Point-Counterpoint: Can Morris do it again?

Point-Counterpoint: Can Morris do it again?
May 31, 2013, 12:45 pm
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What should we expect from Alfred Morris in Year 2?

By Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir

Alfred Morris exploded onto the scene last season, going from an unheralded sixth-round draft pick to the Redskins’ starting running back to team rushing record holder and key cog in the NFL’s leading rushing attack. The humble rookie was one of the best stories of the 2012 season.

But what about 2013? Can Morris repeat or even improve on his spectacular debut campaign? Or is some degree of a sophomore slump inevitable? Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler debate the question in this week’s edition of Point-Counterpoint.

Tandler: Let’s look at history here. Before Morris, five rookies had rushed for over 1,500 yards in a season. Only one of them, the Saints’ George Rogers, had a severe sophomore slump. He was injured, missed 10 games, and rushed for only 535 yards. The other four rookies who gained at least 1500 yards all had solid to spectacular encores. O. J. Anderson of the Cardinals gained 1,352 in his second year, Clinton Portis rushed for 1,591, Edgerrin James 1,709, and in 1984 Hall of Fame runner Eric Dickerson set the NFL record with 2,105 yards rushing. Alfred probably isn’t going to go for 2K, but history shows that only a quality back puts up a rookie performance like Morris did and there is every reason to think that he will keep it up in his second season.

El-Bashir: A decent amount of Morris’ success as rookie came as a direct result of defenses being on their heels because of the threat posed by Robert Griffin III. But we don’t know when Griffin will return to the lineup. Could be Week 1. Might be later. We just don't know right now. We also don’t know if the offense will contain as many designed runs for Griffin as it did in 2012. But it sure would seem likely that RG3 is not going to carry the ball 120 times or gain 815 yards on the ground. Without the threat of Griffin breaking off a long run (or even a short one), who do you think opposing defenses will focus on stopping? That’s right, Mr. Morris, who could face more eight man fronts and, as a result, will probably find a lot less space in which to operate. 

Tandler: While Morris’ success is dependent on some help from RG3 to some extent, let me bring back some of those pesky actual numbers. The last three games of the regular season, Morris had very little help from the threat of Griffin running the ball. Kirk Cousins played the whole game in Week 15 in Cleveland. Griffin did play the last two games but he had a large, bulky brace on his right knee that pretty well eliminated him as much of a running threat. But Morris was unaffected as he ran for an average of 126 yards per game with RG3 either out of the lineup or significantly hobbled including his signature 200-yards effort in the division-clinching win over the Cowboys. Yes, that’s a small sample size but it does demonstrate that Morris can get it done whether the defense is worried about RG3 taking off on them or not. 

El-Bashir: Wait, didn’t Griffin run for 63 yards and a touchdown in the regular season finale against Dallas? He averaged 10.5 yards per carry in that game. Sounds like he was still a threat to me. Anyway, one point I haven’t mentioned is Morris’ physical running style and the toll that can exact on a running back’s body. By all accounts, the 5 foot 10, 218 pounder took good care of himself off the field last season. He was also fortunate to have only suffered some bumps and bruises along the way. But can you count on full health for 16 games again? Look, I know it may sound like I’m rooting against Morris. I’m not. I just think there are too many variables involved and, because of that, there appears to be a lower probability of Morris duplicating – or surpassing – the success he enjoyed as a rookie.