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Redskins' Morris was frequently stopped before he could get started in 2014

Redskins' Morris was frequently stopped before he could get started in 2014

You don’t have to look very deeply into Alfred Morris’ numbers to realize that 2014 wasn’t a banner year for him. He averaged just 67 yards per game, quite a decline from the 101 yards per game he gained as a rookie in 2012. Morris did have 70 fewer carries in 2014 than he did in 2012 but he also averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year compared to 4.8 as a rookie.

There has been plenty of talk that Morris needs to be more productive this coming season, which also happens to be the final year of his contract. The team spent a third-round draft pick on running back Matt Jones and it appears that he will be give plenty of opportunity to make his case to be the No. 1 back in 2016.

But Morris can’t do anything without help and I found one article that indicates that he didn’t get nearly enough of it. Earlier this month Pro Football Focus ran a post looking at which running backs were hit in the backfield the most often in 2014. And right there near the top of the list was Alfred Morris.

According to the analysis, Morris took a handoff and was contacted before he reached the line of scrimmage an astounding 70 times, 26.4 percent of his rushing attempts. That was sixth in the league on a percentage basis. Although they don’t rank the raw numbers, it’s hard to imagine many backs getting hit in the backfield more than 70 times.

This feeds into the notion that the Redskins’ offensive line was a mess last year and that anyone from Jim Brown to Adrian Peterson would have struggled to put up impressive numbers behind that group.

And there is no question that the line needed to get better. That is why the Redskins paid premium dollars to bring in Bill Callahan, one of the best O-line coaches in the business. That is why they spent the No. 5 overall pick on right tackle Brandon Scherff and drafted two other linemen in the later rounds. The organization also decided to move on from right guard Chris Chester and promote Spencer Long to the starting spot there.

But getting hit in the backfield on a running play isn’t always the fault of the five offensive linemen. Sometimes tight ends, receivers, and the fullback don’t execute their assignments. The defense could load the box at times and have more defenders than the offense has available blocker. The loaded box frequently happens when the quarterback is struggling; the Redskins had a trio of QB’s who went through extended rough patches.

And sometimes the blame goes on the runner. Morris did say last year that he was not always hitting the right spots all the time. If the runner is going to one place and the offensive line thinks he’s supposed to be in a different place the play will frequently break down.

It should be noted that runners getting hit in the backfield is a common occurrence in the NFL. The running back who got hit early the least was Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs and he got hit 13.2 percent of the time. The PFF article doesn’t give complete data so it’s impossible to say with accuracy what the NFL average is for backfield hits. But eyeballing the top 10 and the bottom 10 I’d say that 20 percent is a reasonable estimate. If that’s the case and the Redskins were an average team in this regard then Morris would have been hit early on 53 of his 265 carries.

Like most areas of concern with this year, fixing just one aspect of the problem isn’t going to get done. For Morris to get a better chance at gaining positive yardage several areas need to improve, including the runner himself.

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Need to Know: Another big day on the ground on tap for the Redskins?

Need to Know: Another big day on the ground on tap for the Redskins?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, December 11, eight days before the Washington Redskins host the Carolina Panthers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Redskins vs. Eagles 1 p.m.

Days until: Panthers @ Redskins 8; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 13; Giants @ Redskins, New Year’s Day 21

Injuries of note:
Out:
G Long (concussion), S Blackmon (concussion), DE Lanier (leg)
Limited: TE Reed (shoulder), G Scherff (ankle), DE Jean Francois (knee/foot), DE Baker (ankle), G Shawn Lauvao (groin)
Final injury report

Final thoughts on Redskins vs Eagles

—The Redskins have not stopped a team in a goal to go situation since September. The Eagles are good in such situations, converting TDs 84 percent of the time. If the Redskins can get a stop and force a field goal try when the first time the Eagles get down there that would be a big psychological boost for the visitors. Or, better yet, maybe they can just not let the Eagles get any first and goal opportunities. That’s what happened when the teams played in Week 6.

—In that Week 6 meeting the Redskins rushed for 230 yards, their best performance on the ground this season by 79 yards. Matt Jones picked up 135 yards on 16 attempts, Rob Kelley had 5-59, and Chris Thompson kicked in with 9-37. It’s unlikely that Jones will be active so it will be up to Kelley to get things rolling on the ground.

—For all the talk about Kirk Cousins having the Eagles’ number, he had one of his worst statistical games of the year against them in Week 6. He completed just 52.9 percent of his passes, his lowest completion percentage of the season. Cousins also threw perhaps his worst interception of the year, a pick six that tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. The bottom line was that he made some plays and the Redskins won but he likely will have to play better this time for his team to prevail today.

—Carson Wentz has six interceptions in his last three games, including three last week against the Bengals. Josh Norman is due to get an interception, overdue, in fact. Don’t know what will happen but the chances seem good that a Redskin will get his hands on a Wentz pass today.

—We saw last week that the Redskins are not a lock to go on the road and win against a team that is desperately fighting for its playoff life. Fortunately for the Redskins, the Eagles do not have players who are the equals of David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Patrick Peterson. While plenty can go wrong I think the Redskins come away with with the win.

Redskins 28, Eagles 24

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Redskins bring former starting center back to active roster

Redskins bring former starting center back to active roster

The Redskins officially brought Kory Lichtensteiger back to the active roster, and while the move is now for depth, it could have other ramifications down the road. 

The move is on the NFL's transaction report for Saturday. To make room for Lichtensteiger, the team released defensive lineman A.J. Francis. 

Dealing with injuries up and down the line of scrimmage, Lichtensteiger's return could give the offensive front more flexibility. When Lichtensteiger got injured Week 3 and sent to the injured reserve, third-year pro Spencer Long stepped in and performed well at center. Last week in Arizona, Long sustained a concussion.

That injury opened the door for John Sullivan, who will start this week in Philadelphia with Long ruled out. Sullivan was brought in as a backup to Long once Lichtensteiger was put on IR. With Long now in the NFL concussion protocol, the Redskins need another center should Sullivan get hurt. Alas, Lichtensteiger's return from the IR. 

Left guard Shawn Lauvao also sustained an injured groin, and that's where things could get interesting. Long is capable of playing guard, as is Lichtensteiger in a pinch. Should Lauvao's injury persist, Lichtensteiger might be able to help there.

Against the Eagles, the plan certainly appears to be second-year man Arie Kouandjio starting in place of Lauvao. Kouandjio made one earlier start this season - Week 4 against Cleveland - and the results were mixed.

If Kouandjio stumbles and Lauvao needs more time, Lichtensteiger's return to the roster gives Jay Gruden and Bill Callahan more flexibility, especially when Long returns from injury.

In fact, once the team has Long, Lichtensteiger and Sullivan healthy, there could be a bit of a logjam roster-wise on the offensive line, but considering all the injuries, bumps and bruises that are part of O-line life by the last four games of the season, the Redskins staff likely won't mind figuring that out. 

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