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Stability On Offensive Line A Major Reason For Redskins’ Sustained Success

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – As the Washington Redskins continued to lose games last season, spiraling toward a 5-11 record, they continued to lose offensive linemen as well.

Williams

In all, the team asked 10 players to make at least one start, with three playing different positions. It trotted out eight different starting combinations, some for just one game.

That led to an unsettled offseason – one where the Redskins were expected to fortify their offensive line. And while the team was unable to do so because of a salary cap penalty, restricting it to adding linemen through the draft, somehow, the offensive line went from a concern to a strength.

The Redskins enter today’s game at Philadelphia with the distinction of being one of only four teams to start the same five players on the offensive line in every game, which has been one of the reasons, several players believe, the offense has had so much success.

“You look at the Eagles’ offensive line and they have a lot of injuries,” said center Will Montgomery. “I think they have four backups in right now and [are shuffling] guys in and out like us last year. It can be troublesome at times.”

There are many reasons why the Redskins weren’t successful on offense last season, starting with inconsistent play at nearly all the skill positions and a multitude of injuries.

This year, Washington ranks amongst the top half of the league in a variety of key categories – rushing yards, yards per play and points scored – and while much of that has to do with the addition of dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III, success is hard to come by with a patchwork offensive line.

“I think it’s huge,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “I think we started out pretty good last year and once we got started shuffling our O-line, things went downhill. We got guys experience last year, and I feel like our depth is better this year so that we can survive stuff like that.”

The Redskins sustained a blow before training camp began when Jammal Brown, projected to resume his role as the starting right tackle, tore a ligament in his hip and required surgery that has kept him out for the season.

They also had to battle through a variety of small injuries during the preseason, leading to left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right guard Chris Chester missing time.

But with the exception of Williams, who has played through a sprained left ankle and a bruised left thigh, the unit had remained fairly healthy this season. Only at Cleveland, when Montgomery sprained the MCL in his left knee and right tackle Tyler Polumbus left with a concussion, did the Redskins have to start plugging holes in an otherwise solid unit.

“Maybe the last three years that I’ve been here, we haven’t had the same core group of guys make it through the whole season,” said Lichtensteiger, who missed all but five games last season with multiple torn ligaments in his right knee. “I’m not trying to jinx anything – I’m going to knock on wood as I’m saying that – but it’s nice not to have to adjust not so much of what you’re doing.”

Griffin has officially been sacked 31 times this season, which ranks in the middle of the league, but that number is misleading. Any scramble for a loss, or even one that gets back to the line of scrimmage, by the quarterback is technically a sack; individually, the line has allowed a combined 18 sacks, not including coverage sacks – times Griffin was tackled when receivers weren’t open.

It’s also been a large reason why rookie Alfred Morris, at 1,322 yards, is within reach of setting the team’s single-season rushing record.

“They play as unit,” Griffin said. “That’s the great thing about it. They run-block well. They’re doing the things we’re asking them to do extremely well. Of course, everyone is going to talk about how they’re undersized and maybe there’s no big-name guys, but to us they play extremely well as a unit. They communicate well and they protect me. That’s all you can ask for.”

The continuity helps the linemen, they said, for communication reasons. Familiar with each other’s tendencies and abilities, they’re aware of what each player must to do; losing a player can be a burden for that reason alone.

Thus far, the Redskins have avoided that. The fewer the players, the greater the wins.

“You watch all over the league and teams that really get their O-line banged up, their offense usually does struggle,” Shanahan said. “Every team goes through that. It’s part of football. It’s been a fortunate year for us in that way.”

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