It doesn't matter how much you love or hate Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III or Colt McCoy. The undeniable truth is, especially with DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed injured, the Washington Redskins' biggest offensive strength is their run game.
So why do Jay Gruden and Sean McVay seem to hate running the ball?
Gruden has been criticized for abandoning the run pretty much since he entered the NFL in an offensive coaching capacity, and his answer every time that criticism rears its ugly head is basically to run it a few extra times the next week before falling back into the same pattern until the problem loses him another game.
It's not a great strategy, but then Jay Gruden is not a great coach, or a great play caller. At best, right now, Gruden is slightly above average in each of those roles, and at worst, he's well below average.
Gruden seems perpetually unable to decide if he wants to go for the kill or not. With his team up by three in the fourth quarter, you can expect him to pass more than the average offense would, but less aggressively than the average aggressive coach would. You'll see plenty of screen passes, a few short passes to the tight ends, maybe a 15-yarder to Pierre Garcon. There will likely be three or fewer run plays in that time, unless the defense has been absolutely gashed by the rushing attack all day.
But if that drive is marginally successful and reaches the red zone, don't expect a play for the endzone against a fatigued defense. Rather, look for a conservative attack that likely ends in a 30-yard field goal.
If the Redskins are trailing, however, forget about the run game. It's an exhibition of Kirk Cousins' 7-yarders. If that works, so be it. The problem is, that can't possibly have sustained success in the NFL, and even against five bad-to-mediocre defenses, Washington has managed just two wins and a negative turnover differential.
Anyway, to the stats. Alfred Morris has 74 carries so far this season. Here is the quarterly breakdown of those carries:
- First quarter: 26 for 120 yards (4.6 ypc)
- Second quarter: 17 for 55 yards (3.2 ypc)
- Third quarter: 12 for 24 yards (2.0 ypc)
- Fourth quarter: 18 for 75 yards (4.2 ypc)
- Overtime: 1 for 2 yards (2.0 ypc)
And here is the breakdown for Matt Jones' 54 carries this season:
- First quarter: 12 for 68 yards (5.7 ypc)
- Second quarter: 22 for 88 yards (4.0 ypc)
- Third quarter: 8 for 13 yards (1.6 ypc)
- Fourth quarter: 12 for 51 yards (4.3 ypc)
- First quarter: 5 for 54 yards (10.8 ypc)
- Second quarter: 1 for -1 yard (-1.0 ypc)
- Third quarter: 4 for 26 yards (6.5 ypc)
- Fourth quarter: 3 for 28 yards (9.3 ypc)
- Overtime: 1 for 1 yard (1.0 ypc)
- First quarter: 24-of-33 (72.73%) for 261 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
- Second quarter: 27-of-44 (61.36%) for 280 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
- Third quarter: 26-of-32 (81.25%) for 220 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
- Fourth quarter: 46-of-72 (63.89%) for 463 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
- First quarter: 79 plays, 43 rushes (54.4%), 33 passes, 3 sacks
- Second quarter: 90 plays, 45 rushes (50%), 44 passes, 1 sack
- Third quarter: 58 plays, 26 rushes (44.8%), 32 passes, 0 sacks
- Fourth quarter: 108 plays, 34 rushes (31.5%), 72 passes, 2 sacks
- Overtime: 6 plays, 2 rushes (33.3%) 4 passes, 0 sacks
That last breakdown, to me, is the most telling. Washington runs the ball less with each passing (no pun intended) quarter, and the run game is essentially an afterthought by the fourth quarter.
Of course, we're still just five games into a 16-game season, and these numbers don't reflect the entire story. For example, sometimes the game situation calls for a pass instead of a run, such as when you're playing catch-up. Maybe that's where all the passing comes from? Well, not really.
Washington has run 156 plays when leading, which is traditionally when the rushing attack is supposed to dominate the offense. Of those 156 plays, Washington ran 72 passing plays, two of which ended in interceptions, two in sacks. The Skins have run 119 pass plays when tied or trailing, so it's not as though they're just inflating their passing numbers by always losing.
But this is where things go south. Not only do you run the ball toward the end of the game because you want to run out the clock (if you're winning or about to take the lead), you do it because that's when a run defense is tired. Think about it. If you're a defensive tackle, when are you going to be most effective at bringing down Alfred Morris? In the first quarter, when you're still nice and fresh? Or in the fourth quarter, when Morris has already bulldozed into you 20 times and you've been running around after him all game?
It's not a coincidence Morris averages a full yard per carry more (on almost the same number of carries) in the fourth quarter than he does in the second. The more you run it, especially with a guy that doesn't go down easy, like Morris, the more likely you are to rattle off some big gains.
Morris averages 3.5 yards per carry on carries 1-10 in games this year, 4.0 yards per carry on carries 11-20 and 4.8 yards per carry on carries 21-30. Let the man run it late in games. Jones is fine, too. Just stop with all the damn screen passes and the stupid five-yarders that boost Kirk Cousins' completion percentage but do little else to help the offense.
Run the ball.
All stats via pro-football-reference and NFL.com