Dec 6, 2005, 9:40 AM EDT
Michael Wilbon may be a Bears fan but he does know football and the Redskins pretty well. He hit it right on the money in his column on Monday morning:
They should have been doing this all along. The Washington Redskins should have committed to pounding people with their running game from Week 1. Throwing is nice if you’ve got Peyton Manning tossing it to Marvin Harrison or Carson Palmer pitching it to Chad Johnson. But when your starting linemen are from the likes of Michigan, Auburn, Texas and Wisconsin and when your $50 million running back stands on the sideline pestering the coaches for more carries, it’s clear the personality of the team is screaming, “Let us run !”
The long bomb, which was supposed to be the new thrust of the offense going in to the season, certainly has its appeal. It’s quick it’s easy, you really don’t have to work for your seven points. It fits with the instant-gratification tone of our current society. It became even more appealing after Mark Brunell unloaded a pair of them to Santana Moss in Dallas and the Redskins got a win after having been outplayed for 55 minutes.
After that, however, the long pass became more of a novelty. Much of the passing yardage came on yards after the catch by the likes of Moss. Although the passes weren’t long in distance they were high in number compared to runs. Against Denver Joe Gibbs called 57 passes and 22 runs (note that sacks and Brunell runs are counted as passing plays as that was the play call). In that case, the Redskins did trail by 11 midway through the third quarter so there was some reason to throw more, although Clinton Portis was having a good day against his old team, gaining 100 yards on 20 carries. It was the next week in KC that many started to question the play calling. In a game that never had more than a seven-point spread in the score, there were 47 pass plays called to 28 runs.
It was during the November three-game losing streak, all agonizing, close losses, that the play calling really came into question. Yes they did have to play catch up against Tampa Bay for part of the game but Clinton Portis had 107 yards on 12 carries in the first half but after the Redskins tied the game at 21 early in the third quarter he got only eight more carries.
The term “abandon the run” was thrown around even more after the next game. With Washington up 13-3 at the half, Portis had 17 carries for 70 yards. Portis got five carries for 22 yards in the second half as the lead slipped away and the Redskins lost.
It was against the Chargers that Gibbs decided that if this team was going to turn it around it would be doing so via the ground game. For the first time all year Portis had more rushing attempts than Brunell had passing attempts. It almost worked, but they couldn’t get some clock-killing first downs when they needed them and they couldn’t hold the best running back in the game down for all four quarters.
Against the Rams the game plan was in full throwback mode with a ratio of runs to pass of nearly two to one. Certainly, the game plan was influenced by the fact that the Rams have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL but the Chargers have one of the best so it’s apparent that it wasn’t merely a case of taking what the defense gives them. It was an attempt to establish an offensive identity.
Wilbon asks why it took three-fourths of a season to establish such an identity:
If the linemen wanted to run all along and there are three quality running backs to carry the ball, why did it take until the 12th game of a 16-game season to get with the program, to commit completely and totally to the run?
“What lessons do we ever learn early?” Jansen asked with a smile. “With the defense we have, we should be able to do this every week. That has to be the personality of the offense. “
The view here is that rushing attempts will be in the thirties and passes in the teens against Arizona and perhaps even against Dallas. While the Cowboys are in the top 10 in total rushing defense, they are 25th in average yards per carry, giving up 4.2 per rushing attempt. Against the Giants a more diverse offense will be a necessity, but that’s a few weeks away. If the run is firmly established by then, the passing game will come.
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