The Washington Redskins offence is built around a ground game that has the ability to pound away at a defence all day long if it wants to. From that we build into the play-action passes, and then into the passing game. But it all starts with the run. It's fair to say we've seen a mixture in terms of production from our 3 running backs, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain. Everyone has their own opinion on who should start, who should be the first man to split the carries, and who our best 3rd down back is. Today, I'll have a look at what all of these guys have to offer. Lets start with the guy who has started all of our games so far, Tim Hightower.
Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football called Tim Hightower the "perfect back for this system". What I've noticed from Hightower is that he runs the system exactly like it's meant to be run. He doesn't stray from what he's been coached. When we're doing a good job of blocking for him this is perfect and exactly what the Shanahan's will be looking for. However, on the downside, when we aren't blocking well, Hightower appears to lack the creativeness that we've seen from Helu and Torain to make something from a broken play. Here's an example:
This is a typical stretch run to the right, something we'll see multiple times a game. Fred Davis is going to block the linebacker on the outside and push him wide. Jammal Brown is going to seal the edge (where a blocker blocks off an edge and opens a hole for the runner to run into) on the DE., while Chris Chester is going to get up the to second level and Will Montgomery is going to block the DT to his right.
The black line is where pretty much everyone who saw this play thought Hightower should run. The inside edge is sealed off, but the DE has a position on Brown at which he could peel off Brown and make a play as Hightower runs through. Still, I expect Helu and Torain would have run straight through that gap and backed themselves to dodge or break through any attempted tackle from the DE. Hightower does what he's coached to do. He see's the seal from Brown on the DE to the outside, and the seal by Davis on the LB (marked on the picture with a blue archway) and attempts to get through that. RB's in general are coached to run through a sealed edge if they see it.
So Hightower bounces outside and makes the cut through the hole between Brown and Davis. However, the extra time it took for him to bounce outside, and then get through the hole, number 20 for the Rams manages to catch up (he went unblocked) and pulls him down for a loss.
Just to prove the point, when the blocking is good, Hightower is effective.
On this play, which is another stretch run to the right, Brown is going to block down on the DT, and Davis is going to attempt to pull the DE further to the right, sealing edges and giving Hightower a hole to run into.
In the red circle, you can see Davis has his arm on the outside of the DE, trying to push him to the outside and seal the edge for Hightower. Davis does good enough, and with the rest of the line blocking off the inside, Hightower has a clear lane to run into. He gets through the hole and gets up field, eventually being tackled for a 6 yard gain.
The other huge thing that Hightower provides is his blocking ability. This cannot be underrated, his ability to take a blitzing LB out of the pass rush gives Grossman extra time to make a play. Here's just one of hundreds of examples of this.
Here, the Rams send 5 rushers on the blitz. Having Hightower's blocking ability in the backfield, the can have confidence that they can let one man go, and pick up the rest with ease. The picture above has Hightower's block circled in red. The aggressiveness in the impact is amazing and completely throws the defender off his assignment.
Hightower doesn't just stop after the initial impact. He goes back for more, and continues his block once the ball is gone. It shows his dedication to blocking and is such a valuable asset to this offence. It's almost like having an extra Olineman back there.
Ryan Torain offers more athleticism to the backfield. He's stronger and faster than Hightower, and probably has a better ability to see holes than Hightower. Here's his first run of the game against the Rams.
This is a stretch run to the left (just a side note, going into the Rams game, the Redskins had run to the left more than any other team in the NFL and averaged 4.5 yards per carry running that way, take that whatever way you will). Chris Cooley, Fred Davis and Trent Williams are going to seal the outside, and the interior Oline are going to seal the edge. The most noticeable difference that you can see immediately from Torain and Hightower, is that Torain see's the play develop a lot quicker, and has no hesitation attacking the hole, whereas Hightower will wait for the play to develop and wait for the hole to appear.
The Oline does a nice job creating a big running lane by sealing off the edges, and Torain powers through it.
Just a quick note here, Trent Willams does a nice job noticing the free defender and comes back and takes him out of the play. Torain does a good job bouncing outside and allowing Williams to get the block in to extend the play.
Torain lowers his shoulder and delivers a crunching hit on the defender, who does a good job holding on and wrapping up his feet to bring him down for a 7 yard gain. Torain instantly brought a new energy to the team at this point and gave us a spark on the offence. His next run was even better.
Rex Grossman actually appears to audible out of a play to this one. In the end we run another stretch run to the left.
As you can see, Williams and Cooley do a good job sealing the edge, but inside Kory L doesn't have the angle on his man to seal the edge on the inside. This is where Torain backs himself to power through the hole and break any potential tackle attempts. Hightower may well have carried on outside following the system to a T. But Torain see's a hole and cuts into it.
Torain is off to the races, with Moss's brilliant downfield block on the CB, only the safety can make a play on Torain. He takes a low angle on Torain to cut him up and stop him getting into the end zone. But Torain's momentum and power is too much.
And Torain literally fly's into the end zone for a 20 yard TD run. So we've seen what Torain can bring to the table, but he does have some problems. The obvious one is staying healthy, he's failed to do that for a prolonged period throughout his career. The next is that he doesn't offer much as a 3rd down back. His hand's aren't great, and he's not the best blocker in the world. But he definitely appears to add a spark to the offence with the power he runs with.
Last, but not least, we have Roy Helu. Helu's speed offers us something completely different to what the other two have. He's one of the faster backs we've had in a while, and his speed brings an ability to break a long one on any given play. The other thing he brings to our offence is his ability to cut-back. Torain and Hightower both run the stretch, one cut, and through the hole. Helu will cut-back on the play to find a hole at any point, here's an example from the Cardinals game.
This play appears to be just a stretch run to the left, at least, that's what we want the defence to think. The give-away is FB Darrel Young's block. The line all steps down to the left, Young goes right up the middle.
When he receives the hand-off, everything looks like a run to the left (as shown by the black line). But Helu actually is going to cut back and get outside Brown. Young makes a good block on the LB, which occupies him and stop him from following Helu.
Notice how Helu sticks his foot in the ground, changes directions, and bursts off that foot. He shows that he's not just fast, he's agile. He has the ability to change direction at speed, which in turn gives him the potential to break any play for a huge gain or a TD.
He try's it again, he could go outside the DB (as the black line shows) but chooses to go inside. He fails to avoid the tackle, but his momentum drags him over the first down marker and gins 11 yards on the play.
The other big thing Helu offers us is another receiving option coming out of the backfield. He has good hands and is a big threat on check-downs, motions out of the backfield to WR (which we've seen a few times this year) and screen plays. Here's a look at a screen play.
Screen plays are something I thought we'd see more of to be honest. With the lighter, more agile Olinemen required for the zone-blocking scheme, I would have thought screen plays would be a staple of the offence, as they Olineman we have are better suited to getting up field quickly. Anyway, on this play, we send Will Montgomery and Kory Lichtensteiger on the screen block.
Kory L attempts to cut block the defender here. As you can probably tell, he doesn't get close enough.
But he does enough. The defender is pushed wide, and Helu cuts back and leaps over Kory L.
Helu does a great job staying on his feet here, breaking free of the diving tackle before cutting back outside.
He finishes the run with a nice strong stiff-arm on the defender, fighting for a last few yards. In the end, this play went for 33 yards. As I said, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of these with Helu in the backfield, as I think they'd prove to effective like we've seen here.
Overall then, we have 3 RB's that offer something different. Who would you like to see more of? If you could order the depth chart, who would you go with? Just to throw an idea out there, how about Torain's power on 1st down, Helu's elusiveness and catching ability on 2nd down, and Hightowers blocking on 3rd down? Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter, @UkRedskin1.