It took a while for it to get going, but the Washington Redskins' running game finally made its presence felt in Sunday's 30-24 overtime win against the San Diego Chargers at FedEx Field.
Through the first three possessions, Washington gained almost all of its yardage through the air. But thanks to a blocked field goal, an interception and a quick three-and-out, it looked like a long day was in store for the Redskins.
Running back Alfred Morris had just one yard on his first six carries. Washington had 23 yards total on its first 10 carries. San Diego led 7-0 thanks to a defensive touchdown. But then Morris broke a 26-yard run off left tackle with 6:15 left in the second quarter and immediately followed with a 5-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7.
"We know the type of offense that we are. We haven't been showing it all year, but we are a high-powered offense like we were last year," Morris said. "Sometimes, we don't get it done the way we should get it done. Whether it's penalties, whether it's mistakes, whether it's a lack of execution — whatever it is, that's the type of offense we are."
Fullback Darrel Young earned most of the attention after the victory for his career-best three touchdowns. But Morris helped make those short runs possible. He gained 120 yards on his final 19 carries after that slow start. Seven different times Morris took the ball on a zone-read play, which was a season-high on that call. He had run six of those plays in the previous three games combined.
"You have a guy like Alfred back there, and a guy like [Roy] Helu backing him up — two physical runners, guys who we trust with the ball in their hands," Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "They did a great job for us. Offensive line, it helps them out when we can run the ball like that and then set up the pass."
Indeed, the balance Washington's offense needs was there. It ran the ball 40 times for 209 yards. Griffin threw the ball 32 times for 291 yards. Six different players took handoffs, including end-around plays to tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Santana Moss.
"It was something that I guess we saw and thought we could probably use this week. Every team is not going to give that up," Moss said. "Every week you have to be efficient with whatever you plan to call and make sure that at a given time you call the right play."
The Redskins' 5.0 yards per rushing attempt are tied for the NFL lead with Philadelphia and Oakland. They are also ranked fifth in rushing yards per game (146.3).
"You watch a team and see how they play over maybe half a season or three-quarters of a season," Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. "You get a better feel for how a team functions. We've always believed in the running game and we always will. Some games we'll have a little bit more success than others."
The Redskins have topped a combined 200 rushing yards in three of their last four games. Part of that is situational. Early in the season they were being blown out in losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay and all but abandoned the running game. That's also part of the reason Griffin had over 300 passing yards the first three weeks of the season and the Redskins were still 0-3.
That may not necessarily be the plan for this week's Thursday night game on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. That team ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.8). Unfortunately, that's in part because their pass defense is a disaster.
The Vikings have allowed 2,329 yards through the air this season. Only three teams are worse — Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver. And yet the Redskins (3-5) have lost to all three of them. It's an unpredictable sport. A strong ground game provides at least some comfort week-to-week. Washington is getting there.
"There are not many teams that get three out of four games 200 yards rushing," Shanahan said. "They should feel proud. And that's got to be our mindset, to take pride in something like that ... and you've got a chance for good things to happen down the road."
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