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Alex Smith Could Give Jay Gruden’s Offense the Balance it has Been Missing

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NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Many Redskins fans have complained about the lack of balance in Jay Gruden’s offense over the last few seasons. Is that complaint really warranted?

Over the past three seasons, the Redskins have averaged 60.08% in team passing play percentage on the season. Only once, 2016 (they ranked 8th in the NFL), have they fallen in the top 10 highest in percentage on the season. They are usually right around the middle of the pack. You can see the rankings by year here.

Of the 10 teams who ran the ball the most in 2017, seven made the playoffs, and one, the Eagles, won the Super Bowl. For the top 10 teams who threw the ball the most in 2017, only one, the Patriots (ranked 10th), made the playoffs.

There is definitely a correlation in success for teams who are closer to balance between run and pass versus those that are further away from having that.

So how can the Redskins get closer to having a balanced offense in 2018? The answer may be in the new quarterback they just traded for - Alex Smith.

Since 2010, Alex Smith has played on two different teams, with four different head coaches (Tomsula was an interim HC for one game in San Francisco). During those past eight years, Alex-Smith-led-teams have never passed more than 60 percent of the time for the season. A team he has quarterbacked has never landed in the top 10 of team passing play percentage. His team’s passing average and rank over this eight year span has been 55.39 and 22nd respectively.

To say Alex Smith’s teams have been more statistically balanced than his piers would be correct.

So will this trend continue under Jay Gruden?

Jay has repeatedly said he wants to run the football more, but the Redskins rushing attack has not been as effective over his last four seasons. Part of that has to do with the running backs he inherited. Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Rob Kelley are not really running backs who strike fear into the heart of opponents. Actually, they are about as pedestrian as you can get. 2017 rookie Samaje Perine has great up-side, but the injuries to the Redskins front five seriously derailed his potential last season.

Alex Smith needs a solid running game to be effective. He’s not the type of quarterback you can ask to win you games on his arm alone. In 2017, his best statistical season, he had just one game where he attempted at least 40 passes (40 attempts against the Giants), and five games where he threw for over 300 yards. Smith is efficient, completing at least 65% of his passes in 9 of the 15 games he played in last year. In comparison, 2016, which was Kirk Cousins best statistical season, saw him attempt at least 40 passes six times (twice with over 50 attempts), with seven games over 300 yards. Kirk completed at least 65% of his passes in 10 of his 16 games that year.

In 2017, the Chiefs ranked fifth in the NFL in total offense. The Redskins ranked 17th. The Chiefs were 9th in rushing, while the Redskins were 28th. These are not anomalies. Historically, Alex Smith run teams have have always been more run-focused than the average.

If Gruden follows history, he will make sure to surround Smith with the appropriate pieces to make him successful, and also to take less pressure off of him to try and win game on his arm alone. This means the team should invest heavily in improving the rushing attack this offseason.

Offensively, free agency should focus on guard and wide receiver. Some great options for the Redskins at these positions would be the following:

Wide Receivers

  • Paul Richardson
  • Allen Robinson
  • Sammy Watkins
  • Jarvis Landry
  • Donte Moncrief
  • Albert Wilson
  • Cody Latimer

Guards

  • Andrew Norwell
  • Luke Joeckel
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo
  • Jack Mewhort
  • Josh Kline
  • Chris Hubbard

If the Redskins can sign a true deep-threat at wide receiver, and get a good young guard to fit in with their already solid offensive line, Alex Smith should be able to thrive within Gruden’s offense.

I have some faith that with a healthy and improved offensive line, Samaje Perine can be a very solid running back for the Redskins. However, if a back the Redskins liked in the draft was available in the second round, the team would be wise to look at upgrading the position with speed, explosion and versatility.

If it’s balance the Redskins are seeking to establish on offense, they may have found their new leader in the efficient Alex Smith. Could he help the Redskins to be closer to a 50:50 run:pass team in 2018?