Depth Chart: Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr., Silas Redd, Darrel Young (FB)
Take a step behind the man under center and things look a lot more settled for the Washington offense. The running back position is in safe hands as long as Alfred Morris remains the team's primary ball-carrier.
There's every indication he will. Back in July, Griffin identified Morris as the most important skill-position player on the team, per Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com:
I think everyone would lean towards DeSean or Pierre or Jordan Reed. I think it’s Alfred. With him, defenses have to make a decision whether to puts guys in the box to stop him or leave the box light and allow Alfred to go between the tackles and lure in the safeties. I think it will be interesting to see what defenses do against him.
Griffin correctly highlighted the value of a workhorse, particularly one positioned alongside so many potential weapons in the passing game. However, it will be interesting to see how much Morris helps the offense reach true balance, or if he continues to be its focal point.
Gruden hinted at the latter dynamic, per CSNWashington.com writer Rich Tandler:
Our identity needs to be found. What are we going to be? We’re going to be a running team, I guess. ...
We need to be pretty good at everything but obviously the strength of our football team would be, I would say, our running game. We have to continue working on that, work on handing the ball off and being good at something, really good at something and I think we are pretty good in the running game.
Given the trickier-than-expected learning curve Griffin is facing, it makes sense for Gruden to tie his initial fate to a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. That's obvious, but the more intriguing implication is exactly how Morris and Gruden will mesh.
As coordinator for the Bengals, Gruden often relied on a power-based running game, usually one that attacked between the tackles. It's not certain how much this was the preference of Cincy head coach Marvin Lewis or Gruden's own schematic riff on the traditional West Coast offense.
What is clear is that Morris has become an instant NFL star in the outside-zone-running scheme. He has been running behind a light and mobile O-line, not one featuring the beefy trench warriors Gruden has often deployed.
Watching the merging of the highly successful Shanahan system with principles Gruden favors should be fascinating viewing. Unless, of course, any changes limit Morris' effectiveness.
One change that would help the ground attack, and the offense as a whole, would be a bigger role for a genuine change-of-pace option. If that option had some pass-catching skills, all the better.
Roy Helu Jr. seems the logical choice. He's got some terrific acceleration, but often runs too upright and isn't particularly shifty. However, Helu can be a credible receiver out of the backfield.
It was surprising Gruden opted to cut loose sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk and Chris Thompson. The pint-sized pace merchants seemed to offer big-play capability from the backfield, particularly from spread sets.
Yet neither possessed the blocking and pass-catching skills needed to add the elements Morris doesn't. Parting ways with Seastrunk and Thompson shows the faith Gruden has in undrafted rookie Silas Redd.
Like Helu, Redd is a slashing-style runner. But the ex-USC ace does also have the one-cut skill every zone runner needs.
Thankfully, Gruden can also count on a criminally underrated fullback in Darrel Young. He can run, block and catch—all at a high level.
This remains one of the strongest position groups on the team. How Gruden uses it, which should include a bigger role for Young and some inside zone plays for Morris, will determine the success of the offense.
Biggest Games: Home vs. Seattle Seahawks, Week 5; Away vs. Arizona Cardinals, Week 6
If this running game is going to continue to be among the league's best, it will have to prove its worth against stout NFC West opposition. The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals both boast stingy run defenses.
The Seahawks rely on a five-man hybrid front that helped the team rank seventh against the run last season. The Cardinals were even tougher on running backs in 2013, topping the league charts in this category.
Size up front and solid gap control in a 3-4 scheme were the keys to their success. But those principles may have been wrecked by offseason losses.
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby joined the Cleveland Browns in free agenc, while fellow middle linebacker Daryl Washington is suspended for the season. Their losses are compounded by D-tackle Darnell Dockett being sidelined for the campaign with a torn ACL.
However, even with their ranks thinned, the Cards will field an imposing defense. Intelligent coordinator Todd Bowles will ensure that.
If Washington has a chance in this intimidating doubleheader, Morris and the running game must be productive.