The Redskins have struggled to establish themselves on the ground thus far. Is Clinton Portis washed up or is the offensive line to blame?
Seventeen attempts. Eighteen yards.
Those were the rushing totals for the Redskins on Sunday in their 30-27 overtime loss to the Houston Texans. Washington averaged 1.1 yards per carry in a putrid performance on the ground, which Mike Shanahan, Clinton Portis and company would clearly like to forget.
While Donovan McNabb was airing it out en route to a 426-yard passing day, Portis found no daylight as he picked his way for 33 yards on 13 carries. The interior blocking was shaky all game long, failing to generate a surge up front and leaving Portis with little room to run.
Shanahan would like to remain committed to running the football, but he may have to get creative if he wants to do it successfully. The Redskins have run for 107 yards over the first two games this season, meaning they are averaging 53.5 yards rushing a game. You won't win football games that way, and the Redskins learned the hard way as they failed to control the clock in the second half, allowing the Texans to come back from a 17-point deficit and send the game to overtime.
The rushing attack was struggling so badly, the Redskins didn't even attempt a conventional running play while leading 27-20 with around five minutes remaining. They sandwiched a Santana Moss reverse in between two passes instead of trying to kill the clock with a power running game.
In the third quarter, on the Redskins last scoring drive, they ran the ball just once on a nine-play series. After Houston scored right back, Larry Johnson ran a stretch to the left, inexplicably changed direction a la Barry Sanders and was brought down for a loss of 10 on the play. Sanders, Johnson is not, and the backwards running cost the Redskins a chance to kill the clock with an extended possession.
However, Shanahan stuck to the run on the next Redskins possession, and Portis picked up 23 yards on four carries as the Redskins pushed it to the Houston five. Unfortunately, Jammal Brown made a major gaffe with a false start on third and one, costing the Redskins a chance to score a touchdown. The chip shot field goal attempt was blocked and you know the rest.
"Right now as an offense we are throwing the ball around; you just have to be patient," Portis said. "I think we just have to be consistent. We were picking up chunks, but we need to capitalize in the red zone because we can move the ball up and down the field."
Portis can preach patience all he wants, but the fact is the Redskins are very one-dimensional on offense for a reason: the ground game can't hold up its end of the bargain.
Shanahan tried to jump start it on the first two drives of the game. On first down from the Texans' 24, Portis ran for no gain on the first Redskins possession. Next drive, first down on the Houston seven, and Portis was brought down for a loss of four. Washington had to settle for field goals on both possessions.
If you can't run the ball on first down, it makes it that much more difficult to convert on second and third down. Shanahan trusted the run game to set up the red zone offense early, and it failed. Of course Portis rumbled in twice from a yard out later in the game, but the Redskins could have used a touchdown on one of their first two drives.
"We need to be able to finish and punch that thing in the end zone, you know," receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "All these other times we were coming up a little bit short and whatnot. We have got to make sure we put seven on the board. We'll send the kicker out there to kick extra points, not field goals."
The offense certainly made strides as a whole. The Redskins had 421 total yards and 21 first downs compared to 250 yards and 17 first downs against Dallas. Yet it was the passing game which was responsible for the bulk of the output.
McNabb acknowledged the offense needs more balance. "Whenever we need to run the ball and some clock, we have to be very effective in doing that," he said. "Obviously we're going to watch the film and make some corrections and hopefully get a change for next week as well as the rest of the season."
McNabb also noted he expects the running game to emerge in the coming weeks. "Holes are going to open up for us. We know that," he said. "We were just maybe one or two blocks from making a big play but we expect that to happen soon."
Excuse me if I doubt the new signal caller, but I don't see it happening this year. The running game is destined to be inadequate in 2010 for multiple reasons.
Primarily, the interior linemen have yet to prove they can win their blocking assignments and control the line of scrimmage. Too often, Portis meet a wall of defenders on Sunday. Obviously, the blockade up front wouldn't be so terrible if the Redskins had a running back with lateral speed, but Portis no longer possesses the ability to bounce runs to the outside. Larry Johnson's style has never included that, which leaves the Redskins without a back capable of cutting back and creating his own plays.
On the opposite side, the Texans didn't run the ball with a ton of success, but Arian Foster did display that he can cut back or get to the edge to gain extra yardage. The Redskins plugged up the middle fairly well, leaving Foster to make plays on his own with his vision and elusiveness, but he did make them.
The Redskins tried to find ways to improve the blocking to help Portis. They have been using the more mobile Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard over Derrick Dockery. They used a lot of motion in the Dallas game at tight end. None of the adjustments and scheming has given them a boost thus far.
Maybe the trip to St. Louis will be the ticket to getting the running game jump started. The lowly Rams surrendered 173 rushing yards to the Raiders on Sunday, including 145 by Darren McFadden. Portis and the offensive line have to be licking their chops, hoping they can get back on track with a strong performance that will erase the bad taste in their mouths.
"The same way we had to forget about Dallas after we won, we have to forget about Houston," Portis said. "We can't come out and change this, we can't play [them] again and we can't add time on the clock so tomorrow it's on to the next game."