LANDOVER, Maryland -- The problem with the Washington Redskins' run game remains the same as it’s been in the past. It’s not a one-position issue. It’s not even just an offensive line problem, though there were a few negatives up front.
Rather, when they have a good play called, one person misses a block. Or when they need push, they’re not getting it. Or when they do, it takes one miss to cause it all to break down. Or if the line does its job, a tight end might lose his block.
It adds up to a lackluster preseason showing by the Redskins’ offense. The regular season is three weeks away, so panicking now wouldn’t be productive. Being concerned? Yes, that would be wise. In Saturday’s 21-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Redskins’ run game was non-existent. This after a week in which coach Jay Gruden stressed its importance.
I like that the starting offense wanted to stay in the game, knowing they needed to generate something positive. They know what they must prove; it’s a good mindset to have. This isn’t about a group that doesn’t work hard; nobody does more work than the offensive line. At some point maybe this is just who they are: a group that pass protects well but is inconsistent blocking for the run. If you want to be called Hogs 2.0 -- again, I appreciate what and who they’re trying to emulate -- then you need to duplicate their success. Nicknames, in the end, are earned. Nobody knows that more than the players.
Two times it was left guard Shawn Lauvao who missed a block, leading to problems. Another time center Spencer Long stumbled and was unable to block the linebacker. Or tight end Niles Paul missed a block on the edge. And receiver Ryan Grant failed to obstruct the linebacker on another. And tight end Vernon Davis didn’t handle the corner in space on another. Last week Trent Williams missed one. Maybe running back Rob Kelley could help on some runs with an extra dash of patience. Other times, though, he’s being hit two yards deep.
“It just takes time and practice,” Williams said. “It takes growth. It doesn’t just boil down to the five people blocking. It takes everybody. If one guy misses a block, it can turn a play that’s a potential plus-10 to a minus-1. Those are the things we have to iron out and keep swinging and hopefully it will come through.”
Other observations about the No. 1 offense:
They’ll miss Pierre Garcon's penchant for tough catches. That doesn’t mean they can’t succeed without him, but that’s one area where he performed well. The Redskins’ starting offense had two drops (Ryan Grant and Vernon Davis) and another ball that was too high but one that Terrelle Pryor will need to catch in the regular season. Garcon provided an edge and was adept at running after the catch on screens. Green Bay’s receivers made the first man miss on those screens too often. On Washington’s one screen, Ryan Grant did not. Jamison Crowder has done so and will continue to do so.
They’ll need to be more balanced on first down in the regular season. Excluding the two-minute offense at the end of the first half Saturday, the starting offense has run 10 first-down plays this summer. Of those, seven have been runs -- and those have gained a combined eight yards. Gruden wants to establish a mindset on the ground and that should be applauded. He needs to see what they can do. But this offense will struggle if they run that much on first down (with no success). The bad part? They did what they should on a first-down run in the second quarter and went play-action -- using their tight bunch formation that usually signals run. But the play fake wasn’t great and didn’t cause the backside end to bite hard inside. Instead, he ran at Kirk Cousins running the boot. It caused a throwaway. Still, first-down passing will have to become a thing; it’ll help the run game. First-down play-action works well -- and it’s often the best time for receivers to make big plays. This is where the preseason is helpful, as long as lessons are learned.
Timing is everything. Cousins threw two excellent touch passes to running back Chris Thompson and tight end Vernon Davis. But he was off on some other throws -- the deep cross to Jamison Crowder; the fade to Davis in the end zone. On the latter, the play was there but Cousins just left it short. Contrast that with Aaron Rodgers' fade to Martellus Bennett for a touchdown. But Bennett also set it up well, freezing linebacker Zach Brown and then creating enough separation by cutting back outside so the throw didn’t have to be perfect (though it was close).
Receiver Josh Doctson will need to start. Grant is a terrific worker who runs excellent routes, can play any receiver spot and usually blocks well. He has yet to translate what the coaches see in practice into games, but Doctson provides big-play potential. He caught only one pass from Cousins, but it was for 12 yards on a slant in which he needed to let inside receiver Crowder clear his man. So that required patience; Doctson showed it and set his man up well to get free. He later made an athletic breakup of a deep ball. The coaches aren’t going to play Grant ahead of him if Doctson shows he’s ready -- and stays healthy. If Doctson conquers the latter, this becomes an easy call.