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Need to Know: How much will the 2015 Redskins run?

Need to Know: How much will the 2015 Redskins run?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, August 23, four days before the Washington Redskins play the Baltimore Ravens.

Question of the day

As I wrote about a few days ago, the Redskins plan to rely on the ground game to take as much pressure off of the quarterback, whether it’s Robert Griffin III or someone else, as possible. The idea is to set up more favorable down and distance situations, set up play action passes, and wear down the defense.

In order to move this plan from paper to the field, the Redskins made a number of personnel moves. They bolstered the offensive line with the acquisition of Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick. They took running back Matt Jones in the third, hoping that he will be a fresh, powerful set of legs to help out Alfred Morris. To put it all together the Redskins hired Bill Callahan to coach the offensive line and coordinate the running game.

They made some defensive free agent acquisitions as well and you can make the case that improving that side of the ball helps the running game as well. After all, you can’t run the ball consistently if the defense isn’t doing its part to keep the score close enough where the running game can be effective.

After that setup, let’s look at Randy’s question. It’s really two questions. How much can a given NFL team run the ball in the pass-happy league and how many rushing attempts are realistic for the 2015 Washington Redskins?

The most rushing attempts by a team in the last 10 season was 607 by the 2009 New York Jets. Rex Ryan was a rookie head coach and he had rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez behind center. Thomas Jones, 31 years old, led the team in rushing with 331 attempts for 1,402 yards. Also helping to carry the load on the ground were Shonn Greene (108/540) and Leon Washington (72/331).

The plan worked. Sanchez completed just 54 percent of his passes and threw 20 interceptions. But their running game and their defense, ranked first in the NFL in both yards and points allowed, pulled them to a winning record. They pulled off two road upsets in the playoffs before falling to the Colts in the AFC title game.

Their offensive line coach was a guy named Bill Callahan, by the way.

Can the Redskins copy that blueprint? As a point of reference, they ran the ball 401 times last year. So to run as often as the Jets did they would have to increase their rushing attempts by 50 percent. The 2008 Jets ran the ball just 422 times with Brett Favre at quarterback. So it is possible to shift gears to such an extent.

I will be surprised if they don’t end up running the ball around 500 times. I think they would like to approach 600 attempts but I don’t think they will have a good enough defense to be able to do it. The ’09 Jets had a solid unit with Darrelle Revis in his absolute prime at cornerback, and linebackers Thomas Pace and David Harris. They allowed 14.8 points per game making it possible for the Jets to stick with the running attack virtually all game, every game. I think the Redskins will be improved defensively but I don’t see them cutting their 27.4 points per game allowed just about in half.

So I think that 500 rushing attempts is very realistic for this team and 525-550 is possible if the defense really comes together.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:45 a.m.; player availability and Jay Gruden news conference after practice (approx. 1:45)

—It’s been 237 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 19 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Preseason Redskins @ Ravens 4; final cuts 11; Redskins @ Giants Thursday night 30

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In case you missed it

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE WIN

Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”

RELATED: FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN RESKINS VS GIANTS

Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.