Redskins seek to fix offensive woes before facing Cowboys
By STEPHEN WHYNO
Oct. 25, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — With over a third of the Washington Redskins' offensive touchdowns, third-down back Chris Thompson is a must-start, fantasy football dream.
Thompson is enjoying a breakout season and is a major reason Washington (3-3) and staying competitive amid a lot of injuries. His performance is also masking a host of offensive woes.
As Kirk Cousins continues to pile up the yards and points, the Redskins are struggling to get their running game going, convert on third down and integrate new receivers into an offense that was among the NFL's most productive last season.
"We have to execute," tight end Vernon Davis said. "I'm optimistic about this team offensively. I know we have all the pieces that we need in order to win games."
Davis believes the offense is getting better by the week, but the numbers show things stagnating, particularly on the ground. Since running all over the Los Angeles Rams for 229 yards in Week 2, Washington's totals have declined from 116 to 111 to 94 to 75 in a 34-24 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
Cousins has thrown for 1,218 yards and 10 touchdowns and run for 84 and a score since then to compensate, but that's not enough.
One of coach Jay Gruden's challenges is splitting carries between Thompson, Rob Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine. Another is committing to the running game when it's not effective.
The next chance comes Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, who haven't exactly been stellar against the run through six games.
"We intend on changing up to try to get the run game going," Gruden, who calls the offensive plays, said on a conference call Tuesday. "Some of our best offensive stuff comes out of two-tight-end sets and one back. Three-tight-end sets and one back, we're very successful. (Monday) night we didn't use it enough because we got behind in the second half. It's going to be hard to get everybody the ball and get everybody happy."
Keeping everyone happy on offense is no easy task considering Cousins' passing targets include Thompson, tight ends Davis and Jordan Reed and receivers Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant and Terrelle Pryor. The offseason departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon weren't supposed to hurt Washington this much because Doctson was expected to contribute after missing his rookie year with Achilles tendon injuries and Pryor was signed off a 1,000-yard season in Cleveland to play a major role.
Instead, Doctson has just seven catches, while Pryor was barely used against the Eagles. Cousins has so far relied more on receivers he has worked with in the past.
"We spread it around — we always have and we always will," Cousins said. "As long as we are moving the football, I don't really care who's doing it or how they're doing it. We just have to find a way to score points and convert those third downs."
Therein lies another problem. Last season, the Redskins' third-down defense contributed to them missing the playoffs d, and now it's their offense that's struggling.
Washington has converted 39.47 percent of third downs, 17th in the league, and is 10 of 36 on attempts from 2 to 6 yards.
"We have not been faring well," Gruden said. "We've tried to smash it up the gut a couple times and got rejected. We tried a couple bootlegs that have been successful. ... It's hard to just say, 'OK, let's run it up the middle.' It's easier said than done."
Injuries to four of five starting offensive linemen don't help the cause, especially in short-yardage situations. Gruden said injuries impact some of the play-calling, but Cousins doesn't see anything wrong in the offense that can't get fixed as he and his teammates prepare to face the Cowboys.
"I don't think there's a big trend to point to," Cousins said. "We just need to find a way to stay on the field and come away with touchdowns whenever possible."
For all the Redskins' offensive shortcomings, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett can't help but see the talent his defense will need to contain.
"They got a lot of weapons outside to throw to, they got two big tight ends, they have a couple different running backs who have been productive for them doing things different ways," Garrett said on a conference call Wednesday. "They're certainly very dangerous, and they challenge you a lot of different ways."