On October 27th as the Washington Redskins went into their bye week, Coach Jay Gruden was asked what his priority was whilst the team is on an extended break. His response?
“I think fixing the running game, trying to get the running game back on track is the main priority for us obviously. For three weeks, it hasn’t been very good.”
Those preceding three weeks that Gruden referred to, the Redskins rushing totals were 51, 34, and 50 yards respectively.
With 14 days of preparation to solve the self-identified issues with the running game, the Redskins came out versus the New England Patriots and rushed for a combined 37 yards on 15 carries, averaging 2.5 yards. The split of the carries saw Matt Jones run the ball 11 times to Alfred Morris‘ 4, and both averaged the same 2.5 yards per carry. Chris Thompson saw a few passes thrown his way in 3rd down situations, being targeted 4 times for 2 catches totaling 21 yards, but Thompson never had a run that counted (he had the equal longest carry of the day on a 3rd and 1 that went for 10 yards, however it didn’t count as it was called back for a holding penalty against Morgan Moses).
A big part of the problem appears to be the poor standard of run blocking production that the Redskins are getting from their Tight Ends. Whilst Jordan Reed is an undeniably mercurial talent as a receiver, on run plays he hurts the team more than he helps, as seen here where Matt Jones gets tackled for a 4 yard loss by Rob Ninkovich on a 1st and goal play:
Jordan Reed completely loses his block, and then like a deer in the headlights fails to recover quick enough to give Matt Jones any sort of space to work with. Unfortunately for the Redskins, that kind of showing from Reed isn’t rare when he’s asked to block, and too often he gets called for holding penalties as he desperately attempts to prevent the defender from getting past him. Considering that Coach Bill Callahan is renowned for his ability to teach blocking techniques to players, it is astounding that Reed has yet to take a step forward in this regard.
Similarly hurting the Redskins ground game is the apparent inability for the Offensive Line to create lanes, especially inside the tackles. Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff, both in their first year as starters, have been solid in pass protection but lackadaisical when it comes to run blocking, and it’s a similar story for Spencer Long who has taken over the Left Guard duties form Shaun Lauvao who is on Injured Reserve. A far too common occurrence on run plays between the tackles is Morris or Jones having absolutely no gaps to work with, leaving them with little alternative than to run into the back of their own blocking Offensive Linemen and eke out a 2 or 3 yard gain:
Following the game today, Jay Gruden was once again asked about the ineffective ground game.
“We just felt like we never got in a rhythm today as far as calling plays. We couldn’t get any kind of drive put together in the run game
We couldn’t get Alfred going today. I’ve been saying it for four weeks; we have to get Alfred going, we have to get Matt Jones going… coming from behind against these guys [New England] is hard on the running game”.
Whilst a combination of factors today -including the fact that the Redskins fell behind on the scoreboard early, as well as New England being a top five run defense in the NFL- certainly contributed to the struggles today, the fact remains that for over a month now the ground game has been totally shut down.
Next week’s match up versus the New Orleans Saints, who are currently the 24th worst run defense in the league (averaging 122.6 yards allowed on the ground per game) needs to be seen as an opportunity to re-establish the ground and pound identity that Gruden attributed to this team before the season began. If the Redskins fail to move the chains on the ground again next week, it will represent a systemic failure that can realistically only be blamed on the coaches after this long.
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