The Washington Redskins entered the season with a "run the ball" and "stop the run" identity. Clearly the team hasn't been good at either in recent games. Coach Jay Gruden was asked at his Monday press conference whether re-establishing an identity truly matters or whether it's just something media types bring up.
"It does matter a lot. It matters. It matters in this division. It matters later on in the season. When the weather gets bad, it matters, and that's something that we really have to talk about and focus on. Our run defense has not been very good the last three weeks and our run offense has not been very good. That's going to cost us football games later on in the season, so it's a focal point. Some teams quite frankly, you're going to give up maybe a player in the box and maybe give up a few more running yards than you would against other teams. But, that's just game-plan specific. Our offense, we should always focus on getting better run looks than we have the last three weeks."
Getting bette sounds good, but how? First, here are the unsightly numbers over the last three games:
Running the ball: Washington rushed for 51, 34 and 50 yards in its last three games. After leading the NFL in rushing through two weeks, the Redskins now rank 23rd in yards (693) and 28th in yards per attempt (3.7).
The fix: Ideally offensive line coach Bill Callahan during the bye week figured out how to get the running lanes open, though there may not be a true solution based on the current left guard/center options. Ever since Shawn Lauvao suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3, defenders are meeting the ball carriers in the backfield. That's while the true "fix" probably involves using rookie Matt Jones and Chris Thompson more -- and Alfred Morris less. The reality is Morris isn't elusive enough to generate missed tackles. Jones, thanks to his speed and power combo, and the shifty Thompson offer more help in this regard. Those two are also better threats at attacking the perimeter and in the passing game.
New England ranks seventh in total rush yards allowed, but 20th in yards per carry. Once teams fall behind, the running game goes away.
Stopping the run: Over the last three games, the Redskins offered scant resistance to the Falcons (176 yards), Jets (221) and Buccaneers (190). Washington ranks 30th in yards and yards per attempt.
The fix: Breaking Burgundy film analyst Paul Conner recently examined the problem with a specific focus on scheme and execution. In terms of personnel, with the the likes of Jason Hatcher, Terrance Knighton and Chris Baker, Washington's defensive line doesn't lack for talent. However issues at inside linebacker and safety have contributed to the issue. Perhaps the week off will helped linebacker Perry Riley rest up and gave safety Trenton Robinson time for a tackling refresher.
The Patriots don't generate oodles of yards on the ground largely because quarterback Tom Brady crushes defenses with the pass. However, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount offer a formidable outside-insde combination.
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