The Washington Redskins have some areas to clean up in Friday’s second preseason game against the New York Jets at FedEx Field — none bigger than the rushing game.
The team called 12 straight runs in its first practice following the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, when the ground attack struggled. August football rarely is a time to overreact, but the output at the Georgia Dome looked a little too similar to what the running game delivered last season.
The ground attack will face a much tougher opponent Friday, which Coach Jay Gruden remembers from a 34-20 loss in Week 6 last year. The Redskins rushed for just 34 yards on 17 carries .
“Jets are excellent against the run,” Gruden said. “If I recall last year, we couldn’t run the length of my arm against them. They’re very physical. They play some fronts that are very difficult to run against. So it will be a great test for us — our physicality — and see if we can get anything going.”
The offensive starters probably will play for a quarter unless Gruden sees enough from his first team to insert backups sooner.
That will include an increased workload for running back Matt Jones. He had two carries for one yard against Atlanta. His best run, a 12-yard gain to the right side, was called back because of a holding penalty on right tackle Morgan Moses.
The Redskins finished the preseason opener with 79 yards on 24 attempts. They couldn’t establish a consistent running threat until the second half, with backups Robert Kelley and Mack Brown combining for 68 yards.
“Unfortunately, when you look at some of those earlier runs, what occurred is whether it’d be a missed assignment or a holding penalty that takes back a positive run. We’ve got to do a better job of collectively executing,” offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “And that’s everybody. In order for us to stay in normal down and distances, that’s when you give yourself an opportunity to run the football more.”
The Redskins could be without left tackle Trent Williams again. He didn’t dress against Atlanta because of what Gruden described as knee soreness, and he didn’t participate in one-on-one or 11-on-11 periods this week. Swing tackle Ty Nsekhe will start if Williams doesn’t play.
Gruden also has eased left guard Shawn Lauvao back into the mix. He started training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of five procedures, including two major surgeries, to clean up foot and ankle issues after he was placed on injured reserve in Week 3 last season. The Redskins’ running game didn’t look the same without him.
“He’s working himself back into shape,” Gruden said. “When you miss that much time with an injury, especially to your feet or ankles, it’s going to take some time physically to get yourself back into shape. And I think you’ll see more and more of him in the next couple of weeks, and we’ll see how he does.”
Jones is expected to receive around eight carries against the Jets.
The second-year running back out of Florida has been one of the team’s biggest question marks heading into the season.
There have been concerns with ball security (five fumbles last year), but Jones has spent the entire offseason addressing the issue and has been confident throughout training camp. He quickly played down the Redskins’ struggles in the first preseason game.
“It’s no big deal,” Jones said. “We’re going to run the ball, but we’re going to play more this week. So we’re going to run the ball like how we know we’re going to run. We’re not worried about the run game. It’s no issue to us, and we’re going to get the job done.”
McVay emphasized that the team wants to have a balanced offense despite the pass weapons available to quarterback Kirk Cousins. Washington struggled to find that balance last year, relying on Cousins’s arm while it tried to balance carries among Jones, Alfred Morris and third-down back Chris Thompson. Now it will look to find that from Jones, Thompson and a slew of inexperienced backs — Kelley, Brown and seventh-round pick Keith Marshall.
“Our job is to move the football, but I do think it’s really important for us with the perimeter weapons that we have, with the quarterback we have, to establish a run game so you make people honor that based on some of the structures you’ll see defensively,” McVay said. “I think we’ll be a better offense if we’re able to be more productive in both phases where it’s not just one over the other.”