by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen

The Redskins are closing in on their fourth game, and their first chance to respond to a loss.

With a win Sunday the Redskins will enter their bye week on a positive note, and more importantly they’ll be 3-1 for the first time since 2008. The road victory would be Washington’s third in-conference and second against the NFC West. The Redskins would have won three of their first four games for just the sixth time since 1997.

All that’s standing in Washington’s way is a meeting with the St. Louis Rams, a winless team that has been out-scored by 60 points through three games. The Rams have played three quality opponents (the Eagles, Giants and Ravens) but they have been beaten by margins of 18, 12 and 30 points in those matchups.

The Redskins’ coaching staff and players have praised St. Louis’ talent all week. And they should. The Rams have a very talented young quarterback who was taken at the top of the draft last year and a running back that has amassed more rushing yards than any rusher in franchise history. There are teams with less talent.

But what the coaches and player sat Redskins Park won’t tell you is this: Right now, in their first three games of the season the Rams played poorly, and the Redskins are a better team.

The Redskins’ first order of business on Sunday should be to establish a successful running game. This shouldn’t be too difficult. St. Louis is allowing 174.3 rushing yards per game (worst in football).

Additionally, Tim Hightower has thoroughly enjoyed running against the Rams over the past three seasons. The former NFC-West based ball-carrier is the active leader in yards per rush against St. Louis, averaging 4.9 an attempt. He’s scored four touchdowns against the Rams, one away from tying Thomas Jones for second-most against St. Louis among active players.

Defensively, the Redskins’ goal should be to harass second-year passer Sam Bradford.

Bradford has been hit 30 times in his three starts, the highest amount in the league. (For comparison’s sake: Only one other quarterback has been hit more than 24 times on the season). The 12 sacks the Rams have allowed are fourth-worst in football. If Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan weren’t salivating while watching film this week, they aren’t going to this season.

The Rams have committed 24 offensive penalties, the fifth-most in the NFL. They’ve converted on just 26 percent of their third-down conversions, second-to-last in football.

The one thing the Rams have done exceptionally well this season is run the ball. St. Louis is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and 108 yards per game on the ground. Steven Jackson is getting healthier (he returned to the lineup lst weekend against the Ravens) and Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood are above-average second and third options.

Washington hasn’t stuffed the run well enough over the past few weeks to assume that the Rams won’t be able to move the chains between the tackles on Sunday. But the Redskins have had the majority of their run-defending struggles while spread out, defending the pass. They’ll have to be more stingy and clog more holes up front this weekend.

It probably isn’t fair to say that the Rams are a bad football team. This is the NFL. But they have played like a bad team.

Sure, the Rams and Redskins both have high-priced players and top draft picks on their payrolls. They are both professional teams and neither has been all that successful over the past few seasons.

But this is the type of  game the Redskins have to win if they want to make major strides under Mike Shanahan this season. If they don’t win games like Sunday’s in St. Louis, than things haven’t changed. With a loss, it will appear that they’re not much better than last year’s 6-10 group that got beat by the Rams in week-three.


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