The Redskins improved their first-down running average from 2015 to last season but if you’re looking for areas where they can do better this season that is still on the list.
In 2015, they couldn’t run on first down. On first-down carries they gained an average of 3.3 yards per carry, the worst in the NFL. They ran for either no gain or a loss on 63 plays in 2015, tied for third worst in the league.
They improved to, well, the lower end of mediocre in this category in 2016. The Redskins averaged 3.8 yards per first-down run, good for 20th in the NFL. They improved in the negative plays category, with 48 carries for zero or minus yards.
Rob Kelley’s calling card is his ability to avoid negative plays. Given that, it was somewhat surprising to see that Kelley had 19 negative carries on first down in his nine starts. Matt Jones had 13 in his seven starts.
Being able to run on first down is not necessarily an indicator of success. Last year, four teams gained over five yards per carry on first down. The Falcons and Cowboys had the two best records in the NFC. The Bears and Bills posted losing records.
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Still, with the defense rebuilding the Redskins will once again rely on being able to move the ball to win games. Consistently getting to second and five is better than facing to second and seven. It opens up more of the playbook and makes it easier to get a first down on second down. Your third-down conversion percentage may not mean much if you don’t have to run many third-down plays.
Or, perhaps the better solution is to pass more often on first down. The Redskins averaged 7.7 yards per first-down pass attempt, fourth in the NFL. You can’t throw every play but perhaps Jay Gruden should try to figure out just how little the Redskins can run on first down while still being able to pass effectively.