LOS ANGELES -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden mentioned it often in the offseason, throughout the summer and again during the week. Yes, he really did want more balance on offense -- and that meant running more.
It was hard to believe him after the opener. It was not after the Redskins' 27-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. With a passing game that remains in a funk -- whether it's protection, the quarterback needing to be sharper or receivers failing to get open.
That left the Redskins needing a dominant day on the ground. That's what they got, at least in the first half, and it was enough to carry Washington. Even though they didn't do as well running the ball in the second half, the Redskins still emphasized it -- again, partly because of their passing game problems.
During the week, Gruden asked his offensive line what they wanted to do this week. The unanimous answer: Run the ball. They would probably say that any week, but they liked how they practiced and felt it would lead to success.
"They're a very active front, so we thought we had bigger people, we could move them around a little bit," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "Easier said than done, but our guys did it. We challenged them. I think everybody's been challenging our offensive line and tight ends and they rose to it. ... A lot of success running the ball means a lot of opportunities."
Second-year Rob Kelley gained 78 yards on his first 12 carries before leaving with a rib injury. Then Chris Thompson scored on a 61-yard draw in which he showed all of his skills: vision through the hole, patience to set up blockers and burst once daylight appeared. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell runs that play quite a bit -- it's where the Redskins took it from. Like Thompson, he uses vision and patience -- and then a burst.
"[The line] did such a good job blocking I just had to use my speed to get the job done," Thompson said.
He also said he wasn't going to let safety Lamarcus Joyner catch him -- like he did one time in practice, tackling him inside the 5-yard line at Florida State.
"I saw him after the game and said, 'Man, you can't do that to me again,'" Thompson said.
Even rookie Samaje Perine helped, finally getting a rhythm late in the game. He did not play in the opener and, early Sunday, he appeared to shuffle more than usual on his runs. That's not his game. When he became more decisive, he ran well.
All totaled, the Redskins ran for 229 yards. Every one of them was needed.
Also, give credit to the line -- not to mention tight ends and receivers -- for their blocking against an excellent front seven. It was the sort of game in which the Redskins finally created an identity. They have offensive linemen paying homage to the famed Hogs by calling themselves Hogs 2.0. But, until the first half, it was incorrect to mention them in the same breath.
However, they exerted themselves Sunday. It helped to get into a rhythm, but their success allowed Gruden to keep calling runs.
"Five yards here, 10 yards there," Redskins tackle Trent Williams said. "As long as it's going forward, the defense has to play it. They have talented pass-rushers; you have to give them a different look. ... It definitely takes stress off. When you're dropping back and passing the ball, there's a lot of things that can happen. Communication is key on the road and it gets stressed. So to make one call and go for it and be physical, it takes a lot off our shoulders."
Members of the organization will tell you they like their demeanor up front and it's a group needing to gain a rhythm. They know players such as guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff and center Spencer Long fit the run-the-ball mode. Indeed, the Redskins excelled early at pulling their linemen, sealing the outside with tight ends blocking down, and allowing the backs to take over.
"We have an athletic line, a powerful line and it was great to show their versatility," Gruden said.
The Redskins started to create an identity Sunday. It's one they need to build on.