Quick Links

Position Paper: Running Back

Position Paper: Running Back

The first of an occasional series about what the Redskins might do and what they should do to address personnel issues.

The Redskins were #8 in the NFL in rushing yardage in 2008. Clearly that was the strength of the offense as the passing game ranked #23. And the strength of the running game was Clinton Portis, who carried 342 times for 1,487 yards.

Portis didn't get much help. Ladell Betts carried 61 times for 206 yards. And that is an issue that the Redskins need to address this offseason.

The two NFC playoff teams who had this past weekend off, the Giants and the Panthers, had two running backs share the load. In Carolina, DeAngelo Williams rushed 273 times for 1,515 yards and rookie Jonathan Stewart got 184 carries for 836. In New York, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both gained over 1,000 yards with 219 and 182 carries respectively.

Even the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian "All Day" Peterson, got more help than did Portis. Chester Taylor kicked in 101 carries as his backup.

I can find other examples but simple logic tells you that the two-headed approach is the way to go. The fact that Portis clearly wore down as the season wore on makes the proposition that the Redskins need to reduce his workload a no-brainer.

Betts was supposed to provide the relief for Portis but despite the fact that Portis was slowing down and was a game time decision on several occasions due to a variety of ailments, Betts got fewer than four carries per game. Betts did miss three games with an injury of his own, but that's still a pretty light workload.

The Redskins need to move about 50 carries away from Portis and to someone else. If that someone else is Betts, fine. If for whatever reason Jim Zorn doesn't trust Betts to get it done, they either need to expend a late draft pick on a running back or find an inexpensive veteran to fill the role.

Those of you who are thinking that the Redskins should think about moving Portis before his performance falls off the edge of the earth need to think again. Even if it was a good idea viewed in isolation—and it's not—the cap hit that the Redskins would take for releasing or trading him would be monstrous, as in eight figures. It's not even an option.

Rock Cartwright is the third running back and he contributes virtually nothing there. He carried five times last year and 12 the past three seasons combined. He is, however, invaluable on special teams. Rock will be here in '09 but he really doesn't have a spot on the running back depth chart. Perhaps they could find a different roster designation for him and carry another running back who has the potential to get some carries. That was the thought process with Marcus Mason last August but the Redskins decided to release him and keep 10 defensive linemen.

Portis needs to continue to be the bell cow. But something south of 300 carries in 2009 would help him be more productive in December. The team needs to identify a back who can share the load, whether it's Betts or someone not currently on the roster and be determined to give him enough work to make a difference.

Quick Links

Want to beat the Cardinals? Bring down Carson Palmer

Want to beat the Cardinals? Bring down Carson Palmer

Many considered the Cardinals a Super Bowl contender this season, though the team has not performed to that level so far in 2016. One huge problem for Arizona - protecting quarterback Carson Palmer. 

In its last four games, Arizona has given up 16 sacks on Palmer, including a staggering eight sacks against the Carolina Panthers. In the last two games, Palmer has gone down six times, and both games have been losses. 

With weapons like wideout Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson, Palmer has lots of options to move the ball. That's why Jay Gruden knows how important it is for his front seven to get home.

"It’s going to start with the pass rush," Gruden said. "If Carson [Palmer] has all day to throw and give Larry time to do double moves and stem you inside and vertical and then get back out or break it back across, I don’t care how big you are or how fast you are, it’s going to be hard."

In all six Cardinals losses, Palmer has been sacked at least two times, and in four of the losses, Palmer has gone down at least four times. Beyond the Panthers' eight sacks, the Bills brought down the Cards QB five times, and both the Seahawks and Vikings got to Palmer four times.

While the sack totals stand out, Washington's Preston Smith knows each week is different in the NFL.

"Every game you’re fired up because you feel like it's an opporttunity to get out there and get sacks," Smith said. "You don’t think about what another team did, they’re going to play us different."

Talking on the latest #RedskinsTalk Podcast, Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy acknowledged that the defense knows how beat up the Cardinals' offensive line is. Murphy, who has seven sacks on the season, added that he's 'drooling' for this matchup and the opportunity to take advantage of the Arizona vulnerabilities up front. (Listen to the full podcast below.)

Bruce Arians knows his team is undermanned on the line, and the Arizona offense will be creative to protect Palmer.

"You have to help them," Arians said of his O-line. "You have got to stay balanced and hopefully not get into a situation where it’s a throw, throw, throw game because then you’re putting them in harm’s way and your quarterback in harm’s way."

It doesn't help that in his 14th season, Palmer is probably one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. After matching up against Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott in their last two games, the Redskins defense knows Palmer won't move nearly as much, though that doesn't mean he's neccesarily easier to get down.

"You’re not going against a mobile quarterback but you still got to get to that spot," Smith said. "Carson’s a good quarterback."

Linebacker Mason Foster said that sacks aren't as important as consistent pressure. 

"On a great quarterback like that you want consistent pressure all day long. Make things tough on him, you don’t want a clean pocket," Foster said. "If you have pressure in his face all day and you don’t get no sacks, I think that's a success."

Even at 36, Palmer is still a dangerous quarterback. He's thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this year with a beat-up offensive line and missing one start. But numbers are numbers, and the data shows that if the 'Skins pass rushers can get Palmer to the ground, the chances of a Washington win shoot right up. 

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

 

Quick Links

Poll: What is your approval rating for Redskins coach Jay Gruden?

Poll: What is your approval rating for Redskins coach Jay Gruden?

As always, hit the poll and then head to the comments section here and talk about your answer, or reply on Twitter.