1. What's the impact of Marcus Washington's absence? It's a big one. Washington was not making plays, but he was by far the most consistent linebacker and the one who provided tons of energy for the defense. Without him, the Redskins' linebacking corps consists of two mediocre players and one rusty vet (Jeff Posey) or raw rookie (Rocky McIntosh). But this is a good time to get McIntosh more action. He looked a little more comfortable last week on a couple plays. On one, he did an excellent job shedding his block -- watch how he uses his arms and hands -- and getting in on the tackle. But he's also stiff in coverage and does not play with as much certainty in this area. But he needs experience.
2. Have the Redskins turned a corner offensively? A little bit, as far as establishing an identity and having a young QB show many flashes. But, remember, they still haven't scored more than 20 points in any of Jason Campbell's starts. It's certainly not all his fault, but for all they did last week, they should have scored more. Another game with 16 points won't cut it if they want to pull a road upset against a good offense. St. Louis' offense has scored at least 20 points in four straight games. They still need to make more plays downfield; and they still fail too often in the red zone. They need to change both areas or else they won't progress as an offense. It's not all on Campbell by any means.
3. Will their red zone success change this weekend? We think it will, a little. But only if a couple things change. They must get Ladell Betts more involved in this area for starters. T.J. Duckett is a soft runner for a big guy; watch his feet -- he seems to run on air and it's rare when he runs over guys because it takes him a while to get a head of steam. Betts offers versatility, an important trait in the red zone. They can run or pass with Betts. Also, Campbell's decision making is still slow inside the scoring area and that's another problem, but one that can be cured by experience. He's still waiting for guys to get open and then throw; he needs to throw at the cut or before. We'd also like to see more big receivers who can run physical inside routes. Alas, they don't have such a player.
4. Will Ladell Betts have another big game? He should. The Rams are a horrible run defense. So ignore the shutout last week against the Raiders. It really should come with an asterisk because, well, they're the Raiders. St. Louis is weak up the middle and their safeties are not good in run support. That's a recipe for another day of 10-yard runs. Our guess is that Betts will surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the first half (he needs 67 yards). And keep this in mind -- 21 percent of his runs thus far have been for 10 yards or more. By comparison, 13 percent of Clinton Portis' runs went that far.
5. Will Betts finally break a long one? He's very close to doing just that so sooner or later it will happen. This week is as good as any considering the weak state of the run defense. Another comparison: Portis had three runs of 30 or more yards; Betts has none. Portis looks for such runs; Betts does not. So when Portis gets in the clear, he's looking for more. Betts needs to start thinking big runs once he gets to that second level.
6. Did the defense turn a corner last week? A little bit. But in the first 13 games, they were bad so does one game change that? Or was it just a bad game by the Saints' offense? What the D did well was stop the running game and they must do so again this week. The Rams will test the linebackers with pulling action and off-tackle runs with Steven Jackson. They will attack the middle, but they most definitely will test the outside 'backers. For the D to show they've turned a corner, they must again stop the run -- that's what they hang their hat on -- and create a couple more turnovers. It will be difficult to win again if they do neither, or even just one. It does help that Cornelius Griffin and Lemar Marshall and Shawn Springs appear healthier. Sean Taylor is also coming off one of his best games and he's played much better the past month or so.
7. Who provides the biggest worry for Washington's offense? Defensive end Leonard Little. He usually lines up on the left side, which means another good test for still-hobbled Jon Jansen. He's feeling better than he did a week ago, but that's really not saying a lot. It just means he doesn't have to walk with a constant limp. Little not only has 12 sacks, but he's also motivated by a perceived Pro Bowl snub. He's constantly double teamed yet still posts big numbers. Here, ends get double-teamed and use that as an excuse not to get big numbers. But that's another story. As for Little, he's multi-dimensional and can beat you with speed or power. The Redskins have done a better job using their tight ends in protection or having them, or the backs, chip the ends on their way out.
8. Who's the biggest worry for the defense? There's a few of them: Jackson is a powerful runner and if he gets going, the Redskins are in trouble. But the passing game is dangerous, just as New Orleans' was. QB Marc Bulger makes good, fast decisions and he has two excellent receivers in Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. The Redskins' corners must be very careful. Shawn Springs has been better in zone, or with safety help right over the to, this season. And Carlos Rogers still gets beat by double moves (though he has improved).
9. What other matchup can the Redskins exploit? The Redskins should have a slight edge against the Rams' corners because of their speed. Tye Hill is fast, but he's also only a rookie. They should have an edge against Fakhir Brown, too. Of course, we're assuming Brandon Lloyd won't lose another ball in the lights. Heck, maybe he'll even do what every other receiver in the league who starts has done: score a touchdown. But let's not get too excited. But the opportunity for big plays is available. And the Redskins have the right QB to make those plays. Campbell throws a beautiful deep ball, in terms of strength and trajectory. More important, unlike Mark Brunell, he will stand in the pocket with poise looking for those plays. The mindset is as crucial as anything. Campbell needs to learn to check down, but it beats having to teach an old QB (Brunell) how to be aggressive downfield.
10. Will the Redskins win? Well, the Rams stink. There's a reason they've lost seven of nine. The Redskins have re-established a mindset that I like. They're playing tough. I'm concerned about the defense this week, but the offense should be able to move the ball all day -- all frickin day. If Joe Gibbs quits being so cautious in the red zone and isn't afraid to try and win a game, rather than settle for field goals, then the Redskins should have a Merry Christmas. Redskins 24, Rams 21.