Democracy Dies in Darkness

Express | Perspective

Running game fueled the Redskins’ first win, but balance is the key to a winning season

September 10, 2018 at 8:01 PM

A heavy dose of Adrian Peterson worked for the Redskins on Sunday, but Washington will have to win with passing sooner or later. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

NFL defensive coordinators finally have film on the Redskins’ new offense. They can see a shift to running more often, a quarterback who breaks down coverage by scurrying himself, some read-option plays and lots of short passing patterns within 10 yards of the line.

Coach Jay Gruden switched up his pass-first philosophy Sunday, confusing Arizona in Washington’s easy 24-6 victory on the road. The perfect mix of play calls left the Cardinals constantly guessing wrong.

“It helps to have the whole playbook open,” Gruden said. “I was having trouble calling plays because there were so many good ones that I liked that we could get to.”

Gruden’s task now that the league has seen his new scheme is to tailor it to the opponent each week.

Related: Brewer: The Redskins just proved they can play a tough, physical game. Now the key is repetition.

Washington can probably repeat the formula against Indianapolis on Sunday. The rain expected from Hurricane Florence favors a ground game that will turn FedEx Field’s grassy marsh into a mosh pit between the 20-yard lines. With Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson delivering a one-two combination against Arizona, Gruden can feel comfortable ramming past the Colts, whose passing game behind quarterback Andrew Luck will be compromised by poor weather.

But by Week 3 against Green Bay, Gruden will need to shuffle his offense. The Packers and then New Orleans are more vulnerable against the pass, and Carolina will counter with a balanced defense in Washington’s fifth game.

As long as Washington’s offense stays healthy, balance is its big advantage. The Redskins can run or pass. It makes no real difference to quarterback Alex Smith, who even ran eight times Sunday on top of his 30 pass attempts. Washington didn’t get to its deep passing packages, play out of the shotgun or call for many outside running routes.

The Redskins just played smash-mouth ball behind a line that’s one of the NFL’s best when healthy. Smith threw high-percentage passes and went off script only when he faced pressure. Even then he didn’t take risks.

Related: Jay Gruden wants effort and tenacity from his defense, and Sunday was an ‘A-plus on both’

The Redskins didn’t have such flexibility last season because injuries depleted the offensive line and forced them to sign free agents off the street to play running back. Now, the team looks to have its most balanced attack since 2001, when coach Marty Schottenheimer’s squad passed for 2,487 yards and ran for 1,948.

Former Redskins coach Norv Turner used to run plays in certain games just so a defensive coordinator for an opponent a few weeks out had something to ponder.

Gruden has a few tricks and decoys, too. It may take a half season to see most of what the Redskins’ offense has to offer.

After all, Gruden is only showing as much as he needs to win.

Read more from Rick Snider:

On the eve of the 2018 NFL season, the Redskins don’t look like a playoff team

First glimpse of Alex Smith reveals a QB aware of all his options

Redskins training camp is finally physical again. Will it matter in Week 1?

The Redskins’ trash-talking defensive backs have their hands full with Alex Smith

Josh Doctson is building trust and turning heads at Redskins training camp


Rick Snider has covered sports in Washington since 1978.

Post Recommends
Outbrain

We're glad you're enjoying The Washington Post.

Get access to this story, and every story, on the web and in our apps with our Basic Digital subscription.

Welcome to The Washington Post

Thank you for subscribing
Keep reading for $10 $1
Show me more offers