For Offense, It's a Smash-Mouthful
Monday, October 2, 2006
The profanities were flying out of Mike Sellers's mouth at a furious rate yesterday afternoon, and the Jacksonville Jaguars had no way to quiet him.
Each seven- and eight-yard chunk the Washington Redskins amassed on the ground at FedEx Field elicited the aggressive fullback's inner Richard Pryor, a visceral, emotional reaction to what was a brutally physical football game.
The Redskins managed to accomplish what so few believed they could -- manhandle the hulking Jaguars at the line of scrimmage, plow through them with the run, and out-slug them in the trenches, with the offensive line, fullbacks, tailbacks and tight ends forming a powerful unit both rushing the ball and protecting quarterback Mark Brunell. They were the backbone of Washington's explosive offense, and a fundamental element in a stunning 36-30 win that evened the Redskins' record at 2-2 entering next week's visit to the Meadowlands.
Jacksonville entered yesterday allowing 59 rushing yards per game -- a minuscule 3.2 yards per carry -- and a mere eight rushing first downs in three games. Monstrous tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson have become Paul Bunyan-esque figures for their relentless dominance, and linebacker Mike Peterson boasted last week that the Redskins' featured back, Clinton Portis, would be lucky to hit 20 yards rushing against the Jaguars. But as the second-half wore on, Sellers could feel Jacksonville wilting, and he unloaded on them with his verbal barrage as well as his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame.
"I know their linebackers had enough of us, I promise you that, and their safeties, too," Sellers said. "Because we ripped them a new [backside], man. You could tell gradually when a team starts getting worn down. We were on the field a long time on offense, and you could see it in their eyes."
Jacksonville had gone 12 games in a row without allowing a 100-yard rusher, dating from last October, but Portis snapped that streak in this victory. The fifth-year back, who missed most of the preseason with a partially dislocated shoulder and only came back into full-time duty in Week 3, ran with a purpose, buttressed by Peterson's remarks, and did not stop until he had carried 27 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. There were bragging rights at stake -- both Peterson and Portis are from Gainesville, Fla. -- and Portis, a naturally loquacious character, will not let the linebacker off easily.
"I felt like that was a shot," Portis said. "Just disrespectful. I made it a goal to run downhill."
Everyone associated with the running game seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. The Redskins held the ball for more than 36 minutes, ran for 11 first downs, and out-rushed Jacksonville 152-33. Washington also converted 7 of 14 third-down situations, erasing what had been a bugaboo for the first two weeks.
"I'm surprised we didn't play better on third down to not allow them to run the ball," Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio said. "When you don't get off the field on third down and you give the ball to a team that knows how to run the ball back, they're going to run it. That's what happened."
The Redskins were clearly dedicated to the run. They set a tempo by continually attacking the perimeter of the defense, with right guard Randy Thomas pulling outside, tackle Jon Jansen flattening blockers and Sellers leading the way for Portis and backup Ladell Betts. It was eerily familiar to the type of scheme that Washington employed during its five-game winning streak to reach the playoffs last year, and its second straight impressive running performance.
"It was a prideful game for our offensive line," Jansen said. "We were told by pretty much everybody that we couldn't run on this team, and we couldn't get yards on offense and we came out and did it. We're going out there for respect. Now we're back to .500, and we can start talking about getting some respect in the league as an offensive line, and hopefully that was kind of a statement for us."
Sellers said: "We felt like we were in last year's form. Me and C.P. [Portis] were vibing tonight. He trusted the blocks would be there and he was taking them to the house."
Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, was adept at sprinkling inside runs into the game plan, too, and juggling Portis and Betts to keep both fresh.
"We kind of mixed it up and kept them off-balance," said Thomas, who Coach Joe Gibbs said was unable to run pulling plays late in the game because he was hurting. "We wanted to keep them thinking about what we were going to do." Saunders called nine straight runs from the end of the third quarter through the opening minutes of the fourth quarter -- Washington scored touchdowns on both drives -- and 16 of the Redskins' final 20 plays in regulation were rushes.
The game ended abruptly in overtime on a precise, 68-yard pass to wide receiver Santana Moss, but the final result was predicated on the run. And for that, Washington could curse loudest and laugh last.
"Mike Peterson made a comment early in the week when Clinton gets done with this game he's going to be in the teens," Betts said. "I think he was in the hundred and teens. Sometimes you've got to watch what you say. It might come back to bite you."
Staff writer Marc Craig contributed to this report.