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Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins’ running game this year?

Jul 20, 2015, 5:02 AM EDT

Alfred-Morris-vs-Jags

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 20, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today’s question comes from Twitter:

I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason looking at various aspects of the running game but Raj’s question here gives me a good opportunity to step back and look at the big picture, how I expect the various parts to fit together. So here we go:

After saying shortly before the start of the 2014 seasons that running the ball was what the Redskins did best, Jay Gruden didn’t call a whole lot of runs. The Redskins were 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 401. To put that in context, the Seahawks led the league 525 rushing attempts, ahead of the Cowboys (508) and Jets (507).

I think that Gruden perhaps intended to call more than 25 runs per game but between his natural inclination to pass first and a defense that was giving up points at a pace of almost a touchdown per quarter (27.4 points/game), it just didn’t happen. The defense should be improved and the presence of Bill Callahan on the sideline will nudge Gruden towards keeping the ball on the ground a bit more. If they add four or five runs per game that will get them up in the area of 450-475 rushing attempts.

Who will carry the ball? Gruden has assured us on multiple occasions that Alfred Morris is still the workhorse running back so until I see something different I’ll believe him. Morris carried 265 times last year so let’s say stays right around in that area. Rookie Matt Jones should get the 40 carries that the departed Roy Helu had last year and then some, perhaps 100 total.

The wild card is quarterback rushing attempts. We’re not going to see a return to 2012 when Robert Griffin III ran the ball 120 times. But if Griffin starts at least a dozen games or so he should get more than the 61 rushing attempts the three quarterbacks combined for in 2014. I’d say something around the 86 he had in 13 games in 2013.

So what will it add up to? Last year they averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, 15th in the NFL. The Redskins averaged 105.7 yards per game, 19th in the league. How much better can they be? Adding a half a yard to their average per rush is a fairly ambitious goal but between the addition of Callahan, a new right side of the line, and more power running, it’s possible. We’ll use 4.7 yards per carry to figure things here while recognizing that 4.5 would represent a solid improvement.

Some quick math tells us that if the Redskins run the ball 475 times and average 4.7 yards a pop over 16 games they will average 140 yards on the ground per game. Last year that would have been fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle (173 per game), Dallas (147), and the Jets (142).

How about if they run 450 times and average 4.5? That would still represent a good improvement up to 126 yards per game, which would have been eighth in the NFL in 2014.

Somewhere between 125 and 140 yards per game is the upside prediction and I think their performance will trend that way. But some things must go right—the defense has to be improved and not just different to keep the team in running situations, Griffin or whoever the quarterback is needs to play well enough to keep teams from stacking the box, and the right side of the line needs to gel in a hurry both in run blocking and in pass protection. Things not going according to the preseason plan has been the norm for this franchise. We will see how it all shakes out but it does seem that the intention is to run more often and run better.

Timeline

—It’s been 204 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 55 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 10; Preseason opener @ Browns 24; final cuts 47

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  1. colorofmyskinz - Jul 20, 2015 at 5:57 AM

    Nice stats and agree this seems reasonable. I think there were many reasons for not running much last year. First, yes Gruden is arena happy and likes passing. But more importantly, he was evaluating Griffins potential which requires passing plays. That is why we started that way. The next thing that drove it was the combination of ball position from kick offs and then our defensive lack of ability to hold other teams from that horrible ball position. This created huge point deficits quickly and then forced our hand to pass more and more.

    If we don’t fix our ball position on kickoffs, we will place our new defense under huge pressure and never give them a chance to gel. This has got to be fixed real bad starting with the worst kick-off kicker in the league to begin. And if Kowatic does not change this ball situation this year I would really like to say goodbye to him.

    Callahan, jones, and our right side should really help. But unless we fix giving the ball up on the 35 yardline after kicks, we will continue to see the pressure mount and we will be wondering why we are not running more with all of these running enhancements.

  2. hk2000 - Jul 20, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    In addition to your list of conditions Rich, I’d say special teams will need to improve A LOT for your scenario to work out, otherwise, the opponent will be scoring too quickly and Gruden will start to panic and things will just get out of hand quick.

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 20, 2015 at 9:07 AM

      I agree. If special teams are competent, 450 rushing attempts possible.

  3. kenlinkins - Jul 20, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    Rich: Do you see a place for Silas Redd on the 2015 Redskins? He did have limited success in 2014 (180 yards on 24 touches) in mop up duty. Will he and Thompson be fighting for one spot on the roster? Are there any plans for Silas Redd on Special Teams? ( I seem to remember a few Redskins media types on the radio calling for him to play more in the last 3 or 4 games).

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 20, 2015 at 9:05 AM

      I see it as Redd vs. Thompson for the last RB roster spot. I think Thompson has an edge due to his speed but he has to stay healthy, far from a given. If Thompson can’t gain the confidence of Gruden and company, they’ll gladly give the spot to Redd. Maybe both can make it but they would have to trim elsewhere to keep 4 RB’s + DY.

  4. shermanp79 - Jul 20, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    All sounds good to me! I am leaning toward Jones having a much bigger role. With his power and Morris’s struggles in the power scheme, he could be the lead back down the stretch. Having a power back who has good hands only helps this offense. Maybe some big screen plays on 1st down. This offense was too predictable and easy to stop last year. I would prefer RG3 to run more but can he, without getting injured. Our luck is RG3 looks much better only to get hurt again. So many things dictate how much we run. So many blame Gruden’s play calling. Without a defense, he had no choice. I think he wants to run more, which is why they brought in OL and a RB who can run what he wants. The offense still has a long way to go. He did it with Dalton in CIN so I expect to see it here once we get a QB and a better defense.

  5. kenlinkins - Jul 20, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    IMO for a team to move to a power running game it takes more than just a power running O-Line. You must have either 2 TE’s that can block or a TE and a FB who can block PLUS can be a concern for a defense in the passing game to go along with your monster RB. If you use Paulsen and Young (TE & FB) you remove Reed and Paul from the game (two of your better pass catchers), but if that can force the defense to commit 8 to the box and use a Tampa One type coverage then one of your WR will be “manned” or both will be playing vs. a 3 man zone. That should benefit Garson and Jackson (this assumes that you use this set up a lot on first & second down and can still gain 4.5 per carry to avoid a lot of 3rd down and 8 yards). If also requires two RB’s (Morris / Jones?), better mistake free football from Defense and Special teams, and a commitment from the coaching staff to not panic early if down by 13 points. I am not 100% sure that head Coach Gruden can run this kind of system as he seems to want to place as many WR on the field as he can and have his QB make 3, 4 or even 5 reads after the snap while getting an extra pass rusher in his face any time he drops back. He also seems to like Speed over Power (i.e. WR- TE- 3rd RB) over plays designed to over power the point of attack for 6, 7 or 8 yards. (i.e. a Homer run hitter vs. higher avg on base guy). I am not sure if the Redskins have the parts required to be a power team yet, they seem to lack blocking TE, a power center, and a OC / Head coach that can live with 16 play drives and a QB who can be on the same page with his HC/OC. I like the idea of forcing other teams to use more LB’s – SS types to tackle RB, FB, TE’s and or watching their better CB’s getting hit all day by bigger RB, FB, TE’s in a power running game. It is the old power vs. Speed debate, and right now in the NFL teams are set up to beat speed, so why not try power?

    • bangkokben - Jul 20, 2015 at 9:44 AM

      Some fair points. Logan Paulsen IS a blocking TE. He may have had a down year but he did fill in for one of the tackle spots at the end of one of the games last year. The coach seemed to be more impressed with him than the fans. Another option would be to use another guard or tackle and line Scherff as the TE to run power. You could do this with a one back set or a two back set. New England has used a similar tactic against the Colts for three years in a row.

      I’m off to vacation chat with you all in August if the sharks aren’t hungry for fat middle-aged white guys. Until then, Hail to the Redskins.

  6. mr.moneylover - Jul 20, 2015 at 4:00 PM

    It can be better if alfred Morris improve on run blocking and catching the ball…hes bout to get the nickname butterfingers if he continues to drop the ball

  7. timwillhidetimwillhide - Jul 20, 2015 at 8:19 PM

    I think how well the run game does depends on the improvements made on the Oline. Alfred Morris was Hit Behind The Line Of Scrimmage on roughly 25% of his runs. If the RB is getting Hit 1 out of every 4 runs behind the line of scrimmagethere’s a problem. Leaving Defensive Players Behind the Line of Scrimmage is a Common Theme with this Oline. Wether they are causing sacks or getting our RB hit behind the line of scrimmage their blocking or lack thereof is a Major concern and this team will get nowhere until it is improved.

      • Rich Tandler - Jul 21, 2015 at 5:52 AM

        I don’t know what the breakdown is but I do know that backs are sometimes hit in the backfield due to running to the wrong spot. Note that the first comment by PFF is that Carlos Hyde was hit far in the backfield far more often than Frank Gore, running behind the same line. So it’s apparent that this stat is not all about the quality of the offensive line.

        Morris said during the season that he was missing his spots and some coaches (not publicly) concurred with his assessment. Did that account for half of the times he was hit in the backfield? A third? Don’t really know but it was some.

        This is remarkably similar to the RG3 and Kirk Cousins sack rates. Same lines, different results. Not saying it’s all on Morris or RG. But to take one number and pound the drum and say it proves something is simply not credible.

        It’s interesting data but only part of the picture.

  8. tim foltz - Jul 21, 2015 at 5:39 AM

    With those kinda stats they could be playiff contension. I just watching defense to see if improvements carry over to the other side.

  9. sidepull - Jul 21, 2015 at 6:50 AM

    Rg3 needs to keep the defense honest. He plays better, getting the ball out quicker and picking up some yardage running he will open up the running game for the backs. If he is ineffective it will just be more of the same. Nobody feared him last year. They looked like they couldn’t wait until the snap to rattle him and get in his face. And the offense as a unit did miss blocking assignments, missed picking up the blitz, dropped balls, started with poor field position and on and on. They were what there record says they were, a bad team. Hope they right the ship.

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