Washington Redskins: How Will Alfred Morris Break Down the Bucs' Stellar D-Line?
From what we've seen of Alfred Morris so far, he cannot be stopped. He can’t be bargained with; he can’t be reasoned with; he doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop. Ever.
The Washington Redskins have utilized Robert Griffin III as a runner more recently. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, Griffin will need to rely on his running backs much more. This means a significant number of carries for Morris.
A high point of the 2012 season for the Bucs has been the performance of their defensive line. Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett have emerged as Pro Bowl-caliber players. Adrian Clayborn may be done for the season, but there is talent along the line to compensate.
The obstacle in Morris' path on Sunday is likely to be Roy Miller, who has excelled in stopping the run. According to TeamRankings.com, Tampa Bay leads the league in yards allowed per carry, giving up 2.3 on each play.
It will be ably matched by the Redskins, who currently rank fourth in yards per attempt, averaging 4.1. Morris has been a large part of that, reeling off 263 yards and three touchdowns at an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
It will be an interesting battle for Morris, and one that will not simply be won on the ground—or even by Morris alone, for that matter.
The Redskins have the pieces in place to ensure that the running game doesn’t stall in Tampa Bay, but it is dependent on a few things outside of their control.
Use Robert Griffin III as a Decoy
The success of the running game can be equally credited to Griffin and Morris, with the quarterback's ability to run—as well as his dedication to selling the fakes—meaning that defenses cannot ignore him on the play.
This drawing of defenses allows Morris the chance to catch them off-guard and break through tackles—something that he has relished.
His success—or lack thereof—against the Buccaneers will provide a useful indication of how the Redskins will fare against NFC East opponents.
Mike and Kyle Shanahan will look to utilize Griffin again, but he cannot be allowed to take the punishment he did against the Bengals.
John Keim noted for the Washington Examiner that “unofficially, Griffin was hit 28 times during the game,” which is too many, regardless of his athletic ability. He’s a great competitor, but at this rate he won’t last the season.
There is an upside of Griffin running so much recently. Just the threat of Griffin making a play with his feet should now be enough to catch a defense on its heels; he can use play-action to his advantage and exploit the Bucs’ secondary, which has been its weak point.
When Michael Vick established himself enough to have a system designed around him, there were a lot of bootlegs and counter running plays, designed to pull the offensive line one way and free up space for the running backs or Vick himself.
Although the Vick-Griffin comparison is wearing a little thin, the play was a successful tactic against teams designed to stop the run, and Morris could find himself some extra yards in using it.
Morris doesn’t possess blinding speed, so if he can get an extra couple of steps on the defense from the outset, he will have a better chance of breaking free.
Mix up the Running Backs
This is hugely dependent on the health across the roster, admittedly.
------ UPDATE ------
The Redskins have signed former Green Bay back Ryan Grant. In addition to this, Roy Helu has been placed on injured reserve. Grant started 14 games for the Packers last year and is well versed in the zone-blocking scheme.
Substitute Helu for Grant in this slide and expect him to feature heavily in the Buccaneers game as the Redskins look to present mismatches and fool the defense. Grant has similar characteristics so will form an immediate substitute for the injured Helu.
------ END OF UPDATE ------
The Washington Post reported that both Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster are listed as day-to-day for the Buccaneers game—Helu with turf toe and Royster with a right knee strain.
If Morris is the only healthy back on the roster then it could be a very difficult game. This is a fixture that needs Helu, especially.
It seems odd to tell Shanahan to use more running backs, as before the season it was just assumed that this would be his plan. For so long the bane of the fantasy owner, Shanahan has become so enamored with Morris that it’s no longer a risk to start a Shanahan-coached back each week.
However, if cleared to play, the Shanahans cannot ignore Helu for this game. He adds an extra dimension to the rushing attack and will be a useful asset for Morris.
He has the pace that Morris lacks, so can make plays similar to Griffin without sending the quarterback into the path of a linebacker on every series.
Helu’s injury history is such that he won’t play as many downs as he would like, but having him, Griffin and Morris on the field means that there are three talented runners lining up. This immediately puts doubt in the mind of the defense.
In addition to this, Helu is a viable receiving option. There will be no Sanchez-to-Tebow scenario here—instead, Helu has explosive pace, good hands and solid pass-blocking. In fact, ProFootballFocus.com ranked Helu fourth in pass-blocking efficiency for 2011.
PFF states that Helu played 78 pass-blocking snaps last year and only allowed two quarterback disruptions. His injury status undoubtedly comes into play for this year, but he needs to be put on the field if healthy.
Helu has been more of a receiver recently, but he deserves the chance to get some carries. Two yards on two attempts for the season is a waste of time and an insult to his ability.
Even if he doesn’t form part of the play, his mere presence is enough to distract the defense. At the moment, it’s either Griffin or Morris carrying the ball, which isn’t a running game.
Take advantage of the Bucs’ Forced Realignment
On a day when the Bucs’ offense faltered, their defensive line shone.
However, that was before they lost Clayborn, so the Redskins game will force them into some adjustments. From previously looking like a unit, the line now has to regroup and try to establish some chemistry with Clayborn’s replacement.
Of course, finding a replacement isn’t as easy as it sounds. According to tampabay.com, head coach Greg Schiano is considering making changes to the entire defensive scheme in an effort to compensate for the loss of Clayborn.
Of course, any unfamiliarity is likely to open holes for Morris. In the same article, tampabay.com stated that it’s likely to be Daniel Te'o-Nesheim replacing Clayborn, which means the Bucs lose some weight on the right side.
Listed as 6’3” and 263 pounds, he could find himself overpowered by his opponent. This will force him into the backfield and provide Morris with the lane he needs to gain yards. Te'o-Nesheim isn’t the attacking player that Clayborn is, so the Redskins have caught a real break there.
Trent Williams is another player listed as day-to-day (via The Washington Times) for Sunday after suffering a bone bruise in the first quarter against the Bengals. His fitness is integral to Morris’ success. His quickness and strength along the line will be too much of a problem for a game-starved DE such as Te'o-Nesheim.
If Williams is in the game on Sunday, he will win the matchup with Te'o-Nesheim, otherwise Morris could struggle to find holes. Jordan Black replaced Williams last week and looked like he hadn’t played for some time, which of course is exactly the case.
Maurice Hurt is the other option at left tackle, but neither of these players will replace Williams—just as Te'o-Nesheim won’t replace Clayborn.
2-2 looks a lot better than 1-3, especially going into the Falcons game next week. It's not too early to label this as a "must-win" fixture. With the Eagles and Giants playing each other and the Cowboys entertaining the Bears, there could be three NFC East teams at 2-2 after Week 4.
Morris is potentially looking at a long day for little reward. He excels at getting the hard yards, but he’d better start praying no one else goes down injured. The rest of you can start praying that Morris stays on the field.