The Washington Redskins’ offensive identity was evidently clear in Monday’s embarrassing 43-19 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Controlling the pace and time of possession while running the football with success is imperative. That allows defenses to drop safeties in the box and maybe, just maybe the Redskins quarterback Alex Smith will attack the defense in the passing game.
In New Orleans, the Redskins and Smith did neither. The run game was stifled for the second time this season. The team’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, limited to just six yards on four carries. The team averaged a meager 2.2 yards per carry against the NFL’s best front seven based on yards allowed per carry.
The Saints, who entered Monday with one of the worse pass defenses in the league, dared the Redskins to throw to the outside. And yet, the ever-so check down Smith did not. That’s because it’s no longer the makeup of Washington’s offense.
In the transition from Kirk Cousins, who ironically is on pace to throw for 5,401 yards, to Smith was a loss of an aggressive passing game. So now more than ever before under head coach Jay Gruden the Redskins offense is predicated on running the football. The Redskins must stay on schedule, get in front on the scoreboard and protect any lead. They are frontrunners. Anything otherwise could be detrimental.
The Redskins played one of their worst all-around games in the Jay Gruden era in losing to the Saints. They couldn't run the ball; they blew too many coverages and committed bad penalties in the first half. Quarterback Alex Smith was not good and his… https://t.co/EPH6Aeca3c
— John Keim (@john_keim) October 9, 2018
On the game’s first snap, the Redskins tried to sneak a deep pass. Everything was covered, forcing Smith to resort to his comfortable check down. Except, Saints defensive back P.J. Williams was shadowing the flat where Peterson was awaiting the pass. As Peterson was set to catch the pass, Williams accelerated and took out Peterson’s leg, hyper-extending his knee in the process.
While Peterson returned to the game, the tone was set. The Saints were going to be physical and take away any safety throws. The damage also meant Peterson would be limited and so was the run game. A dislocated shoulder didn’t help Peterson and the Redskins’ cause either.
The Saints could defend the run without giving up much in coverage. That and the fact as every Redskins’ drive stalled, Saints quarterback Drew Brees dissected the Redskins defense in return. And as the deficit grew to a large as 26-6 in the first half, the run game of Washington would no longer be effective.
Numbers will show just how important the run game is to the success of the Redskins. In their two wins — Week 1 at Arizona and Week 3 against Green Bay, the Redskins controlled the flow of the game. They rushed for a league-high 182 yards against the Cardinals to open the season. Against the Packers, they rushed for 166 yards. Both games were highlighted by Peterson, who averaged 108 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry in the two wins.
However, in the two losses — Week 2 against the Colts and Monday night at the Saints — the Redskins had 65 and 39 yards, respectively. Peterson had just 26 yards combined and averaged 1.7 yards per carry in the two losses. It’s like night and day, and leaves the Redskins unclear what type of run game they have.
Good, bad, or in the middle, the Redskins must run the football effectively for any chance of victory. As seen against the high-scoring Saints, the Redskins cannot trade points and play from behind, especially not through the air. When in front, the Redskins’ identity can be paraded as smash mouth football. When playing behind, it can be belittled and made to show how dull and boring the offense really is.
With two relatively good run defenses coming to FedEx Field in the next two weeks — the Carolina Panthers (8th against the run yards per game) and the Dallas Cowboys (5th in rushing yards per carry allowed), the Redskins must figure a way impose their style of play and biggest strength against the strengths of the opposing defenses. Or else, be vulnerable to a repeat of Monday night’s loss.