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Redskins Need a True Bell-Cow Running Back

Mark Tyler looks at the state of the Redskins running game.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

As the Redskins head out west to take on the Rams this Sunday, many questions surround this team after they laid an offensive egg against the Eagles at home last week. The majority of these questions focus around the very poor play of the Redskins veteran offenseive line - the same line which many viewed last season to be a top five unit in the league. Morgan Moses, Brandon Scherff and even Trent Williams have looked extremely poor during the preseason, and that certainly carried over into week one.

Playing off the very poor offensive line play comes criticism of the running game. Again, as almost always seems to be the case after a loss, head coach Jay Gruden said he probably should have run the ball more against the Eagles. Problem was just not working! So, who is to blame? Gruden, for not sticking with the run game a bit longer, or not calling plays in situations where they could be more successful? The offensive line, for not being able to block...despite having four fairly high, younger draft picks invested on that unit? Rob Kelley, the 2016 undrafted former fullback out of Tulane, who ran a 4.7 40, and recorded an underwhelming 29" vertical jump and 9'2" broad jump at his Pro Day?

Maybe it's a combination of all three (quite probable)...but that's WAY too easy!

Gruden knows how to call a very good game. He was a very successful offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where in his three seasons running the unit, his team's averaged 1760 rushing yards/season, and he helped the team to a combined 30-18 record and three consecutive playoff births.

The Redskins offensive line boasts two former top five overall draft picks in left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses, who many projetcted to land in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, slid to the Redskins with the second pick in the third round. The massive right tackle from Virginia just signed a five year contract extension this past spring making him one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL. Spencer Long, who was also a third round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, gives the Redskins a good young center to anchor the line for years to come. Sean Lauvao, who is the smallest of the linemen at 6'3" 308, is regarded as the weakest link of the unit, and one who may end up being replaced after this season. Size, strength, youth and talent are all abundant amongst this group.

Finally, we come to the running backs. The most talented of the bunch, Chris Thompson, is a 5'8" 192 pound third down specialist. He is the team's best receiver out of the backfield, and doubles as the best pass protecting back the team has. Unfortunately for Thompson, his size and past injury history, limits him in how he can be used in this offense. He is not the type of back you can hand the ball off to 20 plus times per game.

Rob Kelley, the Redskins "starter", is a slow, lumbering back, with good toughness after contact, but limited wiggle, lateral quickness, and receiving skills. He is not a good blocker in pass protection, and just doesn't possess that "it" factor as a lead back. Over Kelley's last 10 games where he was the lead back in the Redskins offense, he's averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry, and has had just one career game where he went over 100 yards rushing. Kelley has caught a total of 12 career passes for 82 yards. He has seven career touchdowns to his name.

It is my opinion that we have lacked a complete running back here since Clinton Portis was in his prime between 2004-2008, and the run game has suffered because of it. Alfred Morris posted three consecutive 1000 yards season between 2012-2014, but he was a product of a great system of deception when the Redskins had Robert Griffin under center running the read option. Once the threat of Griffin was removed, Morris became relatively ineffective. Before Morris, and after Portis, the Redskins had the underwhelming Ryan Torain and Roy Helu as their leading ball carriers.

Although Portis scored double digit touchdowns just twice in his Redskins career, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry over his seven years in D.C., and had four seasons where he caught at least 25 passes (had a career best 47 receptions in 2007). Moreover, Portis brought an attitude with him to the backfield, and was viewed as one of the best pass protecting backs in the league during his time in Washington.

Last year, there were 12 backs to go over 1000 yards rushing. Of those 12, only one, LaGarrette Blount, caught less than 25 passes. Blount and Frank Gore were the only two on that list to average under 4.0 yards per carry (both averaged 3.9). Of all 12 backs on this list, Blount is the only one who wouldn't be considered a complete back. There were two other backs who played in only 13 games that were very near 1000 rushing yards (Melvin Gordon and Carlos Hyde). Both backs caught at least 25 passes on the season, and averaged at least 3 9 YPC.

So, can the Redskins rushing woes be pinned on the man carrying the ball for the team?

Rob Kelley is not keeping defensive coordinators up at night scheming on how they can stop him. He actually may make the Redskins offense very predictable, as he's a poor pass protector and below average receiver. If the team wants to improve on a running game that has been non-existent over the last few years, it may want to drastically upgrade the position with a complete back who can be a game-changer at the position, instead of relying on un-drafted former fullbacks to fill this very important role.

May it it be time to give rookie Samaje Perine a shot?  At this point, it can't hurt.