When Scot McCloughan came to Washington in January, he drew up the plan for 2015. He knew that quarterback Robert Griffin III was likely to struggle at times and that the other two options at QB, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy had their limitations as well. His plan was to bolster the Redskins’ ability to move the ball on the ground and to stop the run on defense. That would make the Redskins less dependent on whatever flawed quarterback was behind center to stay competitive in games.
While Griffin, the designated starter, has been struggling, the ground-based strategy has been working through two preseason games.
With the usual caveats here that during the preseason many stats are compiled with and against backup players and many who will be cut before they have a chance to be backups, the Redskins are averaging 166 yards rushing per game. They ran for 153 yards in the preseason opener and followed that up with 179 on the ground against the Lions.
Four running backs have been splitting up most of the time. Alfred Morris, who will be the primary runner when the season starts on September 13, has 11 carries for 52 yards. He should probably leave his helmet at home for the last two preseason games; there is no reason for him to play as he clearly is ready for the regular season.
The leading rusher during the preseason is Matt Jones (13 carries/82 yards), followed by Trey Williams (17/67) and Chris Thompson (10/65). Jay Gruden was pleased with the performance of all three young backs after Thursday’s game against the Lions.
“Matt Jones continues to hit the hole the way we want him to – hard,” said Gruden. “He gets through the second level, he’s a problem. Trey makes some excellent runs. And of course, Chris Thompson continues to do what he’s been doing throughout camp. Very exciting to see those backs step up and make some plays.”
Not only is the production of the runners exciting, it’s necessary.
“You know when you’re not protecting your quarterback that great and your passing game is not working so good, it’s nice to rely on a good strong running game,” said Gruden. “That’s what sparked us – the running game got us a couple big hits there. Got us some good positive field position – we did some good things.”
Not only are the Redskins moving the ball on the ground, they are stopping the run on defense. Opponents have a total of 91 yards rushing in two games and have averaged just 2.8 yards per play.
They added some size and strength up front with free agents Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. They join Jason Hatcher on the front line. Hatcher likes the new players’ mindsets as much as their physical strength.
“The guys up from, the want-to, the attitude,” Hatcher said after the game on Thursday. “You’ve got to stop the run to rush the quarterback. We’ve got great guys. I’m not the best run stopper but I do take pride when I’m in there.”
Hatcher also likes the new one-gap scheme that coordinator Joe Barry has installed.
“We’re just really attacking the line of scrimmage, knocking people back and disrupting in the backfield,” said Hatcher. “That takes a big toll on the offensive line, guys getting off the ball instead of last year we were just kind of shuffling sideways. It’s a great scheme, I’m really enjoying it.”
Again, it’s only preseason. We won’t know how well the Redskins’ running game and rush defense will stand up over 60 minutes with front-line players in the game until at least a few weeks into the regular season. But looking at what we know right now, it’s so far, so good.