In the moments after the last-second loss in Detroit, some Redskins defensive linemen voiced complaints that their defense was not aggressive enough rushing quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions QB picked apart the Redskins defense and scored with under 10 seconds left to win the game.
On Monday, Washington coach Jay Gruden was asked about the comments, and the 'Skins head man sounded understanding.
"I think if you’re a pass rusher, if you’re a defensive lineman, you don’t want to drop into coverage," Gruden said. "I respect their problem with dropping into a hook instead of rushing the quarterback because they really get paid to rush the quarterback. They don’t get paid to backpedal."
While "they don't get paid to backpedal" is a tremendous line, Gruden explained in further detail the mindset of only rushing three on Stafford.
"At that time we were playing against the clock, obviously. We didn’t want to stop a check down, so we decided to drop eight – we still had a three-man rush."
Gruden made clear that regardless of the call on the field, players must execute. That also doesn't stop Gruden from second guessing calls, both in the moment and following the game.
"If you second-guess every call that didn’t go our way, I’d go crazy. I pretty much do that on the sideline all the time. Our coaches hate me for it. But it’s just something where we have to play the call, we have to do our best to execute. After the game we’ll address why we call it and if it’s not good enough, we won’t call it again. It’s easy to second-guess, but we have to execute the call, no matter what it is."
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There is plenty of talk about the possibility of Redskins running backs Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson getting more carries as Matt Jones sorts out his ball handling issues. But there may be some real obstacles to giving either alternative to Jones a lot more game action than they have been getting.
Thompson is the third-down back. During training camp, when there could have been competition for the starting job, Thompson seemed to be reluctant to throw his hat in the ring.
“You know every guy always dreams of being the starter but for me, since I’ve been here, I’ve understood what my role is,” he said in August. “Even though I’m labeled as a third-down back my role still can continue to expand. I could possibly be that No. 2 to Matt if he gets tired I can be the one that’s spelling him here and there.”
That’s not a guy telling the coaches “give me the damn ball”. He is a tough guy but the laws of physics say that a player who is 5-8, 195 won’t last forever getting 25 touches a game, week in and week out.
Not that Jay Gruden is particularly anxious to have him handle the ball more than he did against the Lions (12 carries, 7 receptions).
“I think that’s a great number for him,” said Gruden. “We don’t want to overdo it with him—he’s still not a very big guy.”
As for Kelley, Gruden said, “Rob is doing a nice job with the limited time that he gets. Maybe it’s just expand Rob’s role a little bit.”
Kelley has done a pretty good job running the ball, although his average of 6.1 yards per carry is inflated by his 45-yard run against the Eagles. Outside of that run he has averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry.
But it’s not really that; it seems that he will be productive if he gets the carries. The problem with Kelley may be that a running back is expected to do more than just run the ball and the rookie may not be ready to take on the expanded duties that being a running back who takes forty snaps in a game has to handle.
Per Pro Football Focus Kelley has 31 snaps, 17 rushing attempts and he has gone out on passes seven times. He has been asked to pass block just three times. Blitz pickups are a critical part of the position and it seems that the coaches don’t yet trust Kelley to execute those.
The running back situation is a complex puzzle and the pieces are moving. What seems almost certain is that all three back, including Jones, will get a crack at the Bengals’ rushing defense, which is ranked 24th in the league in terms of yards allowed and 25th in yards per attempt.