One thing the Washington Redskins did better than almost anyone else last season was run the football. They ranked first in the NFL with 169.3 rushing yards per game, second with 5.2 yards per carry and second with 22 rushing touchdowns.
But with Robert Griffin III (smartly) taking a more conservative approach in his return from early-offseason knee surgery and with second-year stud back Alfred Morris struggling, the Redskins' running game disappeared in their season-opening loss to the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles.
The 74 yards the 'Skins mustered on the ground was their lowest total since November 2011.
It's not time to panic. Griffin was off his game early as a passer, too, and he should continue to improve, while Mike Shanahan almost always finds a way to get results on the ground with his zone-blocking scheme.
But Griffin also looked considerably slower than usual against the Eagles.
You have to wonder if all of his trademark speed will come back completely after a second major knee procedure. It probably will, because it has for guys like Terrell Thomas and Domenik Hixon, for example. But that's still a valid concern.
And even if Griffin does get his speed back, we know he can't be exposed to hits as often. That should (again, rightly) change his and the Redskins' offensive approach, at least slightly. If he becomes less of a running threat going forward, what might that mean for Morris and the backs? It's a lot easier for defenses to key on a running back when the rest of the offense loses a dimension.
Griffin gained just 24 yards on five carries Monday night, and the rest of the offense struggled for the majority of the losing effort. But on the other hand, a hobbled Griffin didn't contribute as a runner very much at all during the final quarter of the 2012 regular season, and Morris was probably at his very best during that stretch.
It was a bit jarring to see Morris—who was the league's second-leading rusher last season—go for a career-low 45 yards on 12 carries against a defense that ranked 23rd against the run last year and was porous in the preseason. But he probably had a hard time finding a groove considering the hole the Redskins dug for themselves early on.
Week 1 can do some strange things.
If the Redskins have any hope of avoiding an 0-2 record with an upset victory in Green Bay Sunday, they'll need more from Morris and the running game against a defense that was mediocre against the run last season but did a decent job against a similar offense in San Francisco to open the regular season.
If they don't get that big performance, you'll have to start wondering if sophomore slumps could cost a running game that carried this Redskins team one year ago.