Washington Redskins: Running Game Can Save the Team's Season

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

September 23, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Bengals defeated the Redskins 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The running game is the lone bright spot of the Washington Redskins season so far. Yes, Robert Griffin III is posting impressive numbers, but his most significant impact is being seen in the running game.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the rushing attack broke 150 yards for the third straight game, a feat not managed by the franchise since 2008. For the season, the Redskins currently rank second in the league for rushing with 180.7 yards per game.

It's that kind of production that can save a season that began brightly but is now starting to look like more of the same, thanks to consecutive defeats. Simply put, the only way the Redskins can limit the problems they are having is to keep their woeful defense off the field as long as possible.

The unit has surrendered points and yards in bunches so far this season.

Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, that could almost be excused due to the quality of a Drew Brees-led offense. However, no such allowances could be made for the way the St. Louis Rams piled up the points in Week 2.

Although the Bengals do possess young talent on offense, that doesn't excuse the way Washington's pass defense was dominated in Week 3.

Enter the Redskins ground game, which is proving prolific enough to arrest the team's slide into mediocrity or worse. The Redskins have six rushing touchdowns this season, good enough to tie for the NFL lead.

The threat Griffin poses as a runner is being used well and means defenses are unable to ever key in on a specific ball-carrier. Letting Griffin hand off more often is a great way to reduce the kind of beating the Bengals defensive line inflicted on him.

Relying more heavily on the run means leaving the defense on the sidelines for longer, where it can't do any real damage, Dominating time of possession and controlling the clock are now key for a Redskins offense equally adept at scoring in 10-15 plays as it is in one.

Scoring quickly is helping create the kind of wild shootouts Mike Shanahan's team has experienced in each of their three games. Shanahan must keep his offense on the field and keep the opposition attack on the bench.

Controlling the clock may seem like flawed logic, given that Washington's pass defense is so bad that opponents need only two or three plays through the air to score. However, limiting the number of drives opponents have can only help this defense.

With less time to work with, offenses may begin to force plays, and that could lead to turnovers, the one thing the Redskins defense has actually managed to produce. Forcing offenses to try to strike quicker might also enable the Redskins to trust deep zone coverage more often.

Coordinator Jim Haslett can leave two safeties deep if he knows the opposition doesn't have the time to establish a running game of its own. According to TeamRankings.com, the Redskins currently rank fourth in time of possession, averaging 33:25 a game.

These are certainly respectable numbers, but they could and should be higher. To get them higher, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan must lean more consistently on the running game, and that means more carries for rookie Alfred Morris.

After beginning the season with 28 carries in New Orleans, Morris tallied only 16 in St. Louis and 17 against the Bengals. Those figures are too low for a true workhorse back and put too much pressure on Griffin to consistently manufacture big plays.

Shanahan also needs to involve Roy Helu more in the ground game, rather than saving him just for screen duty on third downs. His speed and big-play potential offer a dangerous contrast to the bruising, inside running of Morris and Evan Royster.

The running game is where the Redskins have the weapons, and it should therefore occupy a more appropriate part of the offensive scheme and play-calling. Turning to it more often can revive a Redskins season already in danger of slipping into failure.