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Redskins' top offseason priority: Fix the running game


Redskins' top offseason priority: Fix the running game

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.  

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What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

FEDEX FIELD -- Late in the Redskins win over the Cowboys, when the contest was still very much in question, Alex Smith made an incredibly poor decision. 

It was situational football at its peak. The Redskins had the ball with under 90 seconds left and a three point lead while Dallas had just one timeout left. A first down would end the game, but beyond getting a new set of downs, forcing Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to use his final timeout was the next highest priority. 

Somehow, Smith achieved neither. 

On third-and-9 from his own 36-yard-line, Smith took the snap and worked left on a play-action bootleg. There was room to run for a modest gain, but it seemed obvious Smith would not pick up the first down. 

Only Smith didn't see it that way. 

"I knew a first down would end the game and I did have glimpses of myself getting the first down whatever it took," the quarterback said. 

Instead of getting the first down, Smith got dragged out of bounds by Dallas LB Sean Lee. That stopped the clock for the Cowboys, and allowed Garrett to save his final timeout. 

Barring a turnover, it was the worst possible outcome on the play. 

What makes the situation so strange is that Smith is a very smart player. A 14-year veteran, Smith is known as a guy that won't make mistakes to hurt his team and gives his squad a chance for a win every week. Only late in the game, Smith tried to make the play to go for the win, and made a huge mistake instead. 

"I all of a sudden found myself pretty awkward on the sidelines there and can’t have it," Smith said. "[I] could have obviously cost us the game in hindsight at that point, I think kinda abandon ship and go down there on the sideline.”

The good news for Smith, and for the 4-2 Redskins, is that Cowboys kicker Brett Maher plunked the upright on his game-tying field goal attempt. An attempt that might not have happened if Smith stayed in bounds. 

In the end, it didn't cost the Redskins. 


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Adrian Peterson continues surprising run in Redskins' win over Cowboys

Adrian Peterson continues surprising run in Redskins' win over Cowboys

LANDOVER, Md. -- With 22 starters comprising offensive and defensive players, plus another faction handling special teams, football is the ultimate team sport.

Now imagine where the 2018 Washington Redskins find themselves if the front office never brings in Adrian Peterson for that mid-preseason workout. Even Jamie Lee Curtis finds that frightening.

Peterson’s return to football glory continued with 99 rushing yards on 24 carries in Washington’s 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday evening.

“I won’t say we wouldn’t be as good in the run game, but, yeah,” left tackle Trent Williams said of his former University of Oklahoma teammate.

“Obviously having [Adrian], I won’t say it’s everything, but it’s almost everything,” Williams continued. His eyes widened as the Pro Bowl lineman pondered the potential downside of this offense without the future Hall of Famer. That’s a dark timeline.

Peterson’s Redskins career now spans six regular-season games. Sunday’s display of power in tight spaces and speed when daylight exists wasn’t a one-off. In those six games, Peterson rushed for at least 96 yards four times including the last two games despite playing with a painful shoulder.

“I’m feeling good, man, we just got a W,” the smiling running back said from behind the podium inside the media room at his newish home stadium. “That makes everything feel a lot better. I feel better than I did last week, I’ll say that.”

Washington felt concerned enough about its running attack following the second preseason game to scour the free agent market. Peterson arriving at Redskins Park in August generated the expected “Whoa” from the casual NFL fans, who picture the player hammering silly defenders daring to tackle him. That player no longer existed. At least that’s what many assumed.

Peterson last topped 1,000 yards or 4.0 yards per rush in 2015. Injuries and inefficiency headlined his 2017 stops in New Orleans and Arizona. Running backs capable of carrying an offense aren’t just lying around for the taking like a rogue penny on a sidewalk. Yet, there was Peterson, waiting for a team to show interest. After losing Derrius Guice with a season-ending knee injury and recognizing the in-house options were not enough, the Redskins called.

 “We didn’t have many expectations,” Jay Gruden said after the Redskins improved to 4-2 and took a 1 ½ game lead in the NFC East. “We weren’t expecting him to be on our football team until we had a couple of injuries. Then we got him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know he looked great in that workout.”

That workout led to a signing and almost simultaneously, the starting gig. Now it’s hard contemplating anyone else in those early down and short yardage scenarios. Peterson had runs of 23 and 20 yards against the Cowboys. The latter help set up one of two Dustin Hopkins field goals. His overall production helped move the chains in yet another game where the Alex Smith-led passing game lacked oomph.

This random road to Redskins Park is why Peterson’s renaissance feels shocking to many with one significant exception.

“No, not at all. I think everyone else around is surprised. I’m not,” Peterson said. “I expect greatness from myself. That’s why I put the work in. God has blessed with me this talent. A lot of people see, and a lot of people don’t. … Just keep confidence in myself. When I’m presented with my opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it every Sunday.”

Peterson is taking advantage of this opportunity with the Redskins because necessity is the mother of invention. It turns out Washington’s running attack needed a reboot more than the running back required a makeover.

“There are not many guys like [Adrian] walking around the street,” Williams said, “and luckily, we found a diamond in the rough.”