When your quarterback is struggling and the game is close, what is the best thing to do? Run the ball, of course.
Well, unless you’re Jay Gruden. Then you double down on your problems.
The Redskins ran effectively in between some Kirk Cousins overthrows and assorted other misfires. But they just didn’t run it very often.
Matt Jones picked up 61 yards on 13 carries, a respectable average of 4.7 yards per carry. The team rushing stats were padded a bit by Cousins scrambling twice for 20 yards. But if your primary running back is averaging 4.7 a carry your running game is an effective weapon.
In fact, your back can average less than that and still be an asset. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. But they kept on giving him the ball and he had some good runs, moved the chains a few times and, perhaps most importantly, kept the pressure off of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Elliott picked up 83 yards on 21 carries.
In Week 1 the Redskins’ running backs had just 11 carries but against the Steelers they found themselves behind the chains a lot and they trailed most of the second half. Against the Cowboys there were plenty of good running opportunities. But Jay Gruden and Sean McVay just chose not to run.
On Sunday the Redskins had 26 snaps on first and 10. They called runs on nine of them (Cousins scrambled twice). That’s a 65-35 pass to run ratio. Yes, it’s a pass happy league but so far this season on first and 10 NFL teams have passed 51 percent of the time and have run 49 percent. Perhaps McVay and Gruden would have been better off going with league trends.(h/t to Pro Football Reference for the situational stats)
Washington also had 12 plays when it was second down with seven or fewer yards to go. They called 10 passes and two runs.
How about in the red zone? Certainly the Redskins would want to establish the run there, right? Nope. On 14 red zone snaps they threw 11 times and ran three. In the fourth quarter they had a chance to salt the game away up by three with a first and goal at the six. This would be a good time to let Jones, your big back who had scored on a 14-yard run earlier the game, bang it a couple of times. But the play calls were pass, pass, and pass. The first two were fade patterns that never really had a chance and the third one was intercepted.
From my view, it looks like Gruden sees the passing game as the strength of the team and he wants to utilize it. That’s fine but when your quarterback is having problems pulling the trigger and hitting his targets you need to go to Plan B, especially if Plan B is proving to be reasonably effective the few times you use it.
To be sure, the Redskins aren’t going to move the ball down the field by pounding out yards exclusively on the ground. But clearly handing the ball off just 15 times is not enough, especially considering all of the good running situations that presented themselves.
At 0-2 the Redskins need to look at everything and their reluctance to call running place is a great place to start.