Ground Game a Hit In the Short Run
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The numbers were so unusual, they seemed to be a misprint in the box score. The Washington Redskins ran 48 times for 296 yards in Sunday's overtime victory against the New York Jets, with 28 carries for 198 yards in the second half -- a perfect example of smash-mouth offense.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
If only it were this simple every week.
While Washington snapped its long rushing funk with a game that brought smiles to the coaching staff, offensive line and running backs, even the Redskins understand that Sunday's results do not convey a realistic formula for success. They manhandled the Jets' 30th-ranked defense in a manner rarely seen in the NFL, using a brazenly one-dimensional approach to run the ball down the field.
Coming as close as possible to their 6.2 yards per carry against New York will be important as the team continues to search for balance and more frequent trips to the end zone. The Redskins' upcoming opponents figure to be far less forgiving than the Jets, who rank 29th in rushing yards allowed per game. The Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins' opponent Sunday, are allowing just 92.9 rushing yards per game; road games follow against the Dallas Cowboys (tied for fourth in the NFL, allowing 3.6 yards per carry) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (tied for eighth in the league, allowing 3.8 yards per carry).
"It's great to run it 50 times, but that's just wishful thinking to do it every week," tailback Ladell Betts said. "We want to be able to run the ball like that, but realistically, that's not going to happen, when you can just turn around and hand it off every single play. We would love to do it, yes, but we're not going to be able to do that. It was effective for us in that game, and we'll try to do it when we can, but that's not the kind of thing you can do all the time in this league."
Washington required every last rushing yard to overcome a 17-3 deficit Sunday for a 23-20 win, opting not to pass even when trailing, and taking advantage of a poor tackling defense that played most of the game in a deep zone defense to negate big passing plays and did not assign additional players to the line of scrimmage until it was too late.
The Redskins do not expect other teams to adopt that style, especially given the state of their downfield passing game, and hope that should future opponents play more eight- or nine-man fronts, it would in turn create favorable matchups for the receivers.
"In the future, teams will stick safeties down there," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "With that extra man in the box, you can't simply put a hat on a hat, because they're going to have two guys running free on your running back every time. That's when you have to connect on the big play downfield throwing the ball."
Much of what the Redskins were able to accomplish Sunday defied convention.
From early in the fourth quarter through the final drive of overtime, Washington ran 15 straight times. Twenty of Washington's final 23 offensive plays were runs, from the point when quarterback Jason Campbell was intercepted with about six minutes left in the third quarter until the end of the game.
Of the Redskins' 14 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, 13 were runs and eight of those rushes were to the left side for 68 yards, behind Samuels and guard Pete Kendall (both starters on the right side are injured). The Redskins took a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter on a six-play drive that featured five straight rushes, four in a row to the left side for 54 yards.
"This team was sitting back," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "They were going to make us rush the football."
The Redskins could not have made their intention to run any clearer. Lineman Lorenzo Alexander entered the game as an eligible tackle and the Redskins basically remained in their "jumbo" package, with just one receiver all the way down the field, yet ripped off gains of 32, 8, 6 and 8 yards, then topped it off with a one-yard touchdown run by Clinton Portis.
"It's frustrating, because we had a good idea where it was going to hit," Jets Coach Eric Mangini said after the game, alluding to the runs behind Samuels and Kendall. "The one drive they had they had some bigger people in and I think five of the six plays were runs -- that's frustrating for everyone involved. . . . They're going to keep running it until you stop it. I don't think that's a secret there."
Portis ran for 196 yards, topping the 100-yard mark for the first time since 2006. After injuries curtailed his work for the first part of the season, he seemed more nimble and elusive outside the tackles. Portis also said he felt as comfortable as he ever had behind the reshuffled line and grew more confident as the game progressed. Still, it was Samuels, Kendall and center Casey Rabach leading the way.
"Standing on the sidelines watching that, you feel good," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "Everything we talked about preparing for the game -- leverage, blocking with our shoulder pads -- they did everything just about perfect. Let's just keep that up. Consistency is the big thing right now."
Leading up to the Jets game, six straight defenses had stifled the Redskins' running game. Yet Washington still was one of the NFL's most run-heavy teams before facing New York. The Redskins have more rushing attempts, 257, than any NFC team and the fourth-most carries in the NFL, yet they rank just 16th in yards per carry (four). NFL teams have rushed 34 fewer times on average than Washington and thrown the ball 39 times more. Sunday's game was indeed extreme -- the ratio of run-to-pass was almost 3 to 1 in the second half -- but the dedication to the running game was not.
"Hey, can we keep that going?" Gibbs said. "Every week, you don't know. I'm hoping that's the case, and certainly that was encouraging for us, but then of course you want to be able to throw the ball, too."