- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2016

ASHBURN | The switch to a pass-first team began in Week 4 of last season. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was evolving into the optimum version of himself, prompting the Redskins to move away from attempts to be a run-first team. They turned the offense fully over to Cousins. He threw the ball an average of 35 times in the final 14 games of the season after just 58 attempts in the first two weeks.

Washington followed that on-field strategy by selecting a wide receiver in the first round of the draft. It pointed to all the options around Cousins. The style and construction also ran opposite the vision of general manager Scot McCloughan, who had touted that the Redskins would develop into a run-first, defensively gritty team when he arrived in 2015.

“We’re going to run the football,” McCloughan said then. “We’re going to get turnovers on defense. We’re going to score touchdowns on special teams. We’re going to be better as a whole, and that’s the most important thing.”

Yet, here they are, not running the ball, not stopping other teams, with almost $20 million going to the quarterback and a first-round pick who would be split out wide, bolstering what was arguably already the deepest unit on the team.

Two weeks into this season, the Redskins‘ preference for the pass has produced an emphatic disparity. They are last in rushing attempts and first in passing attempts. Tied for 25th in rushing yards and alone at third in passing yards. Oddly, they are tied for sixth in yards per rushing attempt, squashing the excuse of ineffectiveness as the basis for lack of attempts.

The team’s bear hug of the pass was displayed when they were less than 10 yards from a touchdown last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. On six goal-to-go plays, the Redskins threw the ball five times. Once, they gave the ball to running back Matt Jones. He went right, not left, where Pro-Bowl tackle Trent Williams plays.

Even Cousins conceded more running would likely be beneficial.

“It’s not going to help if we’re running for no yards,” Cousins said. “You know, you’ve got to be productive in the run game, which we have been frankly, I think. The statistics may not show that, but it feels like when I hand the ball off we are getting positive yards. Brought a little of it on myself because in a couple of those red-zone opportunities, I’m throwing fades when I could hand it off, so there’s a little bit of I’ve got nobody to look at but myself. I think the other thing would just be when we get behind and we have to get in a two-minute mode, you just can’t run the ball. So there’s a chunk of plays at the end of games and the Steelers game even more so where a quarter of the plays you’re calling, you don’t even have the choice to run it because in the fourth quarter you’re behind and you’ve got to throw the ball. So the key to being able to have more rushing attempts would be in the first two, three quarters, play in such a way that we are dictating the tempo and have a lead and can then run the ball at the end of the game. And that’s a part of the whole process.”

The Redskins have a mix of backs: Jones is the power back, and also is a third-round pick of McCloughan’s. The team’s faith in Jones was part of the reason Alfred Morris is now with the Dallas Cowboys. Chris Thompson remains a jitterbug-type who can also catch passes out of the backfield. Rookie Robert Kelley, who was an undrafted free agent, is the third back. He has yet to carry the ball in the regular season despite an effective preseason that vaulted him onto the roster.

“That’s probably one of the most disappointing things so far is we haven’t gotten him involved yet and that’s probably [because] we’ve been behind a little bit, we haven’t gotten our running game going like we want,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But I’d like to get him some touches this week and I do feel comfortable [with him]. I think he’s got great vision, got a great, low center of gravity. He’s like in between Chris [Thompson] and Matt [Jones]. He’s not as big as Matt and he’s not as quick as Chris, but he’s got great vision and he’s a big, solid running back and I’d like to see what he can do and hopefully that’ll come Sunday.”

The Redskins‘ preference to run more will headbutt with the Giants’ ability to stop the rush. They are fourth in the league in rushing yards allowed, just behind the Seattle Seahawks. Last week, the Giants browbeat the New Orleans Saints into an one-sided position. They averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, which prompted them to rely on Drew Brees in a three-point loss. New Orleans passed 44 times and ran 13, which is precisely the formula the Redskins are trying to get out of.

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