For all the attention given to Kirk Cousins’s back-to-back single-season franchise records for passing yards, the Washington Redskins quarterback was among the players most grateful to see Rob Kelley and the running game make a statement in the starters’ third and final preseason game.

Cousins knows it’s not ideal for him to throw for nearly 5,000 yards a season — particularly this season, as he adjusts to a new corps of wide receivers.

“[It] makes a big difference because we hand one off, and the seas just parted,” Cousins said Sunday after the 23-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, alluding to Kelley’s 21-yard gain up the middle to start the 10-play drive that produced Washington’s first touchdown. That well-blocked, well-executed running play took the Redskins to their own 46-yard line and snapped the third consecutive sluggish start by the starters. To that point, Cousins had been sacked twice, called for intentional grounding on a play that essentially resulted in a third sack, and threw an interception that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict ran back for a touchdown.

The Redskins replied, on their fifth series, with the drive Kelley jump-started with that 21-yard gain and capped with a one-yard run into the end zone with 5:10 remaining in the second quarter to narrow the deficit to 14-10. The Redskins didn’t take the lead until quarterback Colt McCoy connected with tight end Derek Carrier on a nine-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

It was the first time this preseason that the Redskins showed a nicely balanced offense, with Coach Jay Gruden calling 30 pass plays and 25 rushes. Kelley, who entered the game averaging 0.9 yards per carry, led the team with 10 carries for 57 yards and the starters’ lone touchdown.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of our passing game and off of me, really good play design,” Cousins said of the strong running performance against the Bengals. “Specifically, on [Kelley’s 21-yard gain], you can see the seas just parted and the defensive end chases me when I don’t have the ball.”

Cousins offered glowing words for rookie Samaje Perine, as well as Kelley, who reasserted his claim on the starting job with his 47-yard rushing performance.

“They lowered their pads and did all they could trying to fight for extra yards,” Cousins said. “I really think that’s why Rob Kelley is our starting running back. You saw it last year — he just kept fighting for extra yards. He has that spin move that he’ll give, and he finds a way when it’s a four-yard run to get six. He finds a way when it’s a one-yard loss to get a two-yard gain. I think that’s the sign of a good back. Not necessarily the home run hit but just getting us a couple more yards when the play really didn’t allow for it.”

It pleased left tackle Trent Williams as well.

“It felt good, man, finally to start to see some improvement in that,” Williams said. “This time, we had a little game plan involved. Everybody is just on top of it. It showed. Rob and Chris Thompson, Perine, even Kirk had some excellent runs. That’s what we needed to open up holes in the passing game.”

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