Thompson did it again Sunday night, having yet another game that shows his worth to the Redskins -- and will lead to another round of questions like this: Why doesn't he get more touches?
The answer to that question is simple: He's 190 pounds and the Redskins don't want to wear him out running between the tackles against eight-man boxes. Just like, in the past, they didn't want to turn 175-pound Jackson into someone who would go over the middle on pass routes in order to get him more touches.
Of course, Thompson hasn't replaced Jackson in the lineup. But in the first three games he's shown an ability to change games or flip field position with one play like Jackson did -- just from a different position. Having two who could do that would be optimal. But having one such as Thompson is crucial.
That was evident again Sunday night. Thompson touched the ball 14 times; four of those plays went for 15 yards or more. Of his 27 touches this season, seven have been for at least 15 yards and 11 for at least 10.
As well as Thompson played in 2016, he was not this effective. In fact, only eight of his 117 touches for the season resulted in gains of at least 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Thompson continues to improve -- and the Redskins need him more. Losing Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and with tight end Jordan Reed ailing, Thompson is not only reliable, but he's even more of a home-run threat. He has four touchdowns this season, one fewer than all of 2016.
Against the Rams in Week 2, Thompson turned a draw play into a 61-yard touchdown for a 20-10 lead -- occurring after 10 unanswered points by Los Angeles. He didn't just have an opening, he enlarged it with his ability to look two cuts ahead -- and juke defenders who were still five yards away with sharp jabs.
"That's how those big runs are made," Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan said. "One thing I ask Chris all the time is 'what did you see, what's your thought process.' He said, 'Coach, I can feel the guys but I had already X'd out the first level.'"
In other words, he's looking two cuts ahead. That ability set up the touchdown against the Rams; it leads to gains that aren't as long but still significant, too. Against the Raiders, he could catch and quickly cut, sensing where the defender would attack him.
On a second-and-20, Cousins dumped the ball to Thompson on the right. But, with his back to the defense but feeling inside pressure, Thompson quickly spun outside and gained 16 yards. The Redskins converted the next play -- on a pass to Thompson -- and scored on a 52-yard pass to Josh Docston on the following play.
Thompson also turned a screen pass into a 74-yard gain. The third quarter play -- a third and 19 -- occurred on the series following Oakland's first touchdown. The Raiders had their first pulse of the evening, thanks to a muffed punt and touchdown. But Thompson's play regained the momentum, leading to a field goal and 24-7 lead.
The blocking was excellent, but Thompson's quick cuts and speed were just as good. Nobody touched him until cornerback David Amerson tackled him downfield. But it served as a reminder of Thompson's danger in the open field.
"That was not a play that we had practiced this week," Cousins said. "That was not a play we were expecting to call, situationally you get way backed up and you're just trying to get out of dodge there."
Instead, it led to a field goal.
On some of his carries, Thompson can gain yards and become a big threat because linebackers often play pass first. That freezes them, even at times on handoffs, and enables blockers to reach them. Which is what happened on a 14-yard run he had Sunday.
In three games, Thompson has averaged 17.77 yards per reception. Last season he averaged 7.17 yards per catch and the leading running back in this area was Kansas City's Spencer Ware at 13.55 yards (on 32 catches). So it'll be tough for Thompson to maintain this pace. However, defenses must be aware of him at all times -- just as they were with Jackson -- because one play could change the game. It's one thing to score on a 22-yard pass when the opposition blows a blitz, as the Raiders did. It's another to threaten no matter what's around -- or where he gets the ball.
"They're paying me to win one-on-one matchups and to make plays and be the spark for this offense, on third down especially," Thompson said. "Even second-and-long situations I'm supposed to make plays. That's what they're paying me for. I just have to continue to just be good for my team."