By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006
The Washington Redskins lined up on the first play of the game, one of the NFL's best running backs in Clinton Portis standing behind an offensive line that relishes run blocking. The coach, Joe Gibbs, had built Super Bowl winners with a hard-nosed, run-first approach.
And this is what happened? Santana Moss, a wide receiver, bobbled a handoff before recovering it and lost two yards.
The play set a fitting tone for Portis, not because of the sloppiness, but because of his role as bystander. Portis yesterday ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry, a successful rate by any measure, but finished with a low total yardage because he had just 14 carries.
"We need to go back and find" the running game, Washington defensive end Reynaldo Wynn said. "We need to run the football at people and stop them from running it at us. They're going to keep doing it until we prove we can stop it.'"
The Redskins rushed the ball 12 times without Portis as the ballcarrier. Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss each rushed twice, the four carries totaling 51 yards. Moss ran one reverse 35 yards, which proved to be the Redskins' longest run of the afternoon.
Though those gadget plays, products of associate head coach Al Saunders's system, produced big yardage, statistics seem to suggest they stray from the Redskins' winning formula. Last season, the Redskins rolled to the playoffs after rededicating themselves to the running game. After reaching 5-6, the Redskins reeled off five straight wins, and Portis ran for an average of 114.6 yards on 26 carries in those victories.
Simply put: When Portis runs, the Redskins win. Even if he chips away for four yards a carry, he leaves defenses drained late in the game. Though the reverses and trick plays gain more yards, they're predicated on finesse and can leave a defense fresh in the fourth quarter.
For a lesson, the Redskins could look at Tennessee. Three players ran the ball; they finished with 194 rushing yards. Travis Henry was thrown at Washington's defense all day, wearing down the Redskins. Tennessee held the ball for 10 minutes 13 seconds in the final quarter.
"As the game went on, they" were wearing down, Henry said. "They weren't coming up as hard as they were at first. We just kept it physical."
That's the effect Portis had on defenses last season. In the Redskins' two wins this season, Portis and his fellow running backs have played a major part. Against Houston, Portis rushed 16 times for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Nursing his shoulder injury, he sat parts of the second half as Ladell Betts rushed 16 times for 132 yards. Against Jacksonville the next week, the Redskins rushed the ball 40 times for 152 yards.
While the Redskins were trailing, they had to pass more to try for a comeback. But Portis rushed only seven times in the first half, gaining 44 yards for a 6.3 average.
That success didn't convince Gibbs or Saunders to let Portis carry the load, which might help explain the faint chant coming from the stands at points during the game: "Run the ball! Run the ball!"