In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
How should the Redskins fix the run game?
El-Bashir: The Redskins’ run game regressed again in 2015, slipping to 20th in yards per game (97.9) while plummeting to 30th in yards per attempt (3.7). Quarterback Kirk Cousins, in fact, scored more rushing touchdowns (5) than the running backs (4). Needless to say, fixing the ground attack ranks among the team’s top offseason priorities.
You can talk all you want about improving the pieces along the O-line, tweaking the scheme and diversifying the play calling. But, to me, the first course of action this offseason needs to be upgrading the guys who, you know, actually carry the ball.
Bruce Allen recently indicated that the team does not intend to re-sign veteran Alfred Morris, whose overall effectiveness declined for a third consecutive season. Morris has meant a lot to this organization for four years, but I'm not going to argue with the decision to move on. It's time.
Matt Jones, meanwhile, showed flashes of his potential as a rookie, but he struggled with consistency, fumbles, injuries and finished last among qualified running backs in yards per attempt (3.4). Is he ready to replace Morris and as the No. 1 in 2016? That would be quite risky, I think.
If GM Scot McCloughan has similar reservations, that leaves him with two options: either investing a high draft pick in the position or signing an impact player in free agency. And if it were my call, I’d lean toward using high picks to address the D-line, inside linebacker, safety and/or cornerback and signing a free agent capable of shouldering the load. I know that goes against McCloughan’s philosophy of building through the draft. But occasionally an exception must be made. This could be one of those occasions. So I’d be okay with pursuing a young (ish) starter like Tampa Bay's Doug Martin (1,402 yards), the New York Jets' Chris Ivory (1,070 yards) or Miami's Lamar Miller (872 yards) should they hit the open market. If McCloughan deems the top free agents to be too costly, there are some decent options among the next tier, as well.
Whatever route McCloughan takes, though, fixing the ground game begins with giving his coaches more talent.
Tandler: The best thing the Redskins can do to fix their running game is to abandon the zone running game except as an occasional wrinkle and go with a power blocking scheme to run the football.
The line is built for power. Trent Williams can handle either. But left guard Shawn Lauvao struggled in the zone scheme in 2014 and was playing well as a power blocker until he got injured. The two on the right side, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses, are better when they are blowing off of the line of scrimmage and taking out the guy in front of them. Center Kory Lichtensteiger is better in zone but at his advancing age and relatively high salary cap number he may not be around for much longer.
The zone was kept around from the Shanahan Era in part because of Alfred Morris. He thrived running behind it and there was some reluctance to go away from it completely. So he got to spend the walk season on his contract running behind a line composed of players better at one type of blocking or the other. The Redskins are likely to let Morris go and they can acquire another running back to pair with Matt Jones, who is more of a downhill runner.
If the Redskins commit to a scheme and get the players who can run it their running game will be much better off. It may not solve all of their woes but when they do have problems they will be much easier to identify and fix.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Who on offense will take the next step?
- Should DeSean Jackson return?
- Today: How can the Redskins fix the running game?
- Tomorrow: What will the depth chart at safety look like in 2016?