Football Team

As Gibson heals, Washington shows belief in their other RBs

Football Team

What's happening at quarterback will almost always overshadow everything else on an NFL team, and when there's an injury situation at quarterback, that overshadowing goes into overdrive.

Now, considering how important Alex Smith is to Washington's hopes the rest of this season, the intense interest in his health isn't surprising at all. However, Smith's status isn't the only thing to monitor in the Burgundy and Gold's backfield.

Antonio Gibson, who missed the 49ers win with a turf toe injury he suffered in Pittsburgh, didn't practice on Wednesday. Afterward, Ron Rivera told the media that the skilled running back has made "good progress" and that he's "pleased with where things are headed right now."

Yet after those remarks, JP Finlay reported that the organization plucked former Pro Bowler Lamar Miller off of Chicago's practice squad, which could indicate that Gibson is still a ways away from contributing again. Miller won't be able to suit up against Seattle due to COVID-19 protocols, but he'll be an option for the final two contests on the schedule.

So, with Gibson's availability unknown and perhaps unlikely for Week 15, JD McKissic and Peyton Barber could very well be in line to step up in his absence like they did versus San Francisco. Rivera trusts those guys to capably fill in, as he was pleased with how they performed without Gibson the first time.

“I thought they did a nice job," the coach said. "We almost rushed for 100 yards. I thought their contributions in the passing game were what we needed. Of course, you don’t have all your weapons available, but when they’re not available and the other guys have to step up, they step up and that’s what we saw. These guys stepped up and made plays when we needed to have plays made."


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McKissic and Barber combined for 23 rushes that totaled 105 yards (some late-game kneel downs brought the overall offensive output down to double digits, which is, for the record, such a stupid way to measure that). That comes out to a yards-per-carry average of 4.6, a number that McKissic's 6.2 YPC really boosted. 

On the list of things Scott Turner would like his unit to improve on this Sunday, their effort on the ground isn't nearly as pressing as some others.

"That was the place I thought we did well in the game, even if it didn’t show up on the stat sheet," he said.

Gibson's injury is especially unfortunate because he was exponentially growing as a pro before it sidelined him. He posted 94 yards and a score in the Cincinnati victory then went off for 115 yards and a hat trick of touchdowns in Dallas. Him winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award felt like a real possibility with how he was producing. When he's right, he's definitely Washington's best and most explosive back.

McKissic, though, is a promising fallback. Rivera appreciates his elusiveness, decisiveness and vision, and when he gets the ball — either off a handoff or on a pass — he tends to pick up a chunk.

"He’s a hard tackle," Rivera said.

Barber's usage has perplexed many on the outside, meanwhile, because he's not as speedy or as dynamic as Gibson or McKissic. Where he does excel is in short-yardage situations, and as he said on Wednesday, he believes he can bring that effectiveness to a bigger role should Washington give him that opportunity.

"I'm one of those backs that gets stronger as the game goes on," he said. "Those first couple carries can be kind of fast, but as the game goes on, your confidence starts to build."

Rivera, like any leader of a franchise, came in with the goal of establishing depth across the roster. Running back is one place where he's optimistic that he's done just that. Should Gibson be unable to go once more, Week 15 will further reveal whether that optimism is justified.