Most of the talk about the Washington Redskins as we (hopefully) make the transition out of the NFL lockout surrounds the quarterback position. And that is logical given that the talk in Washington always centers around the quarterback and that it is the most important position in football, perhaps in all of sports.
The fate of the 2011 Redskins, however, will not rest on the arm of John Beck or Rex Grossman or Vince Young or anyone else who may take snaps from center. If they have any hope of being respectable this year they will have to get it done on the ground.
They were 30th in the NFL in rushing last year, picking up just 1461 yards on the ground (91 yards per game). Of course, they did not try to rush the ball very often with just 351 attempts; only one team had fewer rushing attempts. The Redskins passed on about 65 percent of their plays, putting them among the most pass-happy teams in the NFL. They averaged 4.2 yards a carry, mediocre (16th) by NFL standards and short of the 4.5 yards per attempt that was the team's stated goal.
To be sure, the Redskins trailed about 45 percent of the time last year meaning that they were forced to pass more than they might have liked to. That doesn't explain, however, why they ran the ball just 18 times against the Texans in a game they trailed only briefly until the end of the game in overtime. Or why they had just 13 rushing attempts against the Vikings in a game that they were within one score of the lead for all but a few minutes. Abandoning the run was a frequent occurrence in 2010.
Again, quarterback is the most important position on the field but a good running game is a quarterback's best friend. Anyone who takes snaps this year is likely to struggle but the QB's problems can be minimized if the Redskins run the ball on at least four out of every ten plays and can average at least four and a half yards a carry.
Recently on CSNwashington.com, I outlined a plan to improve the offensive line. Whether or not they follow that plan or do something else, the line needs to improve. Pro Football Focus recently ranked it 28th in the NFL and most who watched the team last season would consider that to be generous. Obviously, if the line does not improve, trying to run more will be futile (for that matter, trying to pass will be, too).
I think that the Redskins are in decent shape on the other personnel element of the rushing game. They have seven running backs on the roster. Five of them, Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, James Davis, Andre Brown, and Chad Simpson have some NFL experience. Two of them were drafted, Roy Helu (4th round) and Evan Royster (6th). None of them has turned 26 years old yet.
Some would like to add a veteran back to the mix. I don't see the need. Perhaps in a normal offseason it might have been a good idea to bring in a vet to teach the younger backs the ropes. But at this point, a veteran back would be so busy trying to learn the offense to provide any help to anyones else.
There also is the numbers game. NFL teams usually carry three running backs on the roster Torain is a keeper as is Williams and you have to think that they didn't draft Helu with the idea of cutting him, so there is no room for a free agent. You could create a fourth roster spot for a running back by going short elsewhere but a rebuilding team should look to keep another young player like Royster or Davis rather than giving the precious spot to an older player.
So, there it is--don't abandon the run, upgrade the offensive line, and roll with a group of young running backs. It looks good on paper. If it translates onto the field, the Redskins might not be so difficult to watch in 2011.