Redskins Can't Get Portis Going and Ground Game Suffers

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009

DETROIT, Sept. 27 -- In their season opener, the Detroit Lions allowed New Orleans running back Mike Bell to rush for 143 yards. A week later, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson blitzed the Lions for 92 yards.

So entering Sunday's game against the Redskins, Detroit might have seemed vulnerable against the run. Instead, the Redskins and their stagnant rushing game were run out of town in a bruising 19-14 loss.

Redskins running back Clinton Portis finished with just 42 yards on 12 carries, and Washington netted only 65 yards on the ground against a Detroit team that gave up 269 rushing yards in its first two games.

Coach Jim Zorn said the team's game plan against the Lions called for the offense to establish its early rhythm with the passing game. The offense was only on the field for eight minutes in the first half, though, which amounted to only 19 plays. Washington had zero rushing yards in the first half.

"My intention was to come out to throw the ball, and we did. We moved the ball very well," Zorn said. "I wanted to keep that going with play action and get the runs that we had. But we were just completely shut down."

As the Lions built a 13-0 halftime lead, Washington entered the locker room having attempted only five rushing plays through the first two quarters. Portis had minus-two yards on four carries at the break.

Trying desperately to catch up, the Redskins had no choice but to rely on their passing game for much of the second half. The end result was impressive statistics for quarterback Jason Campbell and wide receiver Santana Moss -- and terrible numbers for the backfield.

"I thought we threw the ball quite a bit early in the first half," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "The second half we started coming down and had some success with it. But once you get behind, you got to throw the ball, so you can't really keep running the ball. You're going to run the clock out on yourself."

Portis has defended the team's play-calling through the first two games, but he wasn't in a talking mood after Sunday's loss. As he left the locker room, Portis was asked to comment on Sunday's game. He offered a low grumble and kept walking.

A season ago, when Portis amassed 1,487 yards, he had just two games with fewer carries and yards than Sunday's performance.

The most noteworthy rushing plays came on Washington's initial drive. Inside the Lions 10-yard line, Ladell Betts managed just two yards on second and nine. Two plays later, on fourth and one from the 1-yard line, Portis tried going left but was stopped for no gain.

"Anytime they call a run, you want to score in that situation," guard Derrick Dockery said. "I'm not sure what really happened. Any time you go down there, and we run the ball, we expect to score."

On the play, Portis tried sneaking around the left end, but Detroit had great penetration and overloaded the left side. Portis was quickly stuffed by linebackers DeAndre Levy and Larry Foote.

"We thought it was going to work," Samuels said. "We worked on it all week in practice. It was a good play. They definitely lined up in the defense that we worked on. We just got to find a way to get it in."

Though one of Portis's longest runs -- a 12-yard gain on the opening drive of the second half -- was to the right end, the running game was usually pointed toward the left side Sunday.

On the offensive line, the Redskins played their first game of the season without right guard Randy Thomas, who was placed on injured reserve last week. After a week-long position battle in practice, second-year lineman Chad Rinehart started in his first professional game. Will Montgomery also played guard in the second half.

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