ASHBURN — Chris Thompson has to remind himself that the Washington Redskins’ successful rushing attack during the first two weeks of the season was real.
Those two games when the Redskins rushed for a combined 379 yards seem like a faded memory, one washed out by weeks of repeated ineffectiveness. In the last four matchups, the Redskins have failed to rush for more than 51 yards in a single game. Washington has averaged 64.5 rushing yards per game since Week 3.
“We know it’s there,” said Thompson, the Redskins’ third-down back. “It’s really frustrating. What happened? What was different? I know it’s going to come back. We did too good in those first two weeks. It seems like a long time ago.”
The solution has escaped the Redskins thus far, but Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints presents a bright opportunity to find the answer. The Saints have allowed opponents to rush for 122.6 yards per game — the eighth-worst mark in the league.
Three of the Redskins’ opponents this season — the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots — are ranked as the best three run defenses.
“Every game we feel like we can get back on track, but sometimes we don’t execute our game plan,” running back Matt Jones said. “Watching them on film, they give up a lot of yards. It’s definitely a game we can get back on track.”
The problems plaguing the Redskins’ rushing game have not been easy to solve. Myriad issues vary from game to game, sometimes even play to play. It varies from singular to multiple breakdowns on the offensive line. Other times, a running back is too hesitant to hit a hole or not patient enough. Thompson also feels the running backs can run harder.
“We’re going to have to run through more tackles, be a little tougher on ourself this week,” Thompson said. “We have so far. During practice, just trying to go the extra mile, doing a little more than we have been doing. We look back on film, we see some runs, arm tackles bringing us down sometimes. We know we have to run harder, run a lot stronger.”
The Redskins also feel the running game is still finding the right chemistry, starting with first-year offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Right guard Brandon Scherff is a rookie. Right tackle Morgan Moses is in his second season. Left guard Shawn Lauvao was placed on injured reserve after Week 3 and was replaced by Spencer Long, also in his second season.
If newly signed center Brian de la Puente plays on Sunday, he will be the third player used at the position. Kory Lichtensteiger has missed the last three games with a pinched nerve and was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. Josh LeRibeus, who moved from guard to center in training camp, has filled in, but has had trouble with the accuracy of his snaps. Jones is a rookie and Thompson is in his third season, but this is the most he has been involved in the offense.
“We aren’t exactly one cohesive unit, a finished product yet,” coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. “We’re working towards that.”