The Washington Times - October 2, 2011, 08:42PM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 17-10 road victory over the St. Louis Rams:

TE Chris Cooley after the game said: “There’s no need to look back at the way we got to 3-1.” But that’s what we’re here to do now that the first quarter of the season is finished, and the picture isn’t without blemishes.

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The Redskins have some significant flaws. I hope we all can agree on that. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be 3-1. They’ve taken advantage of a relatively easy early schedule because of a much-improved, opportunistic defense. The Redskins are better than St. Louis and at least as good as Arizona. They had a better game plan than the Giants in Week 1. And they’re a third-and-21 away from being 4-0. In other words, they’re going to be competitive just about every week.

But QB Rex Grossman is proving to be unreliable after a strong preseason. He can move the ball well at times, but the negative play—in Sunday’s case, the interception by LB James Laurinaitis with 5:30 to play—always is looming. There will come a time when the defense can’t bail him out. Heck, that happened last week against Dallas. 

For me, two major questions face the Redskins at this point: 1. Is Rex going to cut out the turnovers? His history suggests the answer is no. (He now has seven) And 2. Can the offensive line propel the running game against teams with imposing front-7s such as New York and Dallas? The Redskins ran well against Arizona and St. Louis, but they need to be more consistent winning individual blocks. That would help their third-down woes, red-zone problems, etc.

For now, I’m sticking with my 8-8 prediction. The meat of the schedule is in the second half, and the Redskins have been remarkably healthy. If Rex takes off, this team could be quite good. There simply isn’t evidence to suggest it will happen.

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Don’t take that as a call for QB John Beck to start. Grossman beat out Beck for the starting job, and the reasons for that haven’t changed. Beck is inexperienced and didn’t play the best during the preseason. Grossman has struggled seeing defenders at times, but there’s no guarantee Beck would be better.

And let’s not take away Grossman’s positives. His touchdown throw to WR Santana Moss in the corner of the end zone was a quality read against the Rams’ blitz. He knew Moss would be open against that coverage and placed the throw perfectly.

It really is amazing how Grossman can make a throw like that and then turn it over with such a stinker late in the game. The first time I heard the whole “Good Rex/Bad Rex” thing, I figured it was some cheesy bit that an announcer in Chicago made up. But there definitely is something to it. It’s fascinating, really.

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I was a bit surprised it took Mike Shanahan this long to give RB Ryan Torain a shot, considering he averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season and proved that he can gain significant yardage after contact. The Redskins’ offensive line did not consistently win individual blocks against New York and Dallas, so Torain’s tackle-breaking ability would have been useful. Then again, Torain missed three preseason games with a broken hand, so it might have taken him this long to get into football shape, as Shanahan likes to say.

Better late than never, I suppose. Torain was hit a yard behind the line on one run and still gained 16 yards. “It was like he was possessed, breaking tackles and making plays,” Shanahan said.

RB Tim Hightower, on the other hand, appeared tentative at times in the first half and missed some cutback lanes. Hightower finishes runs with power, but he doesn’t break tackles like Torain.

Ultimately, having both running backs on the roster is a good thing. Torain’s injury history is well known, so Hightower will help lighten his load and serve as insurance in Torain goes down. Plus, Hightower is a superior pass blocker. It’s not hard to envision a rotation in which Torain is the first- and second-down back, Hightower handles third downs and RB Roy Helu is the change-of-pace guy.

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The Redskins’ defense took the game over today after the Rams fell behind by 17 and had to pass to get back in it. It can be difficult for the Redskins’ three defensive linemen to rush the passer at times because the scheme’s technique requires them to read run or pass off the snap before trying to get to the quarterback. It helps their timing and explosiveness when they know a pass is coming.

“When we know they’re going to pass, honestly, that’s what we live for,” DE Adam Carriker said.

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Stunts were another effective weapon for the pass rush. In the second half, several Redskins players, including DE Stephen Bowen and ROLB Brian Orakpo noticed that St. Louis’ tackles were setting very wide to combat the outside linebackers’ speed on the edge.

They reported this to defensive coaches, including defensive line coach Jacob Burney. The Redskins adjusted by stunting Orakpo and LOLB Ryan Kerrigan inside the tackles. That’s how Bowen got his sack on second-and-15 after the Rams took over at Washington’s 19 in the fourth quarter.

“We wanted to switch it up and start making some inside moves and kind of flush [Rams QB Sam Bradford] out,” Orakpo said. “And if we were able to flush him, we had our tackles wrap around and have contain. We were able to get some good pressure off that.”

Coaches allow Redskins defenders to call stunts on their own. It’s a call they can make at the line of scrimmage based on the offensive alignment and what they anticipate the protection to be.

Burney “gives us a lot of freedom and trusts us to [say] if we see something, go out there and run it,” Bowen said.

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Here’s a huge play I don’t want to overlook: P Sav Rocca punted a 63-yarder from the Redskins’ 9-yardline with 3:34 left and the Redskins protecting a 7-point lead. The Rams could have gotten great field position there, but they took over at their 28. St. Louis then had to pass, and the Redskins’ teed off.

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The Rams are a bad team. Like, really, really bad. Too many drops and penalties. Their offensive line isn’t good enough to protect a talented quarterback, and their defensive line loses too many individual blocks.

Would a better team have made the Redskins pay for not finishing this game stronger? We have two weeks to contemplate that.