The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Rams 2017 Week 2 showdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
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IMPROVE PLAY ON THIRD DOWNS
Simply put, the Redskins weren't good enough on third downs on both sides of the football in Washington's Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The offense was 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third downs while the defense allowed the Eagles to convert on more than half of their tries (8-of-14).
Washington's defensive unit actually was stout in short distances on third downs, as they held Philadelphia to just 2-of-4 on third down attempts with five yards or less needed to move the chains.
But the Redskins allowed the Eagles to convert on half of their attempts of 3rd-and-8 or greater yardage. On the Eagles' first third down of the game, it looked like the Redskins were going to force a three-and-out. But two near sacks weren't enough to take down Carson Wentz, who launched a 58-yard touchdown bomb on 3rd-and-12.
To stop such plays, the Redskins need to get home and finish their plays, especially with the quarterback in their grasp.
"Rushing the passer. Got to rush the passer," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "You can play different coverages, there's going to be a hole in a zone if you play zone, man-to-man you're going to have to buckle down and play good, tight man-to-man. At the end of the day, you've got to rush the passer. You can't give the quarterback time to throw and set his feet that easily like we did. It's easy for pro quarterbacks to pick you apart and find an open receiver if they have time."
Offensively, the Redskins can't make the same mistakes they did last week on third downs if they want to score their first victory of the season. The unit was 0-of-2 inside the red zone and a critical third down interception by Trent Williams took points off the board.
"We have to do a lot of things better," Gruden said. "We have to protect better. We have to throw the ball better. We have to run better routes. So it is just a combination of things. I have got to call better plays. I have to call plays that are conducive to those situations and the coverages that we are going to see by percentage and then we have to protect. So a little bit of everything."
BE ON YOUR TOES AGAINST AN OLD FOE
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is on a collision course with his former offensive coordinator.
Los Angeles Rams' head coach Sean McVay and Gruden will partake in a game of minds during Sunday's matchup at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Gruden and McVay, both offensive minded coaches, face the unique challenge of balancing both familiar schemes while also incorporating ones their opponent has never seen.
"We have to be smart and aware that they're very familiar with our scheme and with our personnel. It is a unique situation, so we have to be aware of that and plan accordingly," Gruden said. "There's always people in other buildings that have information or experience that they can share to try to help each end. You just have to try to be a step ahead and have a plan to handle that."
Cousins, on the other hand, said he was more focused on the Rams' players on the field rather than the coaches on the sideline. According to him, that's where the real battle will be: on the turf.
"I think Sean would tell you and we would say that ultimately it comes down to executing and if we can run our plays very detailed and be disciplined in the way we execute, usually that can overcome familiarity," Cousins said. "But certainly if we don't execute well, it certainly gives them the opportunity to capitalize."
Cousins had his best year in McVay's offense in 2016, throwing for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns. McVay's impact can already be seen in Los Angeles, where second year quarterback Jared Goff earned his first career win in Week 1, throwing for 306 yards and a score with no interceptions.
GET READY FOR AN ALL-PRO RETURN
After holding out for the entirety of training camp and all of the preseason, Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald returned to the team's headquarters last weekend and will make his season debut Sunday against the Redskins.
Contract negotiations aside, Donald is one of the NFL's top defensive players. Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at one point, too.
In total, he's recorded 164 tackles with 29 sacks, seven passes defensed and four fumbles forced in his career to date.
Even though he hasn't played in an NFL game since January.
"We're assuming he's playing 70 snaps," Gruden said. "He doesn't come out in nickel, he probably won't come out in base. I don't know why you would take him out. I'm sure he's in good shape, so I imagine we'll see a lot of Aaron Donald."
Regardless of how many snaps he appears on, the Redskins know what sort of impact he can make.
In two career games against Washington, Donald has totaled nine tackles with 1.5 sacks.
"I wish he would have held out another week, but that's the life in the NFL," said Redskins tackle Trent Williams with a smile. "Nowadays, everybody has these D-lines who are souped up, so we just have to bring our hard hat. It's going to be another tough one."
MAKE 'EM ONE-DIMENSIONAL
Coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign, third-year running back Todd Gurley still offers the same explosiveness and vision that made him one of the most exciting young players in the league as a rookie.
The 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year burst onto the NFL scene after an impressive career at Georgia. After being selected at No. 10 overall in the draft, he lived up to his high expectations in his first year, running for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. While his numbers took a dip last year, he still maintains an impressive set of tools, argues Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.
"[He's] a big threat. He is still a good running back," Gruden said this week. "He has great vision, good sight lines. He has got burst through the hole. He is a good back."
Gurley kicked off his 2017 season with a so-so performance last week against the Colts. He struggled for the most part in the running game, rushing for just 40 yards on 19 attempts, but found the end zone once. While he was unable to get much of anything going on the ground, quarterback Jared Goff completed five passes to Gurley for 56 yards.
It was somewhat of an underwhelming performance as a rusher for Gurley, but Gruden noted that he had a couple runs that were called back due to penalty.
Still, in an offense that has a multitude of young and new faces, Gurley remains a focal point.
"They're going to give us a lot of different formations," Gruden said. "A lot of change-of-tempos offensively, quick counts, speed breaks, no huddle, a lot of different formations, a lot of stacks and they've got a good running game with Todd Gurley and he changes it up with good play-action passes."