- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clinton Portis thought he was in for a monster day when he broke through the right side of the New York Giants’ defense on his first play of the season opener Sunday.

“After that run, I was like, ‘Oooh! 150, baby!’ ” the Washington Redskins’ Pro Bowl running back said.

Not even close.

Portis ran for 34 yards on that first attempt but didn’t get halfway to 150 for the day - he managed just 28 yards on his remaining 15 carries.

“It was just a little off here and there,” coach Jim Zorn said of the faltering ground game.

And with that plunge in production, the Redskins’ chances of upsetting the defending NFC East champions on the road vanished.

The numbers don’t lie: The Redskins win when Portis produces, and they lose when he doesn’t. During his five-plus years as Washington’s main man, the Redskins are 28-7 when Portis tops 80 rushing yards and 10-36 otherwise.

Any run-based offense, of course, performs better when its top back is in gear. But the Redskins’ victories and defeats depend on Portis to a staggering degree.

Just look at the 2006 season. The Redskins went 3-0 when Portis topped 80 yards but 3-5 when Ladell Betts was filling in for the injured starter.

Last year, the first in Zorn’s offense, the Redskins went 7-1 when Portis loomed large, 1-7 when he got small.

“Everything predicates from your run game,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “That’s how your play action comes into play. That’s how you get big plays. We got behind early [last week] and… you can’t do the things you want to do.”

That’s been true whether the play caller was Joe Gibbs (2004-05), Al Saunders (2006-07) or Zorn.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on: running the ball,” fullback Mike Sellers said. “It’s always going to be run first no matter what offense you bring in here. Who cares if they know we’re running - we still got to go ahead and do it.”

Portis slammed off left tackle three straight times for a grand total of 3 yards on Washington’s first series of the second quarter last week. Afterward, Zorn called his number just 10 times on the remaining 43 plays. The 15 carries by Portis marked the 10th fewest he has had with the Redskins.

“That’s why I tried to stay with the run as long as I did - a running back has to get into it,” Zorn said. “We do [need Portis to get going].”

Part of the reason for Portis’ reduced workload was Zorn’s decision to make Betts the third-down back - a choice approved by Portis, who is 28 and averaged 377 touches in his four previous full seasons in Washington.

“I would love to tell you I could carry this organization, I could do everything, but we have a lot of talent and a lot of people who feel as if they’re capable of helping us out,” Portis said. “I can’t sit and be selfish: ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball, give me the ball.’ I was all for Ladell being the third-down back. They’re giving me an opportunity to stay fresh throughout the whole season by taking me off of third downs.”

Portis finished 2006 on injured reserve with a broken hand but has started every game since. He played down the stretch last season with ankle, hip, leg, knee, rib cage and neck injuries that kept him from practicing and limited his effectiveness on Sundays.

“When it’s Clinton, Clinton, Clinton, all the [talk-show] callers and all the reporters [are like], ‘They need to do more. Clinton can’t do it all. How long could they ride Clinton?’ ” Portis said. “Now that we’re trying to do more, it’s like, ‘Doing more’s not working. Give the ball back to Clinton.’ We just gotta stay within our scheme.”

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