Slow Start For Run Game Not A Concern
Despite the Redskins’ meager 74 yards in the season opener against the Eagles, several players expressed a belief that the performance was a fluke and will be different on Sunday.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – The top rushing offense in the league a year ago, the Redskins only once gained fewer than 120 yards on the ground during the regular season. That was against the Steelers in Week 8 – a rainy, sloppy game against the team that would finish with the second-ranked run defense.
Monday’s opener, then, in which the Redskins ran for only 74 yards, was quite the surprise. In a hole early against the Eagles, they ran the ball just 18 times; Alfred Morris, the second-leading rusher last season, was held to just 45 yards and fumbled twice.
“We never got to do our game plan, to tell you the truth,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “It turned into a two-minute drill pretty fast.”
The Redskins were off balance from the start. They turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions, including two fumbles by Morris, and didn’t start to string together sustained drives until midway through the third quarter, when the Eagles already held a 26-point lead.
Part of that was because of the return of Robert Griffin III, who was seeing his first game action after sitting out of the preseason. Part of that was because of the Eagles’ reconfigured 3-4 defense, which utilized additional fire zone blitzes than the Redskins expected from the preseason.
But none of that can happen Sunday against the Packers if the Redskins hope to avoid starting their season with two consecutive losses.
“We’ll get better,” Morris said. “We were too rushed. We were out of sync. We didn’t really get in a rhythm until late, so I mean, I’m glad it happened the first game rather than later in the season. We’re just looking forward to bouncing back from last week and just start strong, strong fast, start early rather than late.”
Washington showed only six read option looks in the 33-27 loss to the Eagles, four of which were play-action throws. It wasn’t utilized at all on the final two drives, one which went 11 plays and the other ended in a touchdown, because there was no threat of a run with the margin so great.
The Packers, torched by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for 181 rushing yards during the NFC divisional round playoff loss in January, went back to the drawing board during the offseason knowing they’d have to stop San Francisco again.
They did in one regard, holding him to only 22 yards on seven carries by taking away the threat of the read option. They routinely broke into the backfield to break up the mesh point; though the 49ers’ use of the play differs slightly from how the Redskins have done it, the principles remain the same.
“That’s all coaches do – study what defenses do versus each team, what their plan is, how teams adjust each week,” Shanahan said. “You try to guess how they are going to adjust to you. No one really shows you the same stuff twice, so that’s really what our job is.”
Morris said the inability to get the rushing game going against the Eagles wasn’t as frustrating to him as his two fumbles. Knowing what the Redskins were able to accomplish running the ball last season, when they gained an average of 169.3 yards a game, he thinks it’ll only be a matter of time before the kinks are worked out.
“Coach [Mike] Shanahan’s been running this offense for a million years,” right tackle Tyler Polumbus said. “He’s been doing the outside zone stuff with Terrell Davis and all those guys, and he plugged in and played a million different running backs. Once we get the outside zone running game going, we’ll be fine.”
➤ A version of this story appears in Friday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.