Under Jay Gruden, Redskins fans have accused the coach of being predictable in his play calling. Sometimes the criticism has been justified and often it has not. But perhaps the predictability meme turned a corner with a play call in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ win over the Rams.
Here was the situation. The Redskins were holding on to a 17-10 lead with 3:35 left to play. It was third and eight at the St. Louis 13. Last year, the Redskins faced third and eight or longer 92 times. They dropped the quarterback back to pass 85 times. Of the seven handoffs to running backs all but one were either in garbage time or in give-up situations such as third and 21. The other one came on third and 10 in a tie game just before the winning field goal against the Eagles in December.
So, it was rational for the Rams to expect a pass. But they didn’t get it. Rookie Matt Jones was the lone running back and took the handoff and headed off left tackle. The Redskins had lined up all three of their tight ends on that side and they sent left guard Shawn Lauvao pulling in that direction. Center Kory Lichtensteiger got to the second level while left tackle Trent Williams with a pancake block on end Robert Quinn.
Jones had to skirt around a little traffic in the backfield but he quickly got up a head of steam. When he was two yards from the first down line he lunged forward and crashed through a couple of defenders to pick up the first down with a yard to go.
Gruden obviously was pleased with the call and a result and he said a few factors went into the decision to run.
“ We were playing the clock and a field goal there would've given us a 10-point lead, two-possession game,” said Gruden. “We were having success running the ball, so we didn't want to risk putting the ball up in the air – interception, tipped ball, sack-fumble, something like that. We wanted to run the ball, keep them in bounds and eat another 45 seconds off the clock. Worst case scenario, we kick a field goal, go up 10 and that's two possessions and that's tough to overcome with three or four minutes to go and a couple timeouts. That was our thinking there and we had some runs that we liked and Matt Jones got a big first down on it."
Two plays later, Lauvao pulled to the left again, Jones followed him, and crashed the last couple of yards for the clinching TD.
Here’s one more note on the play. As Gruden said, the Redskins were working the clock. It was running as they lined up for the play. Kirk Cousins let the play clock run all the way down to one second before calling for the ball to be snapped. Smart football by a relatively inexperienced player.