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The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough

The Tuesday Take: 14 Carries Not Enough

In 2002, Steve Spurrier took his Redskins into Jacksonville to face the NFL’s worst rushing defense. Washington was on a two-game winning streak that was accomplished largely on the strength of a solid rushing game. So, Spurrier went out and called 51 pass plays and just 16 runs and the Redskins lost 26-7.

"I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said. "We ran a little bit here and there. We had a little success there early, and I got away from it too much. The second quarter, I kept thinking at midfield, we could throw the ball from there. But we didn't do it very well. So, looking back, I called a lousy game."

Al Saunders offered no such rambling explanation for his game plan last Sunday. Against Tennessee, the league’s worst rushing defense, Clinton Portis ran the ball just 14 times. Certainly, Saunders has much more NFL credibility than the Ballcoach did and he deserves a bit more slack and benefit of the doubt. But I’ve listened to two Gibbs pressers and some assorted other comments and I’ve heard absolutely nothing that would explain that number 14.

Certainly the game situation didn’t dictate that the Skins get away from the rushing game. The Redskins never faced more than a one-score deficit throughout the game and their prime back, the guy they have a $50 million contract to, the player who was clearly the missing piece to the offense during the team’s 0-2 start, the man who got them going when they needed a kick start in Houston, the one who controlled the game against Jacksonville’s supposedly impenetrable tackle tandem, the back who got 76 yards against the Giants despite the fact that the Redskins’ offense was otherwise completely dysfunctional, carried the ball just two and a half times per quarter.

Let’s take a look at a few series here. After the Redskins took a 14-3 lead, the Titans came back with a drive that resulted in a field goal to make it 14-6 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Certainly, this would have been a good time for the Redskins to grind out a drive against the league’s worst rushing defense, cool off the Titans’ offense, and reestablish control of the game.

Nope. The ensuing drive featured one Portis carry and covered 10 yards and six plays. The Titans got the ball back and took it into the end zone. It was 14-13, Tennessee’s confidence grew and the Redskins knew that they were in for an all-day battle.

At halftime Portis had all of seven carries for 44 yards, an average of 6.3 yards a pop. Mark Brunell was posting decent numbers, but he was averaging just 7.3 yards on each of his 14 passes. Why pass so much when the running game can get you almost as far?

After taking the second-half kickoff Washington had good field position at its own 39. Portis got his hands on the ball once, it was a four and out and Tennessee took the lead on the next drive.

In the fourth quarter with the score tied at 22, the Redskins get the ball back on a punt with 9:21 to play. Portis got one carry on the three and out, Washington held the ball for just 1:05 and the Titans got the game-winning field goal after the punt.

Again, the Titans had the league’s worst rushing defense coming into the game, giving up an average of 172 yards a game. Given that, it seems that the only person who could have stopped Portis on Sunday was Saunders and he did a great job of it.

Instead of the pound-it-out style of game that we should have seen, we saw a steady diet of slip screens, end arounds, reverses, and other such French pastry. Saunders seemed to be intent on tricking the Titans rather than letting the players beat them physically. The fact that you have a 700-page playbook doesn’t mean that you have to use it all in one game when just a handful of power running plays is what is needed to get the job done.

All that being said, for all of the woes of the offense, 22 points should have been enough to beat the Titans, a team that had not scored more than 16 points all year long. When you give up 177 yards rushing to Travis Henry, a back who has gained just 205 in the previous five games, when you let a rookie quarterback stand back and coolly complete a 23-yard pass on fourth and two, your offensive game plan probably isn’t going to matter much because it’s likely that the opposition will be able to do whatever it takes to outscore you.

And don’t forget the key role that special teams played in this defeat. The safety on the blocked punt didn’t play a huge role in the game, but what did was the exchange of punts after the Redskins tied the score. For one of the few times all day the defense bottled up Henry and Young. The Titans punted from their own 34. After Washington’s three and out and subsequent punt, Tennessee got the ball back at the Washington 43. That’s a net gain of 23 yards and two Henry runs later the Titans were in field goal range.

Still, the single worst aspect of the game was the offensive game plan. Again Saunders has earned much more NFL cred than Steve Spurrier ever had. But Spurrier stumbled in to some real wisdom when after that Jacksonville game he said, “You're only as good as your last game. I'm not very good right now.”

The same can be said of Al Saunders.

Learning from mistakes?

It’s one thing to screw up. It’s exponentially worse to make the same mistake twice, especially two weeks in a row. They are going into a game where the plan again should be to pound Portis left, right, and up the middle. During their bye week the Indianapolis Colts supplanted the Titans as the NFL’s worse rushing defense. They are giving up 166 yards a game on the ground.

Barring an absolute fluke, there is exactly one way that the Redskins can win the game on Sunday and save their season. If they can rush for that 166 that the Colts are giving up, keep Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and the rest of the Colts’ weapons off the field for 35 or so minutes, they have a shot. Not much of one, mind you. Even if they do that and play generally error-free ball in all other aspects of the game they have no better than a one in ten shot of pulling off the upset.

But if Portis gets a single-digit number of carries in the first half and only one more than a baker’s dozen all day, it will get ugly early and unwatchable before the third quarter ends.

We will see if Saunders will learn from his mistake.

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Michael Bennett has been indicted on felony abuse for allegedly pushing an elderly NRG Stadium worker during Super Bowl LI.

Bennett was indicted by the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office for injury to the elderly — which is intentionally and knowingly causing injury to a person 65 years or older, according to a press release from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office.

A warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest.

The 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker was attempting to control field access when Bennett allegedly pushed her. 

The maximum penalty Bennett faces is ten years in prison in addition to a $10,000 fine.


Bennett — whose brother Martellus played in that Super Bowl for New England — was a member of the Seattle Seahawks during the incident and was in attendance as a noncompetitive player.

The NFL has been made aware of the situation and is looking into the matter, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 32-year-old 10-year NFL veteran could potentially face NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy. 


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Redskins Draft Countdown: WR James Washington's numbers don't impress but he could be a solution for the Redskins

Redskins Draft Countdown: WR James Washington's numbers don't impress but he could be a solution for the Redskins

Redskins Draft Countdown

James Washington

Wide receiver
Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington measured at 5 feet 11 inches at the combine and his 40 time was a pedestrian 4.54.

But forget about the numbers. His catch radius is larger than his height would indicate, and he plays much faster than the stopwatch says he does.

His route tree needs to be cleaned up but his ability to get open deep, make receptions on back shoulder throws and, yes, Redskins fans, fade patterns will make him a productive receiver while he learns.

Height: 5-11
Weight: 213
40-yard dash: 4.54

Projected draft round: 1-2

What they’re saying

He doesn't look like a receiver and he doesn't run routes like a receiver, but then you see him get open deep and make all those explosive plays, and you know exactly what he does for an offense.

—A Big 12 assistant coach via

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins needed a wide receiver to line up opposite Josh Doctson after Terrelle Pryor fizzled out last year. They went out and signed Paul Richardson to a free agent contract, solving the immediate need.

But in the NFL, you should always be looking for your next receiver. It takes most of them at least a season to develop so if you wait until you really need a pass catcher it’s too late to draft one. Washington has the capability to contribute early and develop from there.  

Film review: vs. Pitt, vs. TCU, vs. Oklahoma

—Like most coaches, Jay Gruden wants his wide receivers to block and Washington certainly gives it the effort. He helped backs gain extra yards on stretch plays with hustling blocks downfield. His technique may need some work—a long touchdown run against Oklahoma was called back when he was hit for holding—but the effort is there.

—Against the Sooners, Washington got by a cornerback who was in off coverage and beat him for a long gain. Later in the game, the corner was in press coverage and Washington made one move and beat the defender on a post for a touchdown. We can insert the usual cautions about Big 12 defenses here, but it still was impressive to watch.

—Speed is important but so is how fast a receiver can stop to catch a pass. On one underthrown fade pattern, Washington was able to slam on the brakes while the cornerback kept on running, making the catch for a nice gain out of the end zone an easy one.

—Against TCU he split two defenders on a deep pass. He caught the ball in stride and then he found a second gear and easily outraced the defensive backs to the end zone to complete the 86-yard play. This is a good example of Washington playing faster than his 40 time.

Potential issues: Washington is not a good enough prospect to warrant the No. 13 pick, but he could easily be gone by the time the time their second-round pick is on the clock. As noted above, the quality of the defenses he faced in compiling 74 receptions for 1,549 yards (20.9 per catch) and 13 touchdowns has to be considered.

Bottom line: If I’m the Redskins, I have a talk with Jamison Crowder’s agent before the draft to gauge what his client would want in order to sign an extension prior to the 2018 season. If it’s something the Redskins consider reasonable, they should look elsewhere in the second round. But if a 2019 Crowder departure seems likely,  they should look at Washington if he’s there in the second round. 

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