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What to watch for: Redskins turn to short passing game instead of runs

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What to watch for: Redskins turn to short passing game instead of runs

The Redskins ran the ball 37 times against the Dolphins, the most they had run the ball during a competitive game during the Jay Gruden era (they did run 42 times during the blowout of the Jaguars in Week 2 last year). But only 11 of those rushing attempts came in the second half with the game within one score the entire time. That drew some fire from fans saying that Gruden abandoned the running game, which was working very well, with Alfred Morris rolling for 4.8 yards per run.

But CBS put up an interesting graphic during the fourth quarter charting Kirk Cousins’ 10 passing attempts starting with the four-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed just after the two-minute warning. Here it is:

Note the emphasis on the short passing game. If the defense is expecting you to run the ball, the normal way to counter this in a West Coast offense is to go to the short passing game. After Morris’ first carry of the second half went for minus-2 yards, Gruden tried the short passing game some. Short passes to fullback Darrel Young and wide receiver Jamison Crowder gained nothing and the Redskins punted.

The next possession it was short left to receiver Pierre Garçon for six and then Cousins hit Reed for the 25. An attempted screen to tight end Derek Carrier lost a yard, then a series of penalties pushed the Redskins out of field goal range.

The Redskins ran three times on their next possession, which was marred by penalties. The ensuing punt was the one that Jarvis Landry took to the house and the Redskins trailed the rest of the way.

They ran once in their first possession after the punt return and also tried a lateral to Andre Roberts, who misplayed the ball. That resulted in a fumble charged to Cousins that fortunately went out of bounds.

In their final series, the Redskins ran three of the nine plays with Morris gaining seven and 13 yards on the first two carries. But when he was caught for a loss of one on first down from the Miami 23 with three minutes left, the running game was pretty much out of the picture.

I have said that the Redskins probably should have run the ball more often in the second half. But note that some passes can have the same effect as runs and they are used as a change of pace. That’s what Gruden did here and it likely will be part of the game plan all year long.

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Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Redskins running backs over-under

The Redskins’ running backs depth chart looks quite different from how it did a year ago. Rob Kelley, who was “ninth-string” back last year per Jay Gruden, is the starter. Samaje Perine enters the mix with expectations that exceed those normally assigned to a fourth-round pick. Chris Thompson is the constant as the third-down back. What kind of numbers will they put up this year? Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and JP Finlay go over-under on some Redskins running back stats. 

Rob Kelley, 1,000 rushing yards

Tandler: If you project Kelley’s production in the nine games he started over 16 games it comes to about 1,050 yards. He had his ups and downs in those nine starts and he will have them this year. But he should have enough ups to be able to average the 62.5 yards per game needed to hit the thousand-yard mark. Over

Finlay: Unlike wide receivers, where 25 guys broke the 1,000 yard mark in 2016, it's getting harder and harder for a running back to hit four-figures. In 2016, only 12 RBs ran for more than 1,000 yards, and only eight got over 1,100 yards. As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, less backs are getting the carries sufficient for a 1,000 yard season. The Redskins haven't had a 1,000 yard rusher since Alfred Morris in 2014. While I think Kelley gets the bulk of the yardage, I think it caps out about 900 yards and Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine creep into the total. Under

RELATED: Who's next at QB for the Redskins?

Kelley, 10 rushing touchdowns

Tandler: He scored six as the starter last year and doing the math that comes to 11 over 16 games. But last year there wasn’t a player like Perine, who could come into the game and vulture some touchdowns after Kelley did the work to get the ball in goal to go position. Under

Finlay: Sorry to keep going back to stats, but last year only seven running backs got to 10 TDs or more. Only seven! Hard to see Kelley getting there on a team that didn't run all that much, or all that well either, in 2016. Under

Samaje Perine, 500 rushing yards

Tandler: It tough to set a line for a guy who hasn’t played. I’ll go off Matt Jones’ 2015 rookie season when he gained 490 yards while sharing time with Alfred Morris. If Perine averages four yards per carry, which is not hard to do, he’ll need about eight carries per game to get to 500. It’s close but if Kelley is effective, as I believe he will be, Perine might not get enough carries to have a chance. Under

Finlay: Tandler's Matt Jones comp pretty much works for Perine, but Jones had explosive speed that Perine doesn't have. A better comp for me was Derrick Henry last year as a rookie with the Titans. DeMarco Murray was established as the top dog, and Henry worked for a productive 490 yards. Under

MORE REDSKINS: Offer to Cousins not nearly enough

Chris Thompson, 60 pass receptions

Tandler: His role is beyond just third down. If the Redskins are behind in the fourth quarter, Thompson is usually in there to try to help spark a rally. Along with TE Jordan Reed and WR Jamison Crowder, Thompson will benefit from Kirk Cousins’ familiarity with him. Over

Finlay: Thompson should be a strong contributor in 2017, but 60 catches is a lot for a running back. Only David Johnson (80) and Le'Veon Bell (75) went over that number in 2016, while James White had exactly 60 catches. Thompson grabbed 49 balls in 2016, an impressive total. I could actually see Thompson getting a bigger percentage increase in carries, he had 68 rushes last season with a very solid 5.2 YPC, than catches. Under

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Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN 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!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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#RedskinsTalk Podcast: Final refresh before 2017 season truly begins

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#RedskinsTalk Podcast: Final refresh before 2017 season truly begins

Rich Tandler and JP Finlay wrap up the Redskins offseason and prepare for what will be the most intriguing and the most overplayed storylines at training camp in Richmond.

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back