After an 0-3 start to the season, the Redskins still have a long way to go in order to catch the 4-3 Dallas Cowboys within the division. However, a hard-fought win over a quality opponent could be just what this team needs to get the season back on track.
After all, this is the same team that shocked the football world in 2012 by taking home the NFC East crown under the guidance of then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Another surprising turnaround certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Of course, while Washington is very much the same team it was last year, the product on the field has been different.
Much of the difference can be attributed to last year's playoff injury to Griffin. After spending the entire offseason recovering from ACL and LCL injuries, Griffin was not the same dynamic dual-threat quarterback he was as a rookie.
Over the past couple of weeks, however, Griffin has begun to regain his mobility and has become more effective running the football. After rushing for just 72 yards over Washington's first four games, the former Baylor star put up 161 yards on the ground against the Cowboys and Bears in Weeks 6 and 7.
Getting Griffin back to his rookie form will help the Redskins offensively. However, the team must also be concerned with protecting his long-term health and should not be too quick to rush him into extensive rushing action.
Protecting the quarterback can most often be done by running the football.
In fact, there is no real need for the Redskins to force Griffin to do so much offensively, especially so soon after the devastating injury.
Griffin, you might remember, was not the only rookie offensive star last season for the Redskins.
The presence of running back Alfred Morris was nearly as important to Washington's unexpected success in 2012. The sixth-round pick rushed for 1,613 yards, scored 13 touchdowns, and was a major reason the Redskins were able to field the league's No. 1 rushing attack (169.3 yards per game).
To his credit, Morris has done a remarkable job of carrying the offense while Griffin adjusts to his post-injury career. Through six games, he has already produced 472 yards on the ground with three scores.
While Morris has actually seen an increase in his yards-per-carry average this season (5.2 from 4.8 in 2012), his overall performance has taken a hit.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Morris was the league's third-best running back in 2012 based on his effectiveness in the running game, in the passing game, blocking and in relation to penalties.
Morris is currently listed as the league's 27th-ranked running back based on the same formula. He has also seen a significant drop in his blocking rating, which could be an issue as Griffin continues to regain his mobility in the backfield.
Third-year back Roy Helu, on the other hand, is currently listed as the league's 17th-best overall back. He has been significantly more effective as a blocker (ranked eighth while Morris is ranked 48th) and has scored one more touchdown than Morris on the season.
This information shouldn't be used to suggest that Helu take over as the Redskins' starting running back. However, it does seem to make sense for Washington to give the former Nebraska standout a larger role in the offense.
Helu never got an opportunity to shine alongside Morris in 2012. He missed the majority of the season due to injury. However, he was the team's leading rusher (151 carries, 640 yards) the season before.
Helu was also the team's third-leading receiver in 2011 with 49 catches, 379 yards and a touchdown. Morris, by comparison, logged just 11 receptions in his full season as the team's primary back.
While Morris remains one of the top pure runners in the game, it appears that Helu is a superior option in passing situations thanks to his ability to excel in pass-protection and as an outlet receiver.
Therefore, it makes sense for the Redskins to utilize Helu as less of a backup and as more of a member of a running back committee.
An increased role for Helu could help minimize the impact Morris' deficiencies have on the game. It could also help extend the careers of Griffin and of Morris.
|Washington Redskins Rushing Trio|
|Robert Griffin III||38||233||6.1||0|
|Through Week 7|
While the injury of Griffin has received most of the attention in Washington over the past year, Morris has taken quite a beating himself.
Running backs have a relatively short shelf life in the NFL. Morris has already logged 426 carries in his brief career, which is quite a workload for the 5'10", 218-pound runner. Only six running backs saw more snaps than Morris (752) in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
The bottom line is that Helu has the potential to make a significant positive impact for the Redskins, but only if he is given the proper opportunity.
A three-headed attack featuring Griffin, Morris and Helu could be extremely difficult to defend. If used correctly, that could be continue to be so for a very long time.