When to run: Redskins' Gruden looks for balance
Oct. 09, 2014
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Jay Gruden kept saying he should run the ball more. When he finally tried to do just that, he said he probably stuck to it too long.
It's always easy to second-guess the play-caller on a losing team, and the first-year Washington Redskins coach usually jumps in with the self-criticism before anyone else has the chance. One of his biggest challenges in the 1-4 start has been finding the right mix for the running game.
"Some days when you don't play very well, you abandon it too quickly," Gruden said. "Some days you don't abandon it quick enough."
The Redskins have a solid running back, Alfred Morris, who put up 1,613 yards with a 4.8-yard average his rookie year and followed it up with 1,275 and 4.6 last season despite the team's 3-13 record.
This year, his carries have fluctuated — 14, 22, 23, 12 and 13 — while his yardage totals have progressively worsened: 91, 85, 77, 63 and 29.
"I think part of it is just kind of being committed to it," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "It's really hard as a play-caller to be committed to it when you take, like, a negative play or you take a zero-gain-type play, so from that standpoint it's kind of like just trusting it and knowing that as we go, we're going to get a better feel for what they're doing and we're going to block it better — and then we're going to pop one and then it's going to pay off."
Gruden said before the season the offense's strength would be the running game, which was understandable because quarterback Robert Griffin III was having some adjustment pains while learning to be more of a drop-back passer. Then Griffin got hurt in Week 2 and was replaced by backup Kirk Cousins, giving the coach yet another reason to keep the ball on the ground.
The Redskins as a team ran 42 times for 191 yards in a 31-point win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Two weeks later, there were only 17 running plays in a blowout loss to the New York Giants, even though Morris and his teammates were averaging more than 5 yards per carry.
Game circumstances dictate some of those numbers — teams are naturally going to pass more while playing catch-up — but Gruden appeared bent on giving Morris some serious work on Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
The hitch: The Seahawks entered the game allowing an NFL-low 2.8 yards per rush. Against that defense, the Redskins ran 17 times for 32 yards — a 1.9 average in a 27-17 loss.
"They did a very nice job of loading the box," Gruden said. "We thought we could still knife in there a couple runs, but the problem is if one guy loses on a block — just one — it's a negative play of one or two yards, and we're stuck with second-and-8, second-and-9."
The health of the offensive line hasn't helped. Left guard Shawn Lauvao missed one start with an injury, right tackle Tyler Polumbus missed part of the Seahawks game, left tackle Trent Williams is hobbled by a sore right knee.
Striking the correct run-pass balance won't be any easier on Sunday. This week's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, allows 3.0 yards per rush — second-best in the NFL.
"That's just something that has to be a feel," Gruden said. "But the big thing is we don't want to go out there and ask Kirk to throw the ball 45 or 50 times a game, either."
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