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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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Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice?

Will Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Finlay: The better question might be what constitutes the next step for Cousins? And going one step further, will it be with the Redskins? Answering the second part first, Cousins will be the 'Skins quarterback in 2017. Taking the next step is trickier, since the passer has thrown for more than 9,000 yards in the last two seasons.

For me, Cousins can still get much better, particularly in the red zone. If the Redskins scored at the same pace they pile up yards, this team would have won 11 games in 2016. 

In 2016, Cousins ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards, yet outside of the Top 10 in TDs with 25. To really enter the next phase of his career, Cousins needs to lead an offense that scores more, and that means 30+ touchdowns. He can do it. 

Tandler: I don’t look at the next step for Cousins being about numbers. Sure, maybe he can throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns on year. But being a top quarterback is more than that.

I want to see him go into Seattle next year and rally the Redskins from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. I want to see him go into a playoff game and, unlike what happened against the Packers after the 2015 season, will the team to a win when the Redskins aren’t playing their best and when a QB like Aaron Rodgers is on the other side. I want to see him glare at a lineman who missed an assignment and correct a receiver who went the wrong way on a route.

To be sure, he has led the team to some comeback wins and he has played very well in some key games, like the division-clinching win in Philadelphia in 2015. But a top-flight quarterback can’t essentially negate one of those with a play like the season-ending pick against the Giants. Sure, any quarterback is going to have an off day. But you have to have more pluses than minuses on the ledger.

Cousins has been a starter for just two years so maybe he can develop into a top-shelf quarterback. Putting up good stats is part of the picture but he won’t be there until he elevates and motivates those around him. Maybe he can take that next step but until he does there is no way of knowing if he will. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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

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Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

There hasn't been much good news out of Redskins Park lately, as the team deals with pending free agency for QB Kirk Cousins and others combined with rumors of infighting among the front office. So video of 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson running and cutting comes at a great time for beleaguered 'Skins fans. 

Doctson posted the video to his Snapchat account. When he last spoke after the Washington season ended, Doctson made clear he was feeling much better and that '100 percent health' is his main goal this offseason.

His rookie year, however, was a different matter.

The receiver out of TCU missed all but the first two games of the year. Even in those games, he played a very reduced role. Drafted 22nd overall, he had just two catches all year as an obscure Achilles' injuries landed him on the injured reserve. His plight could not be figured out by a slew of doctors and specialists, and the team finally decided to sit down their prized rookie.

A breakout year in 2017 would serve Jay Gruden's squad well, as the team stands to lose DeSean Jackson and/or Pierre Garçon to free agency. It looks likely the 'Skins will lose at least one of their starting WRs, and losing both is a distinct possibility. That could result in more than 2,000 receiving yards leaving the Redskins offense, and the team will need Doctson to pick up a good chunk of that production.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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