JOY AND PAIN

Redskins’ ground game hits low point against Pan­thers

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

In­side Lu­cas Oil Sta­dium in In­di­anapo­lis, a shaggy-haired four-year starter for Michi­gan State crouched and waited for the horn. Kirk Cousins was set to run his 40-yard dash for scouts and ex­ec­u­tives at the 2012 NFL Com­bine, an event filled with of­ten mean­ing­less mea­sure­ments and over­ex­po­sure.

Cousins lum­bered along to fin­ish at 4.93 sec­onds. He was more than a halfa-sec­ond be­hind the leader, a springloaded QB from Bay­lor named Robert Grif­fin III. Cousins beat out only two other quar­ter­backs, and nar­rowly — by .01 sec­onds — was ahead of the swiftest of­fen­sive line­man. And yet, this is the man who led the Wash­ing­ton Redskins in rush­ing Mon­day night.

Cousins’ out-of-des­per­a­tion 11 yards rush­ing against the Carolina Pan­thers was one more than run­ning back Chris Thomp­son and three more than start­ing run­ning back Robert Kel­ley, who went in re­verse more of­ten than for­ward dur­ing the prime­time em­bar­rass­ment. Kel­ley av­er­aged 0.9 yards per carry, or ap­prox­i­mately half the length of his body should he just fall for­ward, help­ing the Redskins run­ning game lurch back to be­ing a head shake.

“It was a prob­lem [Mon­day] night, and as an of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, when you’re call­ing plays, and you call a run­ning play that’s a gain of one or a loss of one and the back is hit be­fore he even gets the ball in his hands, it’s hard to call an­other run,” Redskins coach Jay Gru­den said Tues­day. “But some­times we need to force the is­sue. We have got to tar­get the runs bet­ter, we have got to do a bet­ter job of get­ting [Kel­ley] go­ing. Be­cause it takes pres­sure off the quar­ter­back.

“The line en­joys it — block­ing run game, I be­lieve — and it opens up a lot of our passes. When we’re hit­ting on

all cylin­ders, it’s be­cause of our run­ning game and our play-ac­tion. It’s not be­cause we’re drop­ping back straight drop-back and throw­ing seven-step drops and five-step drops down the field all the time. It’s be­cause we have a good run­ning game, our bootlegs are off of them, and our core play-ac­tions are very, very good. So when we be­come one-di­men­sional, it’s true drop-back, and that’s not the way we’re built. That’s not the way many teams are built. It’s very dif­fi­cult for any quar­ter­back to suc­ceed in that type of of­fense.”

This throw-happy ap­proach from the Redskins was preva­lent to start the sea­son. They av­er­aged 14.5 car­ries per game in their 0-2 start and 44.5 passes per game in those two weeks. In Week 3, the choice be­tween run and pass al­most lev­eled. Cousins threw 36 times in the sea­son’s first win and Wash­ing­ton ran the ball 30 times.

Mon­day, Carolina’s start­ing run­ning back, Jonathan Ste­wart, out-rushed Wash­ing­ton by 103 yards. The Redskins trailed most of the night, but the mar­gin in the first half was not one that typ­i­cally trumps teams from rush­ing the ball. After the first quar­ter, Wash­ing­ton trailed 10-3. At half­time, it was down just four points, 13-9, fol­low­ing a missed ex­tra point by kicker Dustin Hop­kins. Yet, of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Sean McVay rarely opted for the run, stuck be­tween the al­lure and mod­er­ate suc­cess of pass­ing ver­sus try­ing to re­de­fine a rush­ing at­tack that stalled in its ini­tial ef­fort.

“We didn’t have any at­tempts,” left tackle Trent Wil­liams said Mon­day night. “We had only 11 at­tempts. We dropped back [47] times. Down ba­si­cally the whole game. Not in po­si­tion to run the ball. They did a good job when we did run the ball. So, ob­vi­ously it’s tough to get it go­ing when you have 11 at­tempts in four quar­ters.”

Wil­liams was named to his fifth con­sec­u­tive Pro Bowl on Tues­day. Right guard Bran­don Scherff was se­lected for his first. Yet, the line could not han­dle the ca­pa­ble Carolina run de­fense on Mon­day, adding a pu­trid week in what has been a four-week swoon when try­ing to run the ball. Kel­ley ran for a ca­reer-high 137 yards in Week 11 against the Green Bay Packers. In the last four games com­bined, Kel­ley has rushed for 171 yards. Kel­ley ex­plained Mon­day’s fail­ure as the team not “click­ing” that night.

Satur­day’s op­po­nent is not as stern as Carolina. The Chicago Bears are 23rd in the league in rush­ing yards al­lowed per game. The forecast pre­dicts a cool and cloudy set­ting for the game, though not eye­ball-freez­ing cold that can per­me­ate the up­per Mid­west in late De­cem­ber.

“No mat­ter what the weather is, you’ve got to run the ball,” Wil­liams said. “You’ve got to be a bal­anced of­fense. You get one-di­men­sional, it’s easy for peo­ple to fig­ure you out. We can help our­selves by stay­ing ahead of the chains and not put our­selves in bad po­si­tions.”

Cousins is ac­cus­tomed to that type of weather. He was born in Bar­ring­ton, Illi­nois, which is a lit­tle more than an hour from Sol­dier Field, and played his high school foot­ball in Hol­land, Michi­gan. No one in Hol­land ex­pected him to lead an NFL team in rush­ing yards on Mon­day Night Foot­ball. But, he did, pro­duc­ing as damn­ing a state­ment about the Redskins’ cur­rent rush­ing at­tack as their could be.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Wash­ing­ton Redskins tight end Jor­dan Reed lays on the grass hurt­ing after tak­ing a hit on his al­ready-in­jured shoul­der by Carolina Pan­thers safety Tre Bos­ton on Mon­day. The in­jury was one snap­shot of a sea­son of ups and downs the tight end. Reed’s sea­son has been filled with highs such as a Pro Bowl se­lec­tion to the lows, like Mon­day’s ejec­tion.

Wash­ing­ton Redskins run­ning back Robert Kel­ley is stopped by four Carolina Pan­thers on Mon­day. Kel­ley av­er­aged less than a yard per carry in the loss.

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