- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

Ever since he came to the Washington Redskins seven years ago, Ladell Betts has believed the same thing.

“He’s always said, ‘Get me 20 carries, I’ll get you 100 yards,’ ” longtime teammate Rock Cartwright said.

Betts has backed up his words in the few opportunities he has gotten, most recently in the Redskins’ victory over the Denver Broncos last week.

Betts has reached the 100-yard mark seven times in the nine games in which he has carried at least 20 times, including the 114 yards he gained on 26 attempts against the Broncos.

Betts will get another shot Sunday in Dallas against the Cowboys.

Clinton Portis, who suffered a concussion Nov. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, has been ruled out for a second straight week. His absence will allow Betts to start and play on first and second downs instead of serving as a third-down-only pass protector and outlet receiver.

“I just have to accept the responsibility,” he said. “It’s another opportunity for me to go out and show what I can do.”

What Betts and the offensive line have done is ignite a running game that ranked in the bottom third of the league during the first half of the season. The Redskins have rushed for 136 and 174 yards the past two games.

The nature of the injury to Portis - he has yet to do any football-related activities - means Betts’ odd career might be taking another twist.

A starter for only one half-season (2006), he spurned a chance to hit the open market by signing a contract extension before free agency. But even though his paycheck changed, his role didn’t. Betts often practiced with the starters, but Portis still was all in on Sundays.

But with Betts as the featured back the past 1 1/2 games, the Redskins’ offense operated at a higher level.

“He looked pretty comfortable right away,” said offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, who handles the run calls. “Some guys it takes a few reps, but he hit his groove pretty fast. Sometimes it’s easier when you have pretty good run lanes.”

The Redskins’ latest offensive line combination provided Betts with opportunities to get into the Broncos’ secondary, allowing for manageable second- and third-down distances. The offense had four drives of at least nine plays.

“It was a little bit of a momentum booster, and it’s something we haven’t had in a while,” Betts said.

Betts is benefiting from the presence of left tackle Levi Jones, an accomplished run blocker, and right guard Chad Rinehart, who is further along in the running game than in pass protection.

But there’s no question that Betts’ style of attacking the running lane instead of tiptoeing into the hole and waiting for a cutback to develop has helped the Redskins.

Smith credits Betts’ ability to practice as a key reason he was productive from the outset.

“It’s not so much learning what [the line] is doing, but as you’re out there, you’re reading and reacting so when you get into the game, it’s not the first time you’ve gone full speed and it’s not the first time you’ve seen a look,” Smith said.

The Redskins’ run scheme hasn’t changed with Betts in the game; it just has been helped by better blocking.

“We didn’t change the run game necessarily to accommodate Ladell,” coach Jim Zorn said. “He pushed up into the hole and ran through it and fought for yards. Some of the 114-yard game he had, [a lot of] yards were after contact. That’s a huge issue for him, and he worked, and so did [Cartwright]. They worked extra to get those extra yards, and that kept the chains moving.”

The Redskins also tinkered with some of their run formations, chiefly moving fullback Mike Sellers to tight end for a one-back, two-tight end look, which creates a seven-man offensive line.

“It cuts down the backside [pursuit] and puts an edge on the backside so if we want to cut back, we could,” Cartwright said. “It gets a hat on a hat, and at the same time you can do so much out of that formation.”

The Redskins used a two-receiver, one-back, two-tight end formation 28 times in 70 snaps and had seven running plays of at least 4 yards.

“It can create mismatches if you have two blockers, guys that can really block the line of scrimmage,” Zorn said.

The Redskins were determined last week to stick with the run even if they faced an early deficit. Expect that to continue against the Cowboys, and the revamped line again will be critical if Betts is to deliver on his promise of 100 yards for 20 carries.

“I think it’s going to tie in with the offensive line,” Smith said. “Let’s say we go to Dallas and he doesn’t have a good game. It’s not because he didn’t run well. It all goes together. If the line gives him opportunities, he’ll make the most of it.”

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