Alfred Morris has 611 carries and 2,888 rushing yards through his first two seasons with the Washington Redskins, but Jay Gruden’s offensive philosophy could hamper his production in 2014.
During Gruden’s time as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator (from 2011 to 2013), the Bengals ran the ball 56.6 percent of the time, roughly the same as Washington (56.3 percent).
However, Gruden likes to involve his backs in the passing game, and that could limit Morris’s time in the backfield and at the same time create more opportunity for Helu.
Morris was targeted 11 times last season and made nine catches for 78 yards. In 2012, he was targeted 15 times and made 11 catches for 77 yards. By contrast, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard was targeted 69 times in 2013 alone, hauling in 56 catches for 514 yards plus three touchdowns. Helu, on the other hand, ended the season with 31 catches for 251 yards, plus had more yards per route run than Morris when asked to run a pattern.
The Redskins put Morris in a pattern 173 times, but he managed just 0.45 of a yard per route run. Helu averaged 0.8. In Cincinnati, Bernard ran a pattern 302 times and averaged 1.7 yards.
But it is more than just Helu’s route running that could curry favor with the new coaching staff: his rate of success on running plays is also worth further consideration.
In the book Hidden Game of Football, the authors outlined a schematic for what would determine if a play was a success or not: On first down, a gain of four or more yards; on second down a gain of at least half the distance needed for a first down; and on third down, a first down conversion. Brian Burke takes it a step further and bases success on his concept of Expected Points.
Any play that results in a positive change in an offense’s net point expectancy can be considered a success. This technique not only accounts for down and distance considerations, but for field position as well. For example, a play that gains 10 yards on 3rd and 12 would normally be considered a failure, but if those 10 yards put the team in field goal range, that might be considered a success. It also accounts for the effects of the shortened field in the red zone.
Last season Helu led all Washington backs with 6.4 expected points added and had a success rate of 44.8 percent. Morris had minus-10.8 EPA and a 42.8 percent success rate. In other words, Helu was a more efficient and successful runner with his opportunities than Morris was with his.
Helu won’t assume the lion’s share of the carries, but don’t be surprised if Gruden relies on him more the season progresses.