As the Redskins get ready to take on the Cardinals on Sunday, the focus is on the quarterbacks. Kevin Kolb and Rex Grossman both had good games in leading their teams to wins last week. Whether or not the Cardinals can rattle Rex into some turnovers and how well the Redskins defense can keep from getting hurt by Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald aerials will go a long way towards determining who will win the game.
That’s all well and good. The focus in the NFL in general and in Washington in particular is usually on the quarterbacks. However, it is not all about the passing game. If the Redskins are going to be successful they will have to be able to run the ball and stop the Cardinals rushing game.
A look at what happened last week, how the teams performed in 2010, and what the teams did in the offseason indicates that the Redskins could have a decided edge in the running game.
The Cardinals traded Tim Hightower (pictured) to the Redskins because they thought they were set at running back with Beanie Wells and rookie Ryan Williams. Wells has been inconsistent in two NFL seasons and Williams ended up on injured reserve after a knee injury suffered during the preseason.
Wells had one of his better games against the Panthers last Sunday. He carried 18 times for 90 yards, an average of five yards per attempt. It was the second-best game of his career; Wells gained 110 yards in a 2009 game against the Lions.
Hightower posted a respectable 72 yards rushing against the Giants. The problem was that it took him a career-high 25 carries to get there. A rushing game that averages 2.9 yards a carry is not going to help an offense much.
A silver lining there is that Kyle Shanahan stuck with the run. After attempting just 22 runs per game a year ago, the second-fewest in the league, the 26 rushing attempts (rookie Roy Helu had the other run) on Sunday represented a small but significant increase in the commitment to the run. Last year, NFL teams averaged 27 rushing attempts per game.
The Cardinals were the worst rushing team in the league last year. They gained just 86.8 yards per game on the ground and averaged 20 rushing attempts.
Neither team was very good at stopping the run last year, either. The Redskins were 26th in rushing defense in the league in 2010, giving up 127.6 yards per game. Arizona was 30th as their opponents ran for 145.2 per game.
Since then, the Redskins have revamped their defensive line with the additions of Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen and believe that they will be stronger in their second year in the 3-4 defense.
The Cardinals made a scheme adjustment, hiring Ray Horton to try to bring some elements used by the Steelers into their 3-4 defense. Their front seven personnel is largely unchanged from last year.
So, you have a Cardinals team that might not be much better stopping the run then they were last year and who could be weaker running the ball after the trade of Hightower. Meanwhile, the Redskins made moves to strengthen the rush defense, have added Hightower, still have their leading rusher from last year in Ryan Torain, and have an intriguing change-of-pace rookie in Roy Helu.
If Grossman and Kolb end up with roughly equal performances throwing the ball and factors such as turnovers don’t come into play, the game could well come down to who can run the ball better. If that turns out to be the case, you have to have to like the Redskins’ chances.
Also read Despite stats, Redskins committed to the run on CSNwashington.com.