Over the past six seasons, the Washington Redskins offense under former coach Jay Gruden was known as a pass first setup. Gruden’s offenses would produce three consecutive seasons of former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing for 4,000 or more yards.
One of the areas that lacked and to a degree lagged in offensive production was the running game. Despite the many backs that had carried the ball under Gruden, no one consistently produced numbers that showed balance in the offense.
Last year the Redskins were a ground and pound team as they waited for QB Alex Smith to get comfortable in Gruden’s offense. Unfortunately, Smith was injured and the Redskins never recovered despite a 6-3 start.
Heading into this season the Redskins were expected to field one of the NFL’s best and deepest units in the backfield. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson along with second-year back Derrius Guice and all-purpose back Chris Thompson was expected to form a nucleus that would change the Redskins offensive fortunes.
Again to the dismay of many, Gruden elected to still pass the ball at a high rate. Offensive line play and the indoctrination of a new starter at QB in Case Keenum also led to the run game being stymied.
Entering Week 6, the Redskins are 0-5 on the season and their run game still produces a paltry 17.6 rushing attempts per game which places them 31st in the league in that category. Washington also ranks 27th in earning a mere 68.8 total yeard per game on the ground.
Enter in former offensive line and assistant head coach Bill Callahan. Callahan is now the Redskins interim coach after Gruden was fired early Monday morning.
One of the things Callahan stressed while talking to the media during his introductory press conference when he accepted the role of head coach was to get the run game going. The former Oakland Raiders coach stressed the importance of having the run game become an identity of the team.
“I think first, the identity of who you are and what you want to be, has to take place,” Callahan said. “I envision ourselves as a running team. I’d like to get our run game going. I think that’s important because everything else is complementary off it – the run-action, passes and protections off of it complement your running game. If we can play two down football and go from second down to first down, that would be huge. In order to do that, the consistency of the running game is going to have to take place. So that run identity, that not only helps us be the physical team that we want to be, but it lends itself benefits in every other area. The defense, clock time, letting them sit on the punt a little bit. So we’re really conscious of making that shift, we have a good stable of running backs we’ve got confidence in. That’ll be the focus going forward for us. That’s one of the areas in that respect.”
Despite missing All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams who has been a holdout all season long, Callahan still spoke about the commitment to the run game.
“The volume of the running game, I don’t know if that needs to increase,” Callahan said. “If you look back the last few weeks, I think we’re at the bottom of the league in rush attempts. The willingness to make the commitment and to run it more, I think benefits everybody like I mentioned. Relative to Trent and his situation, he hasn’t been here, so there’s really nothing to talk about in that regard. Basically, we’ll see how it all plays out, but going forward we’re just playing and working with the players that we have here.”
Despite the Redskins struggles in the run game, Callahan has confidence that things can be turned around.
“Well, there have been flashes,” Callahan said. “We’ve had flashes of positive runs in games. There’s been a few negatives, we haven’t taken a lot of the negative hits like we did a year ago, so that in itself shows me that if we commit a little more there’s a chance we’ll get it up and rolling. Featuring [RB Adrian Peterson] and his skill set, of course [RB] Chris Thompson. I think those are all viable points. I think a running back needs to get into a rhythm and we’ve got to find a run rhythm. We have to find a runner rhythm. I can’t promise or guarantee that’ll happen, but that’s the goal to find a run rhythm where we can get these backs rolling and going. We all know we’re going to have to throw the football at some point. This is the National Football League and you’re going to have to throw the football to win, whether it’s in the two-minute drills or third down, you’re going to get in those situations where you have to throw. But I do think running the ball sets an attitude, sets a physical style, it sends a message, and it puts confidence in your line and your backs. It takes a little bit more pressure off the quarterback as well. I think we can all agree when you’re running it 25, 30 times a game, you’re not throwing the ball 45, 50 times, so there’s more of a balance in that respect. Whether it’s rushing yards or rushing attempts, I think that’s critical.”
The Redskins will have a chance this weekend to see where their run game stacks up when they face the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The Dolphins (0-4) come into the game winless just like their counterpart and also boasts an under-performing defense that ranks dead last in the league by giving up 175.8 yards per game on the ground.
That could be the remedy the Redskins anemic run games needs to get well.