Much of the focus at FedEx Field on Sunday will be on the Rams’ defensive line, perhaps the best in the game end to end, going against the Redskins’ offensive line, a group that got off to a pretty good start against the Dolphins but still has a lot to prove.
But the game could be decided by the other two sets of linemen on the field. The Redskins brought in three free agents and spend some major draft capital to try to bolster their defensive front while St. Louis will start two rookies on their offensive line. If the Redskins can stop the running game and put some pressure on Nick Foles they will have a much better chance preventing an 0-2 start to their season.
The rookies are left guard Jamon Brown, a 6-4, 330-lb. third-round pick out of Louisville and second-round right tackle Rob Havenstein, 6-7, 332 out of Wisconsin. The center is Tim Barnes, who has been with the Rams since 2011 but will be making just his sixth start. At left guard is Rodger Saffold, a 2010 second-round pick who didn’t work out after three years at left tackle.
Greg Robinson, the left tackle, has an indirect connection to the Redskins. The Rams picked him second overall in 2014 with the pick that was Washington’s final installment on the trade for Robert Griffin III. Robinson struggled early on last year but he has settled in nicely.
Nick Foles was sacked just twice by the Seahawks in Week 1 with only one of those coming at the hands of a lineman. The Rams rushed for just 76 yards on 26 attempts (2.9 yards per carry) but they scored two rushing touchdowns. The also should have starting running back Tre Mason back for this game after he missed the opener with a hamstring injury. It’s also possible that top draft pick Todd Gurley will get some carries for the Rams.
There are a few matchups to watch here. Jason Hatcher had perhaps his best game with the Redskins in Week 1, recording four tackles, a sack, and batting down a pass. He also should get partial credit for the Redskins’ only takeaway of the game. Hatcher had both of his hands on Ryan Tannehill, forcing the QB to spin out of the sack. But he spun right into Preston Smith, who got the sack and strip. Saffold will be responsible for blocking Hatcher most of the day.
The rookie Havenstein will have a handful with Ryan Kerrigan. He had half a sack, two hurries and batted down a pass against the Dolphins.
The key to the battles in the trenches may be whether or not nose tackle Terrance Knighton will be able to play. The massive Knighton missed practice on Wednesday with a rib injury. If he can’t go the line is significantly weaker. It’s not that Chris Baker is not capable of filling in but few in the NFL have Knighton’s combination of size and athletic ability.
It seems almost certain that the Rams’ D-line will make some plays. Chances are that the Redskins will only be able to survive that if Hatcher, Smith, Kerrigan, Knighton, and company can make some good things happen on their own.