Of the many subplots and storylines that will permeate Sunday’s matchup between the Rams and Redskins, perhaps none will be more interesting in a big picture sense than the chess game that will take place between two of the NFL’s most experienced head coaches and their staffs.
Sure, it will be entertaining to compare and contrast quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and
“It’s a great matchup of great head coaches,” Rams defensive end
The Rams and Redskins are set for a 3:05 p.m. kickoff at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday. St. Louis enters with a 0-1 record while Washington comes in at 1-0.
The Fisher-Shanahan matchup features two of the winningest active coaches in the game. In fact, only New England’s Bill Belichick has more regular season wins than Shanahan’s 158 and only Belichick and Shanahan have more than Fisher’s 142.
In their combined 34 years as head coaches in the NFL, Fisher and Shanahan have combined for 300 wins and just 240 losses.
The fact that both Fisher and Shanahan have enjoyed so much success should come as no surprise considering their coaching backgrounds. The pair formed a strong friendship way back in 1992 when Fisher was San Francisco’s defensive backs coach and Shanahan was the Niners’ offensive coordinator.
“We came in at the same time, spent a lot of time together at the hotel - like all assistant coaches do when they’re coming into a new place - and we had a chance to get to know each other and become great friends through the years,” Shanahan said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together through the years getting to know each other and following each other’s paths as head coaches, and so he’s considered a very good friend and a guy that’s one heck of a football coach.”
In their time with the Niners, Fisher developed great respect for Shanahan before he left to become the head coach of the Broncos in 1995. It was no surprise to Fisher when Shanahan went on to great success as a head coach, winning two Super Bowls in Denver.
To this day, Fisher still views Shanahan as one of his most formidable foes in the coaching ranks.
“Mike’s very, very detailed in all phases,” Fisher said. “There was a time in recent history where Mike even jumped sides and went over to the defensive side because he was concerned about his defense there in Denver. So, very detailed. He’s always going to have a fresh game plan for each opponent and he’s very good and one of the best at making you adjust on defense with his offense.”
Sunday’s matchup will feature plenty of maneuvering and alterations as the Rams come in on the heels of a disappointing last-second loss to Detroit while the Redskins are riding high after a surprising win in New Orleans.
The mark of Shanahan’s teams has never been much of a secret and what Washington aims to do to the Rams and everyone on its schedule should also be no surprise.
Offensively, the Redskins are in the hands of Griffin, the dynamic rookie capable of hurting opponents on the ground and with his accurate right arm. Coming off a historic debut performance in which he threw for 320 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, Griffin seems to have acclimated quickly to the pro game.
Shanahan’s offenses have always liked to get quarterbacks on the move, using bootlegs, rollouts and play action to create confusion and give the signal caller the option between throwing vertically or taking off running. Griffin’s skill set is a perfect fit for that scheme.
“It really did,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “You could see it. You can tell whether a guy is just out there making plays luckily or whether he’s doing it by design. This guy is composed. He looked like and he operated just like what he is. He’s the real deal, so it’s a huge, huge challenge for us defensively.”
Likewise, Shanahan’s offenses have always placed great emphasis on the running game. Perhaps lost in the shuffle of Griffin’s big debut was a running game that pounded away at the Saints until they crumbled.
The Redskins scheme is heavy on zone blocking with an emphasis on getting things moving east and west before one cut gets it moving north and south. That means it’s important for the Rams to keep disciplined with gap integrity while not forfeiting aggressiveness, a difficult line to walk.
“That’s a great question because it’s extremely important because he really challenges the defense,” McGinnis said. “Again as I’ve said, I’ve been doing this for a lot, a lot of years and have gone up against him several times, been on staffs that have…He’s very innovative. He understands what gives defenses problems. His teams are very, very well coached. It’s very well documented what he does with running backs. Whoever runs the ball in this offense is extremely successful because of the way that the offense is run. I’ve got tremendous, tremendous respect for Mike Shanahan and what he is as an offensive mind and as a play caller.”
On the other side of the ball, the Rams also have a solid understanding of what the Redskins will look to do under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
Haslett, who was once the Rams coordinator and interim head coach, has always been one of the league’s most aggressive defensive play callers.
With weapons like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan doing the rushing, that won’t change much this season.
“(We’re) expecting a lot of pressure,” Rams running back
The Rams are working with another reshuffled offensive line after losing center
For the Rams to have success offensively, they’ll need to find the way to get the running game revved up after some struggles against the Lions. It should help facing a 3-4 defense again after seeing three in the preseason.
“It does,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “I think the way the schedule kind of played itself out, preseason getting some 3-4 work was good because we get so much of the four down stuff with our guys. Our defense has so many elements to it that going against them in practice, you see a little bit of everything, so that did help.”
Beyond the scheming from each side, the Rams also hope to have an advantage from playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in the 2012 regular season. The home opener is expected to be a packed house and Fisher is looking forward to a loud gameday atmosphere.
“Well, I mean, guys like playing here at home and we’re hoping it’s loud because if it gets loud and we have success, then it’s going to stay loud,” Fisher said. “A loud home is a good thing for your football team.”