How did the Rams win last week versus Washington, without Steven Jackson? The key play was Ken Darby's 12-yard burst for a touchdown that gave the Rams an immediate 7-point answer to Washington's first lead of the day.
But that run -- the surprising daylight that Darby found -- was set up by a combination of 18 plays immediately after Kedrick Golston tried to rip Jackson's leg off. Those plays, called by Shurmur and executed by Bradford and his receivers, changed the dynamic of the Redskins defense, softening up the middle of the field and creating space for Darby.
Here's a blow-by-blow that includes what the defense was trying to do, with visual emphasis on the key downs that the Rams converted to first downs.
Rams Drive #7: Clinging to a 14-13 lead.
3rd and 6, WAS 40 -- PASS Rams go four wide with Darby the lone setback. Redskins stack seven players within a yard of the LOS, but rush only four. Amendola motions from left to right, bringing the safety (Carlos Rogers #22) with him, but ducks into a pseudo H-back spot behind Gibson in the right slot as the ball is snapped.
Bradford takes a short drop, as Gibson blasts upfield and runs his defender right through Rogers. Whether by design or by decision on a sight read, Amendola cuts inside as his defender is caught outside, creating a huge hole for Bradford to throw to for an easy first down.
1st and 10, WAS 32 -- PASS Washington reverts to their base defensive look, a "5-2-2" look with the two outside linebackers (usually Orakpo and Andre Carter) bracketing the three down linemen, and two safeties playing ten yards behind the LOS. Redskins rush four (Carter often drops back into coverage), Bradford throws over the rushing Orakpo and finds Onobun for eight yards.
2nd and 2, WAS 24 -- PASS Rams have only two WRs and two RBs, so in addition to their 5-man front, the Redskins bring three more defenders into the box. They rush four and drop Orakpo into coverage, just to change things up. Bradford drops back deep and hits Karney with a little screen, and Karney takes a whale of a hit from Orakpo ... but gets the 1st down.
1st and 10, WAS 21 -- PASS Redskins play their base 5-2-2, but with both safeties right behind the inside linebackers. Before the snap, #41 Kareem Moore drops back deep. They bring five and stunt the two linebackers, prepared to dive in if it's a running play. Bradford makes the right read, audibling out of the run play, but lets go of a terrible throw that sails over Brandon Gibson's head.
2nd and 10, WAS 21 -- PASS Redskins line up with the same defensive look as first down, but rush only four, with Andre Carter laying back into space on the near side of the field. Bradford wheels to that side and finds Ken Darby with a screen, that Darby takes and turns into a very nice 8-yard pickup. This is Darby's first touch of the game, and his shiftiness caught Carter flat-footed.
3rd and 2, WAS 13 -- PASS The Rams go four-wide again, and Bradford sets up in shotgun, forcing the Redskins into an uncomfortable-looking nickel defense with only four players lined up in front and a single safety deep. However, the Rams' protection of the shotgun set has not been good all year long, and three of the four rushers converge on Bradford as he gets set to throw.
But Bradford gets the throw off, a rocket to the front corner of the end zone that Clayton skies for and brings down, his momentum carrying him out of bounds at the 1. A pretty spectacular throw and catch under pressure. The drive should have resulted in a touchdown at this point, but Keith Toston (apparently playing with a separated shoulder) ran for -1 and -3 yards on his two attempts at scoring his first NFL TD and giving the Rams a nice cushion of points. In fact, the Rams come away with nothing on this drive, thanks to a blocked chip shot field goal try to end the half.
Rams Drive #8: Responding after the Redskins take a 16-14 lead
1st and 10, STL 26 -- PASS The Rams start 4-wide in a shotgun set, forcing the Redskins back into their nickel D. Bradford fakes an inside handoff to Darby, then finds Amendola on the right side. Amendola picks up a nice block from Gibson (again), and rambles for 8.
2nd and 2, STL 34 -- RUN The Redskins get back to something like their base cover-two, but the Rams bring two WRs to the far side to force one of those safeties into coverage. Two TEs in the formation keeps the DBs on the near side of the field honest, leaving a base package of seven players in the box. Toston takes the deep handoff and plows behind a pretty good lead block by Jacob Bell and Jason Brown for the first down.
At this point, the camera gives us our first glimpse of a frustrated-looking Jim Haslett on the sideline, shaking his head.
1st and 10, STL 37 -- PASS Now this is getting fun. The Rams line up with only one WR (Gibson) on the near side, two TEs bunched on the far side, two RBs and Bradford under center. Looks like a power-run on first down, and it draws nine defenders into the box, with a safety deep and Deangelo Hall playing soft as well. Bradford has no trouble selling the play-fake, drops back about nine steps and has an even easier time finding Gibson 15 yards down the field on a square-in route. Love it.
Unfortunately, Rodger Saffold kills the next play with a false start, as the Redskins had six men up on the line of scrimmage, threatening blitz.
1st and 15, STL 48 -- PASS Rams start three-wide with TE Fells on the line, and motion Darby wide left to create an empty backfield look. The Redskins counter with a very soft nickel, trying to take away anything deep. Bradford, from the shotgun, throws almost immediately to Onobun, who couldn't come out of his break cleanly on the crossing route. Oddly enough, big OLB/DE #97 Lamar Alexander was in coverage in the slot. Good read, but incomplete.
2nd and 15, STL 48 -- PASS Redskins create a staggered defensive look with a 4-2-2-1 up the middle, perfectly willing to leave slot man Danny Amendola uncovered at the line of scrimmage. Just before the snap, though, #30 Laron Landry creeps forward to bring the blitz.
Both decisions prove disastrous for Washington, as #22 Rogers has to backpedal to hedge against Landry's gamble. Bradford gets the ball out lightning fast on a one-step dropback, and puts it in Amendola's hip pocket as he jets upfield, completely unmolested, and picks up 18 yards and a first down. 2nd and 15s aren't supposed to be this easy, but Bradford is completely taking apart the Redskins' D at this point. The cameras pan to the crowd, looking for appreciative fans, but instead find this lady. Lordy.
1st and 10, WAS 34 -- PASS The Redskins drop back into their base cover-two, and don't bite on a motioning tight end (Fells, I think). Rams line up with Gibson and Clayton, the TE and two RBs. Bradford executes a sweet play-fake, Darby throws an even sweeter block on Orakpo as the Redskins try and clog the running lanes with six bodies. Bradford throws over the top deep to Gibson... who is hit by Kareem Moore and can't hold on to what would have been another deep gain.
After the play, Jim Mora chides the young receiver a little from the broadcast booth, saying he "has to make that catch." No doubt Gibson wanted it back, and even though he had a productive day, couldn't help but self-critique after the game.
that was the WORST 60 minutes I've ever played. No excuses tho. I expect more outta myself & will b better next game. Starts tomorrow.
2nd and 10, WAS 34 -- PASS The Rams go four wide, but instead of covering his man in the slot (Gibson), Laron Landry again comes up to the line as the play is setting up, to provide a fifth rusher. Bradford does a perfunctory play-fake to Toston, and again throws quickly to the side of the field opposite from the rush, hitting Mardy Gilyard on a WR screen ... but Gilyard is popped immediately by Lamar Alexander and the ball squirts out.
3rd and 10, WAS 34 -- PASS This play is the killer, the death-blow to the Redskins. The Rams go empty backfield, with four wideouts and Fells in at TE. The Redskins counter with five deep and six pass-rushers, bringing a big blitz right up the gut.
All the WRs push up the field, forcing the safeties up the middle to backpedal. Cool as can be, Bradford hits Fells in stride, right over the blitz, and Fells rumbles for a huge first down. He takes a pretty nasty (and wholly unnecessary) crack in the kidneys from a frustrated Deangelo Hall, as he's going down to the ground. No flag, though.
1st and 10, WAS 22 -- RUN The Redskins again line up in their base 5-2-2 look, and the Rams have Darby set back very deep with Karney blocking in front. It seems that Darby was slow off the snap, but he cuts back to the inside, into what little hole there is as a swarming Redskins defense stops him for a gain of three.
Now that the Rams are back in the red zone, and undoubtedly going back to the pass, Jim Haslett calls on extra CB Philip Buchanon to play the pass.
2nd and 7, WAS 19 -- PASS The Rams seemingly invite pressure with a bunch formation, with two slot receivers stacked to the near side among the four wideouts, and Bradford in shotgun. The Redskins oblige with nine defenders in the box, a gutsy stand that leaves the end zone unpatrolled, but it pays off as Buchanon disrupts a short pass to Gibson. Again though, this is a pass that should have been caught, and Gibson knows it.
3rd and 7, WAS 19 -- PASS The Rams bunch four WRs again, two to a side well inside the numbers, again inviting pressure. This time, the Redskins show blitz with #52 Rocky McIntosh creeping up toward the line on the near side.
This is a really complex read for Bradford, as the Redskins drop back two of their supposed rushers. Whether it's intuition or film study, Bradford knows immediately where the hole is, as McIntosh is in no-man's land. He's got to cover the shifty, speedy Gilyard, who cuts a beautiful square-out underneath as Clayton bursts upfield ahead of him. McIntosh pursues and eventually makes the hit, but not before Gilyard has the ball in hand and has extended for that tough extra yard and the first down.
1st and 10, WAS 22 -- RUN At this point, with the Rams knocking on the door, the Redskins abandon their five-man front. Instead, they bring in Albert Haynesworth, perhaps expecting him to do the work of two players (ha!), while the rest of the defense prepares for more aerial onslaught. For the occasion, the Rams break out yet another formation -- trips left and a TE right, with Darby the lone setback 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
And then Darby knifes through the line, shoves down a flailing Kareem Moore, and drives into the end zone to give the Rams a lead that they would never look back from.
The camera quickly found Jim Haslett, chewing his lip in disbelief. Eight different receivers caught passes from Bradford in those eighteen plays, including Gilyard's first catch ever in the NFL -- the first down that set up Darby's romp. And while it was a running play that scored, it was Bradford's and Shurmur's daring vivisection of Haslett's defensive calls that killed the Redskins.
And that, whether or not Steven Jackson plays, is reason for hope against Seattle this Sunday.