Redskins bye week grades: Running backs
At times the Redskins look like a team that could make some serious noise in the playoffs and at other times they look like a team that will struggle to make the playoffs. At 4-3-1, they’re still in the thick of things as they catch a breather at the bye. It’s been an interesting couple of months, indeed, and over the next few days CSN Mid-Atlantic reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will hand out their first half grades, position-by-position.
Tandler: The Redskins’ rushing attack has been strong on rare occasions, adequate at times and completely ineffective in other spots. The question here is how much of the credit/blame goes to the running backs and how much goes to the line, play calling, etc. I don’t think it’s fair to put it all on the rather inexperienced trio of running backs employed by the Redskins this year but they do get the majority of the blame.
The Redskins are 14th in rushing yards per game. As I noted yesterday when grading the offensive line, Football Outsiders has them as the third-best run blocking team. That indicates that if the backs are holding up their end of the deal they should have a top five or at least a top 10 rushing attack. Yet as noted they are 14th in the raw measurement and 13th in rushing DVOA if you want to go by the more sophisticated analysis of FO.
Matt Jones is the target of most of the heat the running backs draw and he has earned it to an extent. While he has had a couple of strong games he also has left a lot of yardage on the field. Add in three fumbles in a three-game span, two of them lost, and you have a back still struggling. Rob Kelley is thought to be the savior but he has a lot to prove. While his average per carry is 5.0 yards, it drops to 3.8 if you discount the 45-yard run against the Eagles. Chris Thompson has been the best of the bunch, a consistent and reliable performer running the ball, receiving, and pass blocking. Overall it’s a below-average group of running backs.
Finlay: Anybody that listens to CSN's #RedskinsTalk podcast knows that Tandler and I disagree here. My colleague continues to defend Matt Jones, despite the fumbles, while wanting to remove Robert Kelley's one long run from his statistics. Well, flip that equation, remove Jones' 57-yard run that ended the Eagles game, and his YPC drops nearly a half yard.
Further, the biggest problem with Jones for the Redskins (beyond the fumbles) is the negative plays. Often, Jones gets bottled up behind the line of scrimmage and the team loses one or two yards on simple design runs. The same does not seem to happen with Kelley; he is more elusive in the backfield and turns negative plays into no gains or often falls forward for a yard or two. The difference between 2nd & 12 and 2nd & 8 may not show up too often in the stat sheet, but guarantee Kirk Cousins and Sean McVay notice.
Numbers support that assertion: Looking at Pro Football Focus' Yards-After-Contact-Per-Attempt stat, Kelley averages nearly a full yard more than Jones after contact. Now the derivation between the two is impacted somewhat by Jones having more than double the attempts of Kelley, but just watching both runners, the undrafted rookie out of Tulane avoids negative plays better than the second-year man out of Florida. Per Pro Football Reference, it's also clear: 13 percent of Kelley's runs have gone for zero or negative yards. For Jones, that percentage jumps to 19 percent.
That said - Jones is the better pass receiver and a more capable home run threat. Also, to agree with Tandler, Chris Thompson gives the Redskins their most dependable back, yet his size keeps him from being on the field for too many snaps. The grade for Redskins RBs collectively won't look good, but could trend upward over the second half if Kelley continues to emerge.
Consensus Grade: D+
Tandler and JP grade the Redskins at the bye:
Click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes or press play below.