Chris Thompson starred for the Washington Redskins in the first three games of the season. He was reduced to an afterthought in their fourth. Don't expect that to continue.
Thompson still got his touches -- he just didn't do as much with them in Week 4 as he did in the first three games.
Credit the Kansas City Chiefs' defense for slowing him down, but it did so at the expense of other areas: the Redskins averaged 6.6 yards per play, their second-best total of the season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins averaged a season-high 10.46 air yards per pass attempt -- his previous high was 8.85 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The real problem was the Chiefs' offense, which controlled the ball for 37 minutes, 9 seconds. That limited Washington to only 50 offensive plays -- the Redskins' third fewest since the 2014 season. Thompson still managed seven touches, so his percentage of chances in a game was his second highest of the season.
But he only finished with 6 runs for 23 yards and 1 catch for four in the 29-20 loss.
The Redskins do have the ability to move the ball multiple ways in the passing game. The Oakland Raiders were vulnerable in the middle of the field; the Redskins attacked them there with receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Vernon Davis. The Chiefs played coverages at times that demanded deep shots; Terrelle Pryor caught a 44-yard touchdown pass.
"The defense will dictate where the ball goes and Kirk has got the ultimate decision-making power and he'll deliver it to who's open and based on coverage," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "Sometimes it will be Jamison more often than not. Sometimes it'll be Chris Thompson, sometimes it'll be Pryor, [Josh] Doctson, I can't tell you. But 24 attempts, obviously not everybody is going to get the touches they want or expect."
The postgame focus was on Doctson's failed acrobatic attempt in the end zone on third-and-2. On the previous play, Thompson was stopped for no gain. How close was he to snapping off a long run? Right tackle Morgan Moses appeared to have lineman Chris Jones blocked inside. But Jones spun off into the hole and tackled Thompson.
Had the block been held, Thompson had an easy first down and would have been one-on-one with the safety. The Redskins would have maintained possession and, at the least, attempted a game-tying field goal with perhaps only a few seconds remaining instead of 47 -- and thereby forcing overtime.
For the season, Thompson has carried 20 times for 142 yards and caught 14 passes for 235 yards. He's averaging 16.8 yards per catch, a difficult pace to maintain for a back. In most cases, the leader in yards per catch among backs will fall anywhere between 10 and 12 yards. Kansas City's Spencer Ware was an outlier last year at 13.55 yards on 33 catches. Thompson is on pace for 56 catches.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, there will be more inconsistencies.
Of the Redskins next six games, three occur against teams that rank in the bottom five in terms of opposing running back receptions (San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints). But three rank in the top 10 in fewest catches by an opposing back (Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings). And Thompson already has hurt the Eagles this season with four catches for 52 yards in the opener.
The real problem Monday was the lack of chances by the entire offense. At times, Thompson had to stay in to pick up a blitz. Other times he paused to make sure there was no blitz and went out on a route. But by then, Cousins was looking downfield. On one designed route, a lineman collided with him in the hole, then grabbed him for a half-second and therefore slowed him down. Thompson's only reception gained 4 yards as the Chiefs were in zone coverage and the corner immediately tackled him. The only other target for Thompson was more of a throwaway.
However, Thompson's early-season success did help. Linebackers must maintain leverage on him or face a big gain. That forced them to sometimes clear out of the middle a little early. That helped open a good passing window for a 16-yard gain to Pryor. Another time the safety slightly cheated Thompson's way, opening a lane for a completed slant route to tight end Jordan Reed. Also, if the Redskins' receivers become more consistent downfield that will do two things: tempt Cousins to target them more but also force the defense to respect it more to open other possibilities for someone such as Thompson. But they must become consistent first.
Thompson had a quiet night. That's going to happen, but it's not the start of a trend.