Washington Redskins: No Portis, No Problem...No Betts, Big Problem

K. D. JamesCorrespondent INovember 17, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 15:  Ladell Betts #46 of the Washington Redskins runs the ball against the Denver Broncos at FedExField on November 15, 2009 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins won 27-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Here is what embattled Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn said during the press conference at Redskins Park on Monday, when he told the local media who will be the team's starting running back for the rest of the season:

"I don't want a guy to…lose his job because he got a concussion. [Clinton Portis is] our running back…I don't want to take anything away from what Rock [Cartwright] did and what Ladell [Betts] did either. Our offensive line did a great job of creating lanes. I think we're all excited about that."

Wrong move, Jim.

If Zorn wants to hold on to the very slim chance of keeping his job after 2009-2010, then he should stop being Mr. Nice Guy and let Betts be the primary ball carrier for the remainder of the season instead of Portis.

Portis has been a great asset to the team since the 2004 trade, although he's still regarded as one of owner Daniel Snyder's pets.

He also seems like the type of athlete who decides when to take himself out of games, rather than when the head coach decides to do that.

Plus, Portis relies on his God-given talent, and not on practicing most weeks in between games when he's too nicked up, before lacing 'em up for the next Sunday or Monday game.

Coupled with playing an instrumental role during the team's last two playoff runs under former head coach Joe Gibbs and breaking the franchise rushing record with 1,516 yards in the 2005-2006 season, Portis has been quite valuable to the team.

Through strong will, determination and football smarts, he's been an excellent pass-protection back, also, providing timely blocks and knocking bigger defenders off the ground, in order to save quarterback Jason Campbell from getting knocked around more than Campbell already has.

At this point in time, Portis is possible trade bait, or not worth starting anymore. He's a relentless ball hawk, but possibly damaged goods, too. More importantly, according to the Redskins medical staff, No. 26 is still suffering from dizzy spells and blurred vision, side effects from his concussion in Atlanta. So, he should be out for another week. Stay tuned.

Betts and fullback Mike Sellers will be fine on their own. They'll be a good tandem in the backfield.

No, I am not fooled by that one game last Sunday, where the stars aligned and the current, makeshift offensive line solidified all worries and held up throughout the home game against Denver, allowing Betts, Cartwright, and Quinton Ganther to collectively amass 174 rushing yards on 40 carries.

All teams in the NFL are suspect to the ebb and flow of fortune and misfortune: A star wide receiver may catch three touchdowns and have 160 yards passing one week, then get doubled-teamed and become a non-factor the next; or an ox of a left guard could start all 16 games for four straight years, only to be upended by a defensive end, have his tibia broken and be placed on injured reserve after a Monday Night Football game.

These things do happen, as we saw Portis go down in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome, suffering that earlier mentioned concussion when two Falcons knocked him out cold. Although the Redskins lost that game 31-17, Betts came in and stepped up ably with 70 yards.

Even when Portis was healthy and played behind one, constant offensive line in a full season, you noticed that how he operates and how the huge men in front of him operate have been two, completely different styles of play from the time he came from Denver, where the linemen there gave him tons of room to scamper in the AFC West. 

Portis's style (zone-formation back, looking for big holes to dash for 20, 30, 40 yards) is not the same as Betts's downhill style (slobber-knocker, Mid-West/Big Ten play of moving the chains on little but important five-yard gains, no more than 10), which complements the line better.

No sole running back can thrive on his own without an able-bodied back-up, a fullback and a dependable line to bail him out in times of need, true. This has been the case for the Redskins, who relied on Betts to run for 1,000-plus yards when an injured Portis was sidelined a few years back.

On the negative side (to offer a fair analysis), in situations where Betts was used as either a starter, back-up, or check-down receiver, he can be careless with the ball, having a case of fumble-itis ever so often.

It's natural for a secondary running back like Betts to not always have his A-game, or not be efficient all the time, when he gets only a few reps per game when subbing in for Portis as he's done several times in the past.

This switcheroo scenario could eventually lead to an uneven rhythm for both backs, a situation that can often turn into chaos at any point on the field.

Yet Betts has been solid when he's been the first-team halfback so far, and he should remain behind Campbell (and sometimes Sellers) if this team wants to beat Dallas and make up for an already sloppy season.

The very good teams in the league find ways to win the crucial games in November and December to make the playoffs. At 3-6, the Redskins are far off from being considered contenders right now.

But the Redskins can save Snyder (from the scrutiny he deserves) and Zorn (from losing his job this offseason) by staying with the always reliable Betts to lead the team back to a respectable record and a promising outlook for 2010.