Establishing Running Game Crucial To Success
The Redskins have been unable to run the ball during their first four games and have recognized that being able to do so is crucial to their success on offense.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – It seemed likely before the season began that Alfred Morris would be the focal point of the Redskins’ offense. After all, the running back spurred the league’s best rushing attack with a stellar rookie season a year ago, and as quarterback Robert Griffin III continued to work back from offseason knee surgery, removing the pressure placed on him would surely benefit everyone.
One problem: It hasn’t happened that way. After four games and three lopsided starts, the Redskins have had to steer away from running the ball, putting it back in Griffin’s hands and forcing him to win games with his arm.
It worked once – the Redskins’ last outing, when they defeated the Raiders on Sept. 29. As they return from a week off on Sunday and face the Cowboys on the road, the challenge will be to give Morris the opportunity to do what he did well last season.
“As long as we win, I couldn’t care less,” Morris said. “I’m gonna do my part regardless.”
Morris’ part, especially as it pertained to the Cowboys, was enormous. He ran for 113 yards and a touchdown in the 38-31 victory in Dallas on Thanksgiving, then followed that performance up with a 200-yard, three-touchdown romp as the Redskins closed the season, and clinched the NFC East title, with a 28-18 win.
The Redskins went 9-1 last season in the 10 games in which Morris carried the ball more than 20 times. He had 33 carries in the finale against the Cowboys; his lone blemish was a Week 7 road loss to the Giants, when he had just 22 carries for 120 yards.
This season, Morris has averaged just 14 rushing attempts a game. He would have surpassed the 20-carry threshold in the victory over the Raiders; he had 16 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with bruised ribs, and Roy Helu entered and ran down the clock with 13 attempts in the fourth quarter alone.
Of course, Morris carrying the ball 20 times doesn’t automatically hand the Redskins a victory. It is, rather, an indication of how well the offense is moving the ball and how successful the Redskins have been during the course of the game.
“When we do run for over 100 yards, or have 20 carries or more – that is the best chance we have of dominating games,” Helu said. “Obviously, we’d like to do that. And it just controls the rhythm of the game. You feel like you’re in control of how to dictate what the defense will do.”
Losing any semblance of a running game doesn’t just affect one aspect of the Redskins’ offense. With the passing game designed around the effective use of play action, including throws from a zone-read look, the defense isn’t going to bite on the fake if it knows the Redskins aren’t a threat to run.
In the first two losses of the season, first to the Eagles and then to the Packers, the Redskins had to alter their strategy in the second quarter and throw the ball more frequently. Trailing early, they couldn’t afford to run the ball, which would keep the clock moving and typically only lead to moderate gains.
“It’s just what we do,” Griffin said. “It’s essential to us. We’ve got a couple guys back there who can really tote the rock for us, and you’ve got to give them an opportunity to do that. Whether it’s Alfred, Helu or [Evan] Royster, anybody that has to step back there and take some carries, we want to get that game rolling.”
Morris set team records last season with 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to finish second in the league in both categories. Through five weeks, he ranks 16th in the league with 296 rushing yards and 13th with only two rushing touchdowns.
He’ll be tested Sunday, especially considering that a revamped Cowboys defense has allowed only 82.8 yards a game on the ground, the fourth-best mark in the league.
If he can get in a rhythm, particularly early in the game, it should boost the Redskins’ offense significantly.
“You know, whatever I can do to help my team win – even if they want me to run down the field on special teams, I’m fine with that,” Morris said. “It’s anything that takes to win.”