“Man, Robert is so dynamic, so incredible, yeah, our whole team is better because of him,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “But if you haven’t noticed, Robert doesn’t block for himself.” True. Griffin isn’t a solo artist. Even he needs help. And Griffin is getting some from an effective unit on one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
The offensive line has helped keep Griffin upright while also consistently providing lanes for hard-charging rookie running back Alfred Morris. Washington has the top rushing offense in the league, and strong line play has been a big part of the Redskins’ current three-game winning streak, during which they have evened their record and emerged as playoff contenders.
Individually, only Williams, who’s having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, would be considered an elite-level player. But together, all five are playing well, as the New York Giants can confirm.
On Monday night, the Redskins rushed for 207 yards in a 17-16 victory over the division leaders’ formidable defensive front, which includes star linemen Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
In an eye-opening performance before a national television audience, the Redskins got the ball with a one-point lead and 3 minutes 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Giants didn’t get it back. The Redskins ran six times in seven plays, gained two first downs and ran out the clock.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” Lichtensteiger said. “For us, it feels good to do that against anyone. It’s just even better to do it against the Giants.”
In today’s pass-first-and-often NFL, the Redskins are an oddity: a dominant running team that also can air it out.
Coach Mike Shanahan achieved Super Bowl-winning success in Denver by constructing the NFL’s best rushing attack. Shanahan brought zone blocking — in which linemen block an area or “zone” instead of engaging the defensive player lined up across from them on every play — to Washington in 2010 and spent his first season tearing down the line and rebuilding it.
The trends have been positive. After finishing 30th out of 32 teams rushing in 2010, the Redskins improved to 25th last season. A Redskins back rushed for at least 100 yards in five of the team’s final six games in 2011. This season’s line is “right up there with the best of ’em I’ve had,” Shanahan said.
Before this season, Shanahan privately told people the Redskins would have the NFL’s best running game because Griffin and Morris are game-changers and the line was close to clicking. The light bulb is now on.
“That’s the one stat [rushing] that we look at each week,” Montgomery said. “We want to know how many yards Alfred had. We want to see RG break records. We feel we have a big part in that. And we feel we’re proving what we can do.”
Most Redskins observers figured pass protection would be the team’s glaring weakness, but the line has improved in providing a solid foundation for the passing game. Williams and Lichtensteiger have been especially solid on the left side.In addition to topping the league in rushing and yards per play overall, Washington is second only to Tampa Bay in yards per pass attempt.
“That all starts with the offensive line,” Shanahan said. “When you’re No. 1 in rushing and you’re No. 1 in yards per play, you have to have an offensive line that’s together, tough and accountable. That’s exactly what we have.”
They’ve also come a long way since the season started. Oft-injured starting right tackle Jammal Brown has not played because of lingering hip problems, but Polumbus has been a competent replacement. Lichtensteiger hasn’t missed a game after knee surgery cut short his 2011 season. And in his third season, Williams, who was suspended the final four games last year after failing multiple drug tests, is playing like the cornerstone lineman Shanahan envisioned he would become.
From the start of training camp, Williams has been an out-front leader from the weight room to the field.
“I never doubted that we [the line] could do what we’re doing now,” Williams said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll start to change some minds.”
That’s bound to happen. You just can’t ignore a line that’s clearing the path one big play at a time.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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