ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins want to continue tapping into their versatility at running back. Which means they’ll continue to rotate three of them, even as the run game sputters.
Each player fills a different need; the problem is that the Redskins aren’t getting enough production from any of them -- and it’s not necessarily their fault. As this story noted, there have been many reasons why the run game has suffered of late.
After two games, the common refrain was that the Redskins benefitted from having two backs as primary ballcarriers such as Alfred Morris and Matt Jones. Now, after recent struggles, the common refrain is that they need to pick one and stick with him. Meanwhile, nickelback Chris Thompson has averaged 30.3 snaps in the past three games.
“There probably is some validity to it, but there’s also some validity to keeping them fresh and having a package of plays for each back that we feel good about,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There are certain things that Matt Jones does better than Alfred. There are certain things that Alfred does better than Matt Jones. There are certain things that Chris Thompson does better than those other two guys.”
For running backs, though, the more carries you get the more you get a feel for the game.
“You get used to the game and used to what the defensive line is doing and how the linebackers are doing,” Jones said. “It definitely makes it better.”
Here’s a look at how each back is doing and how they’re being used:
Alfred Morris: He remains the Redskins’ top running back, according to Gruden. But he was limited to 12 snaps in two of the last three games. In those games, both losses, Morris ran for 29 yards on 14 carries. The Redskins continue to run a lot of outside zone, so it’s not just about the Redskins running a different style. One part that has been missing for Morris (and the rest of the offense) has been the zone read option. The Redskins haven’t used that at all, but it wasn’t a big part of the offense last season, either, as Morris rushed 13 times for 42 yards. Last week vs. Atlanta, Morris was caught from behind hitting a hole through left guard by a linebacker, who had started outside the right tackle and was unblocked. Perhaps if Morris was a little quicker, it wouldn’t have mattered. But in the past those zone read fakes could freeze a defender and help when teams stacked the box. Also, the play-action game works best with Morris – by far. When he’s in the game, the Redskins can sell the run a lot more and quarterback Kirk Cousins is 15-for-20 for 216 yards (and, alas, two interceptions).
Matt Jones: The rookie will continue to get carries, though his effectiveness hasn’t been the same since Week 2 when he rushed for 123 yards. In the last three games, Jones has carried the ball 29 times for 69 yards. He gives the Redskins power and speed, but he’s still learning to consistently run low and to have some patience to set up cutbacks. But Jones has shown speed around the corner, making runs that Morris might not – like on his two-yard touchdown run Sunday. With a linebacker running through a gap outside the tackle, Jones’ speed prevented a tackle. He’s been fine in blitz protection, though there was one time he could have anchored harder, preventing him from nearly bumping into Cousins as he threw a pass. But as long as his toe doesn’t bother him, he’ll be in the game plan Sunday.
Chris Thompson: He, too, provides an element that’s been lacking of late on third downs: speed. Thompson’s improvement in pass protection helps but he can give a different look on some run downs, too. In the third quarter Sunday, for example, with the run game struggling, the Redskins actually used him in a heavy run package. Thompson bounced outside for five yards on a first-down carry. But mostly he’ll run vs. nickel defenses or catch passes out of the backfield. His quickness mattered on a 42-yard run vs. Philadelphia, allowing him to sprint through a narrow opening downfield, one that would have closed quicker for either of the other running backs.