Washington Redskins

Washington Redskins: With QB Questions, Rushing Attack to Carry the Offense

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 12:  Tim Hightower #39 of the Washington Redskins runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers  at FedExField on August 12, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Steelers 16-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images
Matthew BrownCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2011

A lot of things went wrong for the Washington Redskins offense last season. The weird quarterback situation, the running back carousel and the patchwork offensive line led to the team finishing 18th in total offense.

Even more troubling, the Mike Shanahan coached Redskins finished 30th in the NFL in total rushing yards.

This offseason has already brought wholesale changes to the offense, and the offense looks poised to churn out another 1,000-yard running back.

Though the most publicized issue the Redskins have faced this offseason has been the quarterback conundrum, the rushing attack is going to be more important during the regular season.

With a pair of stopgap-at-best quarterbacks in John Beck and Rex Grossman at the helm, the restocked offense will lean on the ground game.

Former franchise running back is out, leaving Ryan Torain and the newly added Tim Hightower to shoulder the rushing load.

Torain has been consistent, though injury-prone in his brief career. Last season, he rushed for 742 yards and four touchdowns while battling injuries week to week. He produced three 100-yard games, including a 172-yard performance against Tampa Bay.

It is assumed that the starting job is his to lose, though that may have changed with the addition of Hightower.

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 12:  Roy Helu #26 of the Washington Redskins runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers  at FedExField on August 12, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Steelers 16-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Hightower spent the first three seasons of his career in Arizona, where he split carries with the likes of Edgerrin James and Beanie Wells. Despite his shared role, Hightower scored 23 touchdowns with the Cardinals and displayed excellent patience, power and great speed.

The presence of Torain and Hightower give the impression that both Shanahans are thinking run this season.

Fans, players, and experts alike will tell you that they have questions about Grossman and Beck regardless of the confidence Shanahan has shown in them. In Washington's preseason opener, the offense ran 33 passing plays and 35 running plays.

Such balanced playcalling stands in stark contrast to Kyle Shanahan's pass-heavy approach to last season's offense.

Of the 172 yards Torain produced against the Bucs last season, 158 of them came in the first half. The playcalling shifted away from the run and the Redskins ended up losing on a botched extra point.

Hindsight is 20/20, but anyone could see that Washington's best chance in that game was to stick to the run.

The addition of both Evan Royster and Roy Helu via the draft give the Redskins a ton of depth at running back and a pair of players with plenty of upside.

Royster was particularly impressive in the preseason outing, carrying the ball 15 times for 66 yards while looking every bit like a Mike Shanahan running back. Helu had just eight carries for 28 yards, but his pass protection struggles limit his playing time.

Preseason or not, the Redskins look committed to the run, by choice or by necessity.

The Redskins are still trying to make up their minds about who they starting at quarterback, with Beck getting the hype and Grossman putting on a good show against Pittsburgh.

However, drafting two running backs and trading for a third means the elder Shanahan is calling more shots with the offense this time around, and the Redskins are better for it.

This season isn't going to be pretty, but if the Redskins offense can look even a little like the Shanahan Broncos on the ground, they may surprise a lot of teams. 

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