- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2017

When coach Jay Gruden reviewed the film from Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he concluded the run game “got away” from the Redskins.

The final numbers for the Redskins’ run game: 17 rushes for 64 yards, a 3.8 yards per carry average. However, take out quarterback Kirk Cousins’ 30 yards on four rushes and the Redskins’ running backs averaged just 2.6 yards per carry.

Gruden acknowledged the Eagles’ front-seven playing a factor in stopping the Redskins, but cautioned it wasn’t an excuse.

“We have a good front also,” Gruden said. “We should block better than we did. From time to time we had… I think 13 of our rushes by running backs, I think eight of them were positive, five of them were negative. That’s not a very good percentage. … That’s not just the offensive line, you know, sometimes it’s the back, sometimes it’s the tight end. So we all have our hand in it.”

The exact percentage Gruden referenced during Monday’s press conference wasn’t as bad as he thought. Three rushes from Washington’s backs resulted in negative yards gained, where 10 running plays were positive.

But the run game didn’t have success. The longest gain by a running back came from starter Rob Kelley — six yards. On Kelley’s 10 rushes for 30 yards, he gained less than four yards on four carries.

Like most teams, the Redskins had a tendency to run on first down, with 11 of their 25 (44 percent) plays on first down resulting in a run for 44 of the team’s 64 rushing yards. The Redskins had 12 passing attempts for six completions and were also sacked twice on first down.

Last season, the Redskins ran 48.3 percent of the time on first down while the league ran nearly 49 percent.

The Redskins, though, seemed to abandon the run after the first down. Kelley, for instance, ran just once on second down and none on third.

“We have to do a better job of executing when we do have one of our plays,” Kelley said after the Eagles game. “It’s not even play calling. It’s just us, as a team, we’ve got to execute — especially in the run game. Ten guys do something right and one guy does something wrong, it messes up the play.”

Throughout the preseason, the Redskins preached balance and a commitment to stick with the run to take pressure off of Cousins and the passing game. Against the Eagles, though, Gruden didn’t stick to that philosophy.

Washington ran five times in the second half — two of those from Cousins. While the Redskins were trailing for most of the half, the Eagles were often ahead by less than seven points.

Game situations, Cousins said, played a factor in determining the play call.

“[I] would’ve loved to run the ball better, but there’s also situations in the game too that you feel like you’re throwing it well or you’re getting third and long and not able to run it,” he said.

Gruden said there were times where run plays were initially called before Cousins audibled out to a short pass instead, saying they would need to get the issue cleaned up.

It’s fair to wonder, however, how much predictability played a factor in the Eagles’ success in stopping the run. On Sunday, Kelley and backup Chris Thompson mostly split the reps evenly and the distinct style of each back could give away what the Redskins wanted to do.

Thompson, who appeared on 30 of the Redskins’ 63 snaps, rushed the ball just three times. When Thompson is in the game, Washington often uses him as a receiving back for screens or other routes. Kelley, meanwhile, played 33 snaps and had just one receiving target.

By now, a Gruden-led offense can always expect to have more success passing the ball than running, even if the difference isn’t as drastic as typically believed.

When the Redskins do commit to the run, they have had success under Gruden. In 2016, Redskins running backs averaged 4.62 yards per carry.

Washington, per Football Outsiders, also achieved a first down or a touchdown 72 percent of the time on plays where there were two yards or less to go on third and fourth down — fifth best in the league.

In Week 1, the Redskins didn’t get the chance for many short yardage situations. Of 63 plays on offense, Washington had only three plays where they needed three yards or less for a first down.

This week, the Redskins again face another team with a ferocious front seven in the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams defense ranked 10th in limiting rushing yards per attempt in 2016. They also may, or may not, have Aaron Donald back — the best defensive tackle in the league who missed Week 1 because of a contract holdout. Donald is back with the team and has passed a physical, though his status remains unclear for the Redskins.

Here is what is clear: the Redskins have another test on their hands with getting the run game going. And if they don’t have initial success with it, how long will Gruden keep trying?

“Our offense is always going to hum along at a much more efficient rate when we’re running the ball well and we can keep the defenses unaware if it’s going to be a run, pass, or a play action,” Cousins said.

 

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