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Washington Redskins Team Stat of the Week: Backfield Split

Matt Jones received the lion's share of the carries, but the running game was abandoned early in the Redskins' loss on Thursday.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I touched on this last week in my Three Good/Three Bad, and it was discussed all over the site by other writers, but I want to focus on this area because it's a pretty significant facet of the team's immediate future.

The Washington Redskins have a running back problem, albeit a very good problem to have: They have two very good running backs they (say they) want to feature. The bad side of that problem is they totally abandon the run game — unquestionably the best part of their offense — as soon as they start losing. Thursday's loss to the New York Giants was a prime example of that, as Alfred Morris and Matt Jones combined for just four carries after halftime, despite a very surmountable deficit against a team that had just blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter of back-to-back games.

It's also rare, though certainly not unheard of, for a team to trot out a successful one-two punch in the backfield.

The Carolina Panthers thought they could do that with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and it worked from 2008-2010, but neither runner reached 900 yards after 2010. Williams, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been exceptional this season with Le'Veon Bell suspended, but it's expected that he'll be relegated to goal-line duties now that Bell is back. The New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have had something of a running-back-by-committee for a few years, but it's rare that more than one thrive at a time. The Giants are using the committee approach this season, but Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen are all distinctly not Alfred Morris or Matt Jones.

Basically, it's really hard to create a formidable backfield that effectively uses two running backs in the NFL, especially two that have similar skills, as Morris and Jones do. In the first half of the Redskins' Week 3 game against the Giants, Jones carried it nine times for 33 yards to Morris' four for 11 yards. The second half was almost exclusively a passing affair for Washington, as Jones and Morris combined for just four carries and 13 yards.

It's especially hard to create a formidable multi-runner backfield when you don't run the football.

Morris, who has rushed for more than 4,000 yards in just more than three seasons as a pro, was widely expected to be the starter and primary runner this year; Jones, a third-round draft pick this year, has stood out pretty much since he threw on the Burgundy and Gold for the first time. Morris has little to offer in the passing game; Jones has trouble holding onto the ball. Morris has proven durable over the course of multiple seasons; Jones has not.

Still, in his third game as a pro, Jones got the first carry against the Giants. Chris Thompson put together the best game of his career, and it's likely this game serves as an outlier instead of the norm, but I could see a situation developing where the Skins want to use Jones as the primary back and Thompson as the change-of-pace back. Perhaps Jones and Morris would alternate depending on who was finding the holes early.

It's certainly premature to say Morris is done, or that he's going to be relegated to a bench role, but his carries have dropped from 25 to 18 to six over the span of the young season. And then there's this:

So, I don't really know what's coming. One would hope that next week the Redskins return to featuring Morris in a leading role. It's hard to imagine somebody like Morris, who rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie falling out of a starting job in his fourth season. Then again, I think Washington had another player who thrived as a rookie in 2012 recently lose his starting job.