Roy Helu, Rex Grossman rejuvenate Redskins’ offense

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Roy Helu’s individual brilliance on his 28-yard touchdown run in last Sunday’s victory served as the exclamation point on the his breakout game. The Washington Redskins‘ rookie running back hurdled a cornerback, bulldozed a safety and then raced to the end zone for a fourth-quarter touchdown that will be replayed for years to come.

Even Helu had to see it for himself.

“That was cool. That was fun,” he said Wednesday. “I did watch it again, I admit that. I didn’t have much to do the last couple of days, so I watched it.”

Helu’s teammates won’t hold that against him. His 108 yards sparked a toothless running attack that had deteriorated in recent weeks into one of the NFL’s worst. And with quarterback Rex Grossman coming off two improved performances, the Redskins‘ offense finally has some positive momentum entering Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

“We’re just getting in that rhythm again,” tight end Fred Davis said. “Having Helu out there running like he did last week, it definitely helps out a lot. He takes off the pass rush and sometimes the play action can get started back up again. It helps out in a lot of ways.”

The Redskins‘ offense has scored at least 23 points in consecutive games for the first time since Mike Shanahan became coach. They averaged a season-high 6.4 yards per play against Seattle last week. Balance was key. They ran 29 times and passed 35, the narrowest split of the season.

Play action, a staple of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense, was particularly effective. Grossman completed 6-of-7 play-action passes on the opening touchdown drive, including the touchdown itself.

That, in turn, opened the game for Helu by keeping the linebackers and safeties from selling out against the run.

“Any time you can do a few things to counteract them that looks like run, where you can attack certain holes and soften some people up to get people not just teeing off in one aspect of the game — I think it helps out all the spots,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Not just the run game, but the pass rush and it keeps those safeties back, makes guys think twice before they shoot their guns.”

For as spectacular as Helu’s touchdown run was, his emergence began during the first two drives on runs you won’t see on the highlights. In a span of five carries, he gained 33 yards — 20 of them after contact.

He is a determined runner with sufficient quickness to prevent tacklers from always getting a clean shot.

“The biggest key in NFL backs, which you can see with Roy on Sunday, was when you get hit for nothing on 1 yard — do you fall forward for 3 yards or do you fall back for 0 yards?” Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s really been finishing runs well the last couple of weeks.”

That is one reason Mike Shanahan endorsed him this week as the starter. Now that he knows his assignments better, both on run plays and in pass protection, he could have the final five games to prove he’s talented enough to be a long-term contributor.

The Redskins have won all three games in which they’ve rushed for more than 100 yards, so Helu’s success likely will mirror the team’s.

Grossman, meanwhile, is confident after posting passer ratings of 95.5 and 96.6 in consecutive weeks. He threw three interceptions in that span but also four touchdowns, including the 50-yard game-winner last week.

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