Six — The number we're examining here is six, which is how many plays the Redskins ran on first downs in the first quarter. It's also the number of carries Alfred Morris received, for an average of 3.17 yards per attempt, on first downs, all of which came in the first quarter. Those carries went for 0, 5, 3, 2, 5 and 4 yards, respectively.
Every single first down that the Redskins starters played was an Alfred Morris run. This has been an issue for the team in recent years, and Washington is hardly known for it's creative play-calling, but there needs to be more diversity in this area. Sure, it's the preseason, and this was the first preseason game at that. The players are rusty and so are the coaches. But running the ball every first down is a poor strategy that sets the offense up for failure on later downs, and the Redskins have years of their own film to prove it.
Not to jump-start the conspiracy theories already (he said, preparing to launch a conspiracy theory), but I can't help but feel that Gruden just doesn't have confidence in Robert Griffin III. I would have loved to see Griffin get a bit more operating room on first downs, maybe take a shot downfield or something.
Sure enough, the very first drive Kirk Cousins was in, Jay Gruden drew up a pass play on first down and it went for 19 yards.
When you have an above-average (at least) back like Alf, it's tempting to take advantage of his ability to pick up an extra yard here and there. And of those six carries, three of them were technically successful — picking up 4+ yards on a 1st-and-10 is considered a "successful" play. So a 50 percent success rate on first down is not awful. But if you run six plays and the biggest gain is five yards, that's not exactly resounding success and it puts your quarterback in a tough spot on the ensuing plays. You need an occasional deep pass on first down to keep the secondary honest, otherwise defenses are just going to keep stacking the box on first down and Morris will never have a chance to break out a big run.
Joe Gibbs (second tenure), Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan all struggled with this same process. How many times have Redskins fans seen this exact sequence on offense over the last decade: first down - run, second down - run, third down - incomplete pass or pass a few yards short of the first-down marker, fourth down - punt.
It wasn't an awful display of play-calling, and it was a preseason game, so there's really no reason to get worked up about it. But here's to hoping Gruden was just getting a feel for the team and the game again, and he doesn't fall back into the ever-familiar rut of predictable and inefficient offensive play-calling.