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Redskins rookie Alfred Morris on a roll
Performance vs. Cowboys powered playoff-clinching win
Question of the Day
Robert Griffin III waved his arms, encouraging Washington Redskins fans to keep up the chant. It wasn’t the chorus of “RG3” that filled FedEx Field for most of the regular season, a tribute to the rookie quarterback whose success changed the course of the franchise.
No, on Sunday night fans serenaded Alfred Morris by chanting his name while the running back was on the way to a career game: 200 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ll tell you what, Alfred Morris became a star tonight,” tight end Chris Cooley said.
Anyone who has watched the Redskins this year knows that Morris is far from a one-night wonder. The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic ran for a single-season franchise record 1,613 yards and a Redskins rookie record 13 touchdowns.
With 10 games of 20-plus carries and seven of 100-plus yards, Morris has been the model of consistency, putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign despite being snubbed for the NFL’s all-star event. When Morris was asked recently what going to the Pro Bowl would mean, Griffin overheard the question and responded: “It means he’s a beast.”
Thirty-three carries and more than 6 yards per rush qualifies.
A big night from Morris was crucial to the Redskins beating the Dallas Cowboys and clinching the NFC East title, given that Griffin still was limited on his injured right knee. The quarterback whose ability to freeze defenses with his legs didn’t have the same burst, but it was enough to keep the Cowboys off-balance.
Meanwhile, the game plan all along was to ride Morris.
“We were going to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do, especially when they’re playing us in different coverages to take away our passing game. And we put a lot of pressure on him,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I thought he stepped up and played at an exceptional level. Not too many guys can rush for a couple hundred yards. We put the majority of the work on him.”
Morris‘ “star” performance on national television had to do with more than just him. The Redskins‘ offensive line did a masterful job clearing holes for him, and on the outside the tight ends and receivers sealed off extra space and made sure Morris could extend plays.
“We were just running our patented zone plays,” center Will Montgomery said about the blocking scheme. “Alfred, he’s a downhill rusher. He reads it one gap at a time, and we just kept feeding him. He was feeling it.”
Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, hampered by elbow and shoulder injuries, wasn’t feeling it against Morris. Often Sunday night, the Redskins didn’t even have to block Ware; he was untouched and not in the right place to make tackles on Morris or Griffin.
“We were just doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We didn’t really point him out at all. We kind of knew what we had to do and we ran our system.”
Whatever Dallas tried didn’t work.
“I think they were bringing a lot of pressure, trying to disguise it a little bit and we were able to find some creases,” Morris said. “Their overaggressiveness, I used it against them. They were overpursuing and I was able to find some cutbacks. It just worked out perfectly.”
Wide receiver Joshua Morgan described how the Cowboys were doing everything possible to stop play-action passes by dropping a safety back and directing linebackers to holes.
“They weren’t respecting the run,” Morgan said.
So Morris ran all over them. He ran 17 yards for one touchdown, 32 yards for another. His 1-yard score put the game out of reach.
And as strong as the blocking was, tight end Logan Paulsen credited Morris with making it all happen.
“Obviously, as an offense we pride ourselves on what we’ve been able to do in the running game this entire year, but to diminish Alfred’s role in it I think would be unfair,” Paulsen said. “He’s such an outstanding runner when it comes to understanding what we need from him, in terms of the zone-running scheme. When you have a guy like that who can help set up blocks, help make you look good, his value is incalculable.”
“I never felt that way. I knew in order for us to win, we needed to get the ground attack going. I come out here and give it my all, regardless of who’s healthy, who’s not, what the situation is,” Morris said. “I’m going to go out and I’m going to leave it on the field, and I did just that. It just turned out being my best game this season thus far.”
Thus far, Morris said, because there’s at least Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s another opportunity for Morris to make a name for himself on the national stage for those who hadn’t been aware of his impressive season.
But don’t tell him it’s another chance for stardom.
“I’m never a star; I’ll never be a star. Other people might think I’m a star, but I’m just Alfred,” Morris said. “I’ve been the same since way back when, and I’m not going to change. I’m still going to be the same guy when I walked in and nobody knew who I am or I was. I’m still going to be that guy. I couldn’t change even if I tried.”
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