Redskins running game grinds to a halt against Vikings

Brett Favre leads the Vikings past the Redskins at FedEx Field.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 10:14 PM

On the Washington Redskins' first play from scrimmage Sunday, running back Keiland Williams took a handoff and headed left. Williams's NFL history essentially consists of the following: Undrafted out of college, made the team out of training camp, was cut, passed through waivers, went back to the Redskins' practice squad, then was signed again.

The carry to start the game was the 50th of his career, and he was immediately swallowed up by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards. The result: No gain.

Such was life for Redskins runners in Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Vikings. Veteran Clinton Portis, out for the year after suffering an abdominal injury, watched from the sideline. Second-year back Ryan Torain, out for the third straight game with a hamstring injury, served as a spectator as well. So Williams and James Davis - who was cut earlier this season by Cleveland and played his first game with the Redskins Sunday - carried the load.

The team's result: 29 yards on 13 attempts, no carry longer than four yards, and an eventual turn to the air because the running game was so often crushed by Minnesota's imposing front four.

"We felt we'd be more productive when we did run it," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. "We felt like it wasn't going very well moving the football. We thought we'd take a couple more chances throwing it. Obviously, except for the first series, first drive, we were pretty inconsistent the rest of the way."

That first drive, started by Williams's inconsequential carry, went for 83 yards and a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Donovan McNabb to tight end Fred Davis. But the drive was all on McNabb, who went 8 for 8 for 84 yards. The running game produced exactly zero yards out of a traditional set. Wide receiver Brandon Banks twice took a direct snap and ran for three yards, and McNabb scrambled once for three.

The problem: That amounted to a good chunk of Sunday's running game. Only once this season have the Redskins run for fewer yards, but that 17-carry, 18-yard performance came in Week 2 against Houston, when McNabb provided his best passing game, throwing for a season-high 426 yards. The plan that day: Throw the ball, because the Texans couldn't stop it.

That was not the case against the Vikings, and the lack of production on the ground could be considered historically bad. The Houston game represents the fewest yards on the ground for the Redskins in any game since 1994. Sunday's 29-yard effort ties for second.

"We pretty much have to pay more attention to it," McNabb said of the running game. "I think what that does is that kind of keeps the defense back on their heels now, because if they decide to bring pressure and we do run, there are going to be big running lanes. We have to make sure that we cover up their line, their linebackers in the run game."

A nice theoretical picture, none of which played out against the Vikings. Williams, who entered the game with 49 career carries for 195 yards, was essentially replaced by Davis as the primary back in the second quarter. Davis, who entered the game with 13 career carries for 24 yards, provided the following output on his four first-half attempts: 2, 0, 1, 1.

"I wasn't frustrated at all," Davis said. "Me, I haven't played in a game since preseason, as far as like being in the game and getting as many reps as I did. I was just trying to work my way in there and get used to a full, live game."

Davis's lack of frustration could have been rooted in the fact that his rushing total of 11 yards on six carries somehow led all Redskins rushers, besting McNabb (seven yards on two attempts), Banks (six on two) and Williams (five on three).

"We just didn't get the running game going today," center Casey Rabach said. "Partially, I think, due to them. Partially due to us."

The question, now, is what happens going forward. During his 14 years coaching the Denver Broncos, Shanahan had a reputation for finding unknown backs and turning them into productive players. Only one time in Shanahan's career in Denver did the Broncos run for fewer than 29 yards. With Portis out for good and Torain's return uncertain, the running game might rely on Williams and Davis - who are approaching the chance as a way to make sure they remain employed.

"You hate to see a guy go down and get injured," Williams said. "But yet, there's just another chance for a guy to step up and show what he's capable of doing, and whether he'll be here or whether he'll be somewhere else in the league, it's a job to him. So you just have to make the most of your opportunities."

The Redskins inexperienced fleet of running backs has five more games to make the most of those opportunities.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company