is a really good runner. He runs hard, has great hands – does a nice job."
Redskins defensive end Jarvis Jenkins said Mason is a "one-cut-and-hit-the-hole" type of runner.
"He's low. He has leverage," Jenkins said. "He has good lower body strength and that's key for him. He's really smart to hit those [holes] right when they develop and open, so we've got to make sure we stay on our gaps all the way through the whole down."
For defensive end Jason Hatcher, the best way to stop Mason – an Auburn product who has also caught 12 passes for 112 yards this season – is to swarm him with plenty of burgundy helmets.
"We've just got to hit him, got to get hats to the ball, population to the ball," Hatcher said. "He's a good back. He's got great vision. He runs hard. First tackle, you usually don't get him, so we've got to gang tackle him. If we just do that, we're going to be OK."
The Rams' threats at wide receiver will be just as challenging, if slightly different from the Indianapolis Colts', the Redskins' opponent last Sunday.
Kenny Britt, who poses a persistent deep threat, was curiously absent from St. Louis' offensive arsenal against Oakland, hauling in just one catch for 13 yards. But he's capable of much more, evidenced in his 128-yard performance against Denver on November 16.
Tavon Austin, meanwhile, has emerged as a dual threat, often taking snaps from the backfield and then finding space for receptions. He'll be one of the more elusive Rams to stop Sunday, a goal that the Redskins have implemented in their practice this week.
"Tackling [running back] Tavon [Austin] is the hard one," Haslett said. "He's a shifty guy, a very productive guy at West Virginia, productive in the NFL. They try to find ways to get him the football whether it's running [or] throwing screens. Obviously he's such a talent they're just going to be trying to get him the ball and let him play. I think he's a heck of a football player."
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland has experience facing Austin and third receiver Stedman Bailey, and said he knows what to expect when they take the field.
"They're pretty good athletes," said Breeland. "I played against Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin in the Orange Bowl my freshman year. They're pretty good athletes. They're explosive and they're very good with their feet."
At the other end of the locker room, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan echoed Breeland's words about the Rams' dynamic weapons. But, he intimated, playing at FedExField, with a louder home crowd behind the defense, will help negate their play, and make things difficult at the line for quarterback Shaun Hill to manage his offense to another victory.
"We obviously would love to have a full house – make more noise, have them go on the silent count – that really helps us up front," said Kerrigan. "Whenever offensive linemen don't know the snap, that's a huge advantage for us defensive linemen."
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