Redskins linebacker Chris Clemons saw all the potent ingredients that make up the St. Louis Rams' offensive formula. There was the indoor turf, the spread formations, the constant four-wide receiver sets and the lingering "Greatest Show on Turf" moniker.
Redskins safety Ryan Clark saw the same thing and knew a duel was in store. The Rams, he said, weren't going to sit back and protect against the blitz at the expense of their offense, and Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams wasn't going to ask his defense to be less aggressive for fear of having speedsters Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Kevin Curtis exploit them.
"We were asked to get pressure on them," Clark said. "They wanted to pressure us. It was two sides that wanted to dictate. We weren't going to let them dictate the pace to us, and they weren't going to let us dictate to them. Neither was going to give in, and so it became our speed against theirs."
Thus, the lines were drawn, and when it was over, Williams and his unit looked energized again after weeks of sinking confidence. Rams quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard whiz who passed for 310 yards in his NFL debut last week at Houston, threw for 163 yards, was sacked three times, intercepted once and appeared to be in trouble the entire game.
"I think their blitz package was good," Fitzpatrick said. "We felt like they were going to blitz. There were things we were going to do to counter that. They just didn't work as well as we wanted them to."
The Redskins defense, which has been mostly consistent during a 2-6 stretch but has suffered a propensity for giving up big plays, did not yield a completion longer than 19 yards. The run defense, which gave up 184 yards to LaDainian Tomlinson a week ago against the Chargers, including 118 in the final quarter and one play of overtime, gave up 2.9 yards per carry and a long of nine yards. Steven Jackson, who had rushed for 100 yards twice in his past three games, was held to 24 yards on 11 carries.
For the past three weeks, Redskins players and coaches also seemed to be convinced of an officiating conspiracy against them, but in the third quarter of a 10-7 game, on second and four from his 40, Fitzpatrick threw a 44-yard strike to Holt for a first down at the Redskins 16. The Rams appeared suddenly in position to take the lead.
But the play was wiped out when Rams guard Adam Timmerman was called for holding. Three plays later, the Rams punted.
"We needed to get our swagger back," Clemons said. "We kept saying this week we were going to focus on a way to finish. That was the goal, to make plays and finish off games."
Privately, Williams was hoping for the challenge of the Rams' speed against his pressuring scheme, as the Redskins for the past month have been frustrated by opponents expecting blitzes and using the maximum number of blockers. An aggressive Rams offense, he said, would give his team a chance to fulfill a game plan of maximum pressure.
"We knew that was what they are going to do," Williams said. "They spread it out. They put pressure on you with speed. That's what they've been doing since they've had this run of success, but I thought we would be would be able to make them one-dimensional."
The opening series set the defensive tone for the Redskins. On his first snap, Fitzpatrick faked the play to the right, turned left and hit Cam Cleeland on a tight-end screen. The play failed, as LaVar Arrington did not overplay and was able to stop Cleeland for a seven-yard loss.
On the next play, Phillip Daniels stopped Jackson for a loss of two yards. And on third and 19 from his 11, Fitzpatrick was sacked by Marcus Washington for a loss of 10.
"I think they thought we were going to be so aggressive that they'd be able to do a little fake here, a play-action there, and, zoom, we'd run right past them and lose our focus," Arrington said. "We didn't do that. This wasn't just the kind of game our defense needed, it was the kind of game our team needed."
When he saw the Rams' initial offensive formations, cornerback Shawn Springs immediately began to think the day might be special for a Redskins defense that for the past few weeks has been on the losing end.
"We kind of laughed when we saw that they were going to open it up like that," Springs said. "You can't come out with four wide receivers all the time on us, not with Gregg. No one can block Gregg all game like that."