The Washington Redskins are running the ball well. But they’re not running it quite as well as they did last season. And they’re not running it nearly as often, which has become a significant issue with the team 2-5.
“We’ve been fairly effective running,” Redskins guard Chris Chester said this week. “But we’ve done things — we’ve put ourselves in situations where we’ve had to throw to catch up, like last week in Denver. We had a pretty decent day going, and we were kind of forced to throw the ball because we turned it over and things like that. So I’m confident in our ability to run the ball and create off of that. But it’s a mistake. It’s a turnover, things like that, a penalty. We haven’t really given ourselves a chance to continue to do what we did last year.”
The Redskins had an offensive identity last season. They ran the ball extremely well, leading the league in rushing while taking full advantage of the relentless style of rookie tailback Alfred Morris. They mixed in option-style running plays for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. And then, with opposing defenses forced to respect the run and make adjustments to stop it, they struck for big plays in the passing game.
Things haven’t clicked as well in the second seasons for Morris and Griffin, and there have been virtually across-the-board issues. Griffin’s ability to run, coming off knee surgery in January, has been scrutinized all season, and the drop-off in passing efficiency from his rookie year has been a prime topic of conversation this week after he connected on only 15 of 30 throws during Sunday’s loss to the Broncos. But there also has been a drop in what the Redskins are getting out of Morris and the running game.
The running attack has remained productive, ranking sixth in the NFL. Morris actually is averaging more yards per rushing attempt (5.2) than he did last season (4.8) and is on course for a 1,291 yards.
“It’s been right there with last year,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday of the Redskins’ running game. “We’ve got good yards per carry. We’re doing solid. We haven’t gotten Robert on the perimeter as much as we did last year. But we’ve had our games when we have. But I’ve been happy with our run game.”
Yet even a nearly 1,300-yard rushing season for Morris would be down from the team-record 1,613 yards he churned out in 2012. Morris is averaging 15.4 rushing attempts and 80.7 rushing yards per game, down from 20.9 rushing attempts and 100.8 rushing yards per game last season. At his current pace, Morris would have 247 carries, 88 fewer than last season.
The Redskins, as a team, are averaging nearly five fewer rushing attempts per game than last season (from 32.4 last year to 27.6 this year) and 32 fewer rushing yards per game than last season (from 169.3 last year to 137.3 this year). They have a team-wide average of five yards per rushing attempt, down slightly from last season’s 5.2.
With the game tied at 21 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter Sunday in Denver, the Redskins had three straight passing plays. Griffin threw three incompletions, and the Redskins punted. The Broncos ended up winning, 45-21, in a game in which they scored the final 38 points. Shanahan was asked whether the Redskins had abandoned the running game too quickly, and he didn’t exactly dispute that notion Thursday. He said he “didn’t do a good enough job” as a play-caller in the fourth quarter.
“You don’t have the run calls in the fourth quarter, which I know is what you guys are all getting at,” Shanahan said. “And I don’t like it either. . . . I know what we want and the philosophy. We want to be balanced. And we weren’t balanced there in the fourth quarter. I can attribute it to a bunch of things. The main thing is, it’s not something you want to do as a play-caller. But as I always say, it’s tough to get runs called when you don’t stay on the field. We had four series there [in the fourth quarter] before we were down 17 points with 61 / 2 minutes to go. And in those four series, our longest drive was three plays, with another one being two plays.”
If the Redskins had been more successful in the passing game and extended drives, Shanahan said, they would have had more of an opportunity to blend in running plays.
“We didn’t stay on the field,” Shanahan said. “I felt if we would have got first downs and stayed on the field, I can promise you that ratio would have gotten back there. But we didn’t. So we ended up punting, and the ratio gets skewed. When I look back at it and I look at myself hard, obviously I didn’t do a good enough job. When you turn it over five times in the fourth quarter, I mean, that’s all of us. But it starts with me. You know, that third series [of the fourth quarter] in particular, it started out with a play-[action] pass that I really wanted to get versus certain coverage, and I didn’t get that. So that’s definitely one play in particular I wish I ran it on first down on that third series.”
Backup tailback Roy Helu Jr. said Thursday he believes the Redskins remain a very good running team.
“We can always improve,” Helu said. “But I think Alfred is doing a real good job. Our [offensive] line is doing a real good job as well.”
Asked about the perception that the Redskins haven’t been as effective in the running game as they were last season, Helu said it’s “just because we’ve been down in games and it seems like we’ve had to go more into two-minute mode on multiple occasions this year with like six minutes left. . . . So I think maybe we aren’t finishing games as strong and we’ve been catching up [in] some games. Maybe that’s why.”
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