ASHBURN — Ideally, the Redskins want to get Chris Thompson 10 to 15 touches per game, coach Jay Gruden said Monday — seven to eight carries and another seven to eight receptions.
Against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Thompson — who has become the team’s most explosive playmaker this year — finished with a career-high 20 touches, 16 rushes and four receptions.
Washington won the game 26-24 — but Thompson’s expanded role in the rushing attack didn’t seem translate to success — the Redskins finished with 94 yards on 33 attempts, or just 2.8 yards per carry.
In Monday’s rematch with the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, improving on that stat is critical if the 3-2 Redskins want to gain ground in the NFC East.
In Week 1’s 30-17 loss to the Eagles at FedEx, the Redskins ran the ball just 17 times for 64 yards.
Gruden blamed Washington’s lack of run success Sunday on “tough situations,” in which Redskins’ tight ends and wide receivers were tasked with blocking San Francisco’s larger defensive ends.
“I think there are some things that we can clean up and get our running game back to where we need it,” Gruden said.
All season long — but especially after the season-opening loss — Gruden has stressed a desire to run the ball. Since round one against the Eagles, the Redskins have averaged 33 carries for 137.5 yards per game.
And they are committed to running early in the down. Per Pro Football Reference, nearly 64 percent of Washington’s rushing attempts come on first down. They also run the ball nearly 70 percent of the time on first down.
The Eagles are the only opponent where Washington had more pass attempts (15) than rushing attempts (11) on the first play of a new set of downs. Part of that has to do with the Redskins trailing, but the team’s dramatic switch since then reinforces Gruden’s mindset.
Interestingly enough, the Redskins are a below-average team at running on first down, earning only 3.5 yards per carry while the league average is 4 yards.
This turned out to be a problem against a 49ers defense that kept the Redskins’ offense in check for the middle of the game.
“They study, they know what we like to do,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “They made some adjustments and made us grind it out. We didn’t expect to come in and just gash ‘em, but we knew as long as we continue to hand that ball off … it was going to keep the defense honest.”
Some of the Redskins’ woes can be attributed to an injured Rob Kelley. Last season, Kelley averaged 4 yards per carry on first down. But the running back has been slowed with a rib injury and now an ankle injury.
Through six games, the Eagles have the league’s best run defense, limiting teams to only 65 yards per game. In addition, the Eagles have allowed just 394 yards to start the season — the franchise’s best since 1954.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt had 81 yards against the Eagles in Week 2. After that, no other running back has managed more than 35 yards.
If the Redskins aren’t successful with running the ball initially, how long will they stick with it in the rematch? Persistance has worked in Washington’s favor as they’ve gained 5.5 rushing yards per attempt on second down — much higher than the league average of 3.9.
And in a general sense, Washington’s commitment to the run has made them more balanced and opened up the passing game. That will be tested in Philadelphia.
“As an offense, we’re going against one of the top defenses in this league,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”