The Washington Redskins trailed by four points early in the fourth quarter of their eventual 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, yet Alfred Morris, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, didn’t get a single carry the rest of the game.
“Man, we’re No. 1 in the league in rushing,” said left tackle Trent Williams. “Rushing is rushing. It don’t matter who get it.”
Morris managed only 11 carries for 26 yards, and he gained 15 yards on two carries in the second half (though a third carry for six yards was negated by a holding penalty). The last time he was less productive in a game was during his senior year at Florida Atlantic, when, in a 44-0 loss to Michigan State, he had 10 carries for 21 yards.
His rushing attempts, and his rushing yards, have decreased over each of the Redskins‘ last three games. After gaining 139 yards on 26 carries, both season highs, in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings a month ago, Morris has averaged 57 yards on 16 attempts a game.
“It’s game situations more so than anything,” Morris said.
The Redskins, who enter Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs averaging 150.4 rushing yards per game, abandoned their ground attack in the fourth quarter against the Giants. Of their 16 plays, wide receiver Santana Moss gained 10 yards on a lateral, officially credited as a rushing attempt, and Griffin gained four yards on a zone-read option keeper.
In total, the Redskins ran the ball out of a zone-read look eight times, with Griffin keeping the ball for himself on each occasion. The Giants made it clear early that Morris was not going to be a factor on such plays and attacked him each time, forcing Griffin to put himself at risk by carrying the ball.
“Despite Alf not getting the numbers, we had a pretty good day rushing the ball, and that’s because they didn’t account for our quarterback,” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “When the defense accounts for Alf, Robert runs. When they account for the quarterback, Alf runs. I really don’t care which one does it, because usually, for the guy they don’t account for, you get yards.”
Washington ran for more than 200 yards in both meetings against the Giants last year, and Williams knew the Giants were going to try to change something defensively. Exactly what the defense would change, of course, was the mystery.
“Third time they’ve seen it, so obviously, they’re gonna have a different game plan,” Williams said. “They’re gonna be more ready than any of the other teams that are just seeing us once a year. I mean, yeah, they played it well.”
The other problem facing the Redskins on Sunday related to personnel. Fullback Darrel Young, tight end Jordan Reed and tight end and reserve fullback Niles Paul all missed the game because of injury, forcing reserve running back Evan Royster, who had played just one snap on offense all season, into sharing that role with tight end Logan Paulsen.
Royster isn’t built to handle that role in the way that Young, who weighs an additional 35 pounds, is able to do. On the Redskins‘ 13th play of the opening drive, a first-and-goal from the Giants‘ 1-yard line, they called a fullback dive with Royster — a play that has worked earlier this season. Royster barely got back to the line of scrimmage, and on the next play, the Redskins turned to Morris, who scored the touchdown.
“Not having our starting fullback [or] our backup fullback is a huge deal,” Shanahan said. “It limits you on a lot of runs. Royster did a great job on short notice stepping in and giving all he could on the few plays we asked him to, but he is a halfback. He’s not a fullback. He did his best. It limits you on the stuff you can run, and some of the stuff you’re going against.”
Washington was 9-1 last season when Morris got 20 or more carries a game, but has won just one of three of those games this season. The Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears when Morris had 19 carries for 95 yards; otherwise, Morris has been left to just over a dozen carries a game.