Alfred Morris provides backfield stability despite RG3 injury

Although quarterback Robert Griffin III’s sprained right knee created significant uncertainty this week about his availability for the Washington Redskins' road game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, coaches and players found comfort knowing they could at least count on one player to be in their backfield.

Rookie running back Alfred Morris figures to play a prominent role Sunday with rookie backup Kirk Cousins quarterback making his first career start.

“It’s a security blanket for everybody,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Every quarterback wants a good runner, and I’m pretty excited about the one we have.”

Morris enters Week 15 with 1,235 rushing yards, more than any rookie in Redskins history. He’s on pace to gain more than the 282 yards he needs to break Clinton Portis’ 7-year-old franchise single-season rushing record.

Griffin’s presence as a running threat has aided Morris‘ success this season. The zone-read option game forces defenders to either guess whether Griffin or Morris has the ball, or they’re forced to wait to see who has it. The hesitation has enabled Redskins offensive linemen to gain advantageous leverage on blocks and create running lanes.

However, Shanahan says the Redskins average only nine zone-read runs per game. The foundation of their running game still is the outside zone scheme on which coach Mike Shanahan built his career.

Morris has proved adept at that because of his vision in diagnosing cutback lanes, his nimble feet and his physical, bruising running style.

Because Morris can execute those outside zone runs, he could take some of the pressure off the quarterback against Cleveland.

“You always want a back that can make plays and make some yardage on his own. Alfred has been able to do that,” Mike Shanahan said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. I think he has a lot of confidence in himself. Every offense needs an excellent running back to move the chains, make people miss and get some yards after contact.”

Morris has averaged more than 19 carries per game this season, so he’s used to taking the punishment that comes with all the touches he’s positioned to get Sunday.

“We’re just going to do our job, and just whatever happens, happens,” Morris said. “We all have to go out there and play regardless.”

Morris, who lost a fumble in each of the last two games, doesn’t sense any greater demands on him this week.

“We got a great offense, and we got a great group of guys,” he said. “Anybody can get the ball and make something happen. It won’t be no more pressure on one person more than another. It’s a team effort.”

Morris‘ play this season had a calming affect on his teammates this week. As players contemplated playing a must-win game without their star quarterback, they fell back on an offensive approach that has served them well all season.

Although Cousins likely won’t provide same one-two rushing punch Griffin and Morris have this season, players have faith in how well Morris can execute outside zone runs.

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