For Receivers, Blocking In Run Game Just As Important As Receiving
ASHBURN – There will be times during a game when Alfred Morris will jog back to the line of scrimmage following a run, turn to one of his receivers and thank him for setting a block downfield.
Sometimes, he’ll have to do it twice.
“I’ll be like, ‘Hey, good block, man. I appreciate it. Thank you,’ and they’ll look at me,” Morris said. “I’ll be like, ‘No, good block.’ Without that block, I know we’re not getting some of the yards we’re getting, so it definitely helps.”
The Redskins’ offense has always stressed blocking in the run game, not only by the offensive line and the tight ends but also amongst the receivers. That played a large part in the team signing free agents Pierre Garçon and Joshua Morgan, two physical receivers, during the offseason.
It’s also a large reason why Washington ranks third in the NFL at 5.1 yards per rushing attempt entering Sunday’s game against Minnesota. It’s also, accordingly, why Morris is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, good for seventh amongst all running backs with at least eight carries a game.
“Coaches told me the big runs by the running backs are directly proportional to the blocks downfield by the receivers,” Morris said. “I never really had that in college.”
Against Atlanta on Sunday, Morris gained 29 yards on one second-quarter run, helping move the Redskins into the red zone on just their second play of the drive.
Washington began the series on its own 32-yard line, and Morris gained 20 yards on the first play when Robert Griffin III threw him the ball in the left flat. The Redskins then lined up with tight end Fred Davis on the left, Morris and fullback Darrel Young in the backfield and receivers Garçon and Morgan wide to the right.
Center Will Montgomery snapped the ball to Griffin, who turned to hand it off to Morris. Defensive end Ray Edwards stayed outside and was blocked by right tackle Tyler Polumbus, while right guard Chris Chester got a hand on defensive tackle Peria Jerry before leaving to block the middle linebacker, Akeem Dent.
Morris ran behind Young, who picked up outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to allow the running back to get back to the line of scrimmage. That’s where the receivers came in.
Morgan and Garçon each released to the second level on the snap and, as the play unfolded, waited for Atlanta’s defensive backs to play the run. Morgan grabbed safety Thomas DeCoud and Garçon got in front of cornerback Asante Samuel, allowing Morris to take off down the right sideline.
What could have been a seven-yard run went 20 yards longer before Morris was run out of bounds at the Falcons’ 19-yard line.
“I think what’s special about that play, over all other plays, is that Kyle [Shanahan, the offensive coordinator] always pointed out in the meetings that it’s very rare you see a whole team get hat placement and get the right angles and get perfect angles in the run game to let Alfred do what he’s gonna do,” Morgan said. “I mean, when you see that, I think that’s what special about Alfred’s big runs. If you look at every big run we have, you can see the hat placement and you see everybody at the point of attack. They’re doing their job.”
Morgan has always taken a special pride in blocking, if only because it’s another advantage he’ll have over a defensive back. He was always taught that to dominate a game, he has to do so in all phases – including the run.
Young said head coach Mike Shanahan will often use Jerry Rice, Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey as an example of receivers who embraced blocking despite their ability to catch passes.
“We’re a bunch of team players, so we try to help the team as much as we can and try to get every yard on every play,” Garçon said. “Coach is telling us to block, and we’ve got to do what we’re coached up to do.”
That leads to situations like Sunday. Though the Redskins were unable to score on that drive – Billy Cundiff missed a 31-yard field goal attempt – it was yet another example of how the offense is playing to its strengths.
“I was actually expecting a little more resistance, that somebody was gonna come [tackle],” Morris said. “I was like, ‘Hold on – I’m still running? Keep running!’ Eventually the safety did come, but yeah, it was well-executed. You want it to go perfect, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. When it actually happens, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK. Let’s keep going then.’”