Through four weeks, the Washington Redskins have yet to see running back Alfred Morris recapture the impressive form he displayed last season when he emerged from little-known sixth-round draft pick to workhorse back on a division-title team.
Morris last year set the Redskins’ single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards while averaging 20.9 carries a game.
It was expected that the Redskins would lean heavily on the second-year back and the run game to ease pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III as he worked his way back into form. But with early-game struggles forcing the Redskins to play from behind often, Washington’s coaches have had to abandon the run, and Morris’s opportunities have decreased.
He is averaging just 14 carries a game. His 56 carries this season rank 24th in the league . His 296 yards gained are tied for 16th. The lack of an impact in the rushing game has played a part in a Washington offense that ranked fifth in the NFL last season (and first in the run) plunging to 25th this year.
The lack of overall success for the 1-3 Redskins has proved vexing. But Morris insists he hasn’t allowed himself to dwell on the diminished opportunities or production.
“It’s not frustrating,” he said. “Even if it’s not running the ball, maybe I can get in on the passing game, or keep blitzes off of Robert so he can have time to make his reads and make the throws. Whatever I can do to help my team win — even if they want me to run down on special teams, I’m fine with that.”
It sounds like the politically correct answer. But Morris’s primary lead blocker, fullback Darrel Young, says Morris spoke honestly.
“It is frustrating, but then again, he’s not a guy that’s based off numbers. He’s not that arrogant guy that needs to have the ball,” Young said. “Alfred is one of the coolest guys that I’ve been around that’s in a superstar role. It’s cool to see he’s still humble. It takes time. He had more yards at this point last year. Okay, cool, that’s fine. . . . Now we have to grow and take it to the next level.”
The Redskins still believe that Morris can get the job done. His decreased workload reflects upon the decreased emphasis on the run — not the coaches’ confidence in him. Last season, the team averaged 32.43 run plays per game, and this season they have dialed up only 22.25. Meantime, Morris’s 5.3 yards per carry this season are higher than his first four games last year.
The deficits — particularly in blowout losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay in Weeks 1 and 2 — forced Washington to abandon the run, coaches and players explain. There hasn’t been a change of philosophy.
“We believe in the running game,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We always believe we’re going to have a great game plan, and usually teams that can run the football have a lot of success. We always have that philosophy and hopefully this week, we can get back to where we’ve been running the football, and play-action game and those types of things.”
The Week 4 matchup with the Oakland Raiders provided a reminding glimpse of Morris and the Redskins’ capabilities on the ground. With Washington competitive throughout that game, Morris received 16 carries through 21 / 2 quarters and had gained 71 yards. But Morris, who was on pace for 25 carries and 113 yards, left the game in the third quarter with bruised ribs.
Roy Helu Jr. took over, and finished with 41 yards on 13 carries, and Griffin added 10 more rushing yards as Washington tallied 122 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in the 24-14 victory.
That gives Morris and his teammates hope that better, more productive days lie ahead. Morris’s ribs remain “a little” sore, but he practiced fully both Monday and Wednesday and expects to play Sunday
In two meetings with the Dallas Cowboys last season, Morris rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries.
If he can get off to a strong start, the Redskins believe the rest of the offensive players will follow suit.
“Alfred is definitely our workhorse in this offense. You know, we’ve got to get him going, and that gets our whole offense going,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “It definitely opens up everything else. . . . The safeties are shooting downfield to stop Alfred and that gives us more field to work with, especially when we’ve got play-actions and more running room and less defenders out there when the safeties are worried about Alfred and not about us. . . . It’s football. You’ve got to run to throw.”
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