There is plenty of talk about personnel needs for the Redskins a little more than a week after their season ended. But looking at the 2015 Redskins in terms of results, their top need on the offensive side is to fix a rushing game that sputtered for most of the season.
Before the season started all anyone around the team would talk about was that the Redskins were going to be a tough team that could run the football any time against anyone. The part about toughness is subjective but the numbers reveal that the ability to run the ball was not there.
The team averaged 97.9 yards per game on the ground, a mediocre 20th in the NFL. They gained 3.7 yards per carry, 29th in the league.
And that was after a pretty good start. In their first four games the team rushed for 558 yards on 126 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
They then went into a skid where they averaged three yards or fewer per carry in eight of nine games. Sometimes they abandoned the run (12 carries against the Panthers) and sometimes they kept on pounding (37 attempts, 2.8 yards per vs. the Giants).
The rushing game problems are difficult to pinpoint. It is safe to say that the primary ball carriers, Alfred Morris (202 carries, 751 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD) and Matt Jones (144/490/3.4/3) was ineffetive most of the year. Morris, the team’s leading rusher for the last three seasons, often struggled to locate holes and for some reason he lost his ability to make the first potential tackler miss. Jones showed that he has a lot to learn in terms of patience and avoiding collisions rather than seeking them out.
There was a lot of change on the offensive line, some of it planned, some of it forced by injury. Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff were installed on the right side of the line during training camp. Spencer Long took over for an injured Shawn Lauvao in Week 4 and Josh LeRibeus, who had never played center in a regular season game, took over in the middle in Week 6 after Kory Lichtensteiger went on injured reserve. For the vast majority of the season, 80 percent of the offensive line was new from 2014.
Even though offensive line coach Bill Callahan spent endless extra hours working with the line after practice, there wasn’t much cohesiveness as a unit. Individually they blocked pretty well most of the time, with the exception of both centers. But there were too many breakdowns, with different blockers being responsible on different plays.
So what is the solution? It’s easy to say that they should find upgrades along the line and at running back. There does seem to be a need a center, where LeRibeus is a free agent and Lichtensteiger is over 30 and perhaps too small for the scheme that the Redskins want to run. But do they give Long, a third-round pick in 2014, an opportunity to grown in the position? Or hope that Lauvao, who just had another major surgery and is getting around on a scooter, can come back. Do they look at Moses’ physical tools and keep working with him or do they look to upgrade there?
It appears that Alfred Morris will be headed elsewhere, perhaps to a team that is more dedicated to a zone scheme. Maybe Jones can develop into a top back and maybe he can’t. They will need to go to the draft or free agency to get another back; the question is, do they go for a top back (Lamar Miller as a free agent or Ezekiel Elliott/Derrick Henry in the draft) or try to strike gold by finding a dynamic back in the middle or latter stages of the draft?
The coaches are starting the process of evaluating their current roster. The organization, including Scot McCloughan, will need to figure out if they can get a running game going by developing the players they have or if they need to replace some. The success of their 2016 season could depend on finding the right solutions.