Note to Kyle Shanahan; Like It or Not, This Is a Run First Football Team

KC ClyburnCorrespondent IIApril 10, 2017

ASHBURN, VA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Kyle Shanahan of the Washington Redskins poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

Everyone plays Madden, right?

Have you ever tried running play action in a game of Madden?

It's damn near impossible. I've seen it work a lot better in NCAA Football (which is altogether a better made game, but that's a rant for another time), but in Madden, it seems the AI hardly ever bites on a play action pass. The few times I've actually seen a linebacker step up, only to try to get back to his spot before I throw it over his head, I've been surprised.

But have you ever tried to run a play action pass without establishing the run game?

It's impossible. As soon as you fake the hand off, you get sacked. You just hit the A button, and then the ball gets picked off as you fall to the ground. In Madden, the AI punishes you for not doing what you're supposed to. Run to set-up play action. And there will always be those times when you finally get the play action off, and you lob one up to a streaking receiver, and it'll fall into his hands for a touchdown.

Kyle Shanahan; it's time to go to the Madden school of playcalling.

It's a weird thing to behold, this Redskins offense. Clearly, the team has exceeded all expectations that were placed on it at the beggining of the season. And in the first game of the season, it seemed that we were finally get a glimpse of that vaunted Shanahan offense.

Tim Hightower grinded out 72 yards on 25 carries. Despite only gaining 2.9 yards a carry, the Redskins (and Kyle Shanahan) stubbornly refused to abandon the run game. And like a wonderful flower, the Redskins offense bloomed before us.

The offense clicked in a way that it hadn't all season. It was the most competently called, awesome offensive showcase the Redskins have shown in a long time. Play action, passes to the tight end. Torching a secondary because they had to keep a safety in the box to stop Hightower. And a refusal to abandon the run game.

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 11:   Rex Grossman #8 of the Washington Redskins drops back to pass against the New York Giants during the season opener at FedExField on September 11, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For fans of hard-nosed, Joe Gibbs football, they could dream of more. Ground and pound, and then destroy them through the air? We could order that every Sunday.

And then something weird happened.

The Redskins faced the Cardinals in week 2. The Redskins two running backs, Roy Helu and Hightower, combined for over 100 yards on the ground. But at times, there was almost a reluctance to run the football. Certainly, you can't always run. But the Redskins had the game firmly in hand for most of the day. The running game was working; Hightower was motivated to beat his former team, and Helu was having a breakout performance. And yet, with a decent lead, the Redskins began to pass more than it seemed was necessary. The playcalling became predictable, and drives stalled. Slowly but surely, the Cardinals started utilizing their own running game and crept back into the game. A game that had no business being close---the Redskins defense had been playing outstanding football and had contained Larry Fitzgerald most of the day---became a game that was too close for comfort.

And then there was the Dallas game.

In week 3, the Redskins faced their arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

It also seemed to leave it's run game back in Ashburn.

Certainly, the Cowboys secondary wasn't the best. But it was once again a case of letting a team hang in the game. The Cowboys stayed in the game based not on touchdowns, but on field goals. But the running game was non-existent. Granted, the pass was working; the Redskins drove into the Cowboys red zone four times. But they only came away with a touchdown once.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Rex Grossman #8 of the Washington Redskins at Cowboys Stadium on September 26, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That touchdown came on a 9 play drive where Tim Hightower accounted for 6 of the Redskins play. But, even with a stranglehold on the Cowboys, even with Tim Hightower having some success running the ball, even with him being a huge part of the offense that scored the games only offensive touchdown...on the Redskins next possession, they passed three straight times.

When the 'Skins next possessed the ball, it wasn't Hightower in the backfield to grind out the yards. It was Roy Helu. The Redskins ran only once on the drive.

With every punt, the Redskins gave the Cowboys another chance back to get in the game. Once the Cowboys realized our gameplan was to pass, their defense stiffened. The pass stopped working. Without the threat of the run, the Cowboys felt free to rush the quarterback at will without worrying about getting gashed.

The game ended when, after a miracle play on 3rd and 21 (a blight on an otherwise awesome display by the defense), Rex Grossman fumbled the ball.

The Redskins returned to Edward Jones Stadium on Sunday, where they faced a Rams team reeling from a 0-3 start. The way the Redskins defense was playing, there was no reason for the Rams to be in the football game.

And yet, they were.


Because, despite coming into the game, and facing the leagues worse rushing defense, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seemed to be more determined than ever to pass.

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 2:  Rex Grossman #8 makes the handoff to Ryan Torain #46 of the Washington Redskins October 2, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The Redskins defeated the Rams 17-10. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)
Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Kyle is become very predictable. Watch the Eagles game in a couple weeks, and the first drive will tell you everything you need to know. If the run game gets started off hot, and they rip off some fairly large runs, Kyle will stick with the run. If he runs the ball and it seems to stall, be prepared to see Rex Grossman drop back to pass. A lot.

The Redskins finished the game with a staggering 194 yards rushing, as Hightower, Helu, and the rejuvenated (and apparently not very happy he didn't get any playing time, if the way he ran the football was any indication) Ryan Torain proved the Redskins have more than enough power in their backfield.

The problem? It could've and should've been even more.

The first four play calls of the game weren't runs. The Redskins ran three straight play action bootlegs, trying to look for the big play downfield. Against, and I must reiterate, the leagues worse rush defense, the first four plays of the game were all passes.

The Redskins first drive stalled, and the Redskins punted. Until Ryan Torain came in and played so well that Kyle had no choice but to hand him the football, the running game once again seemed like a nuisance to Kyle. His obssession with hitting the big play down field off play action, or just a big play in general, is very reminiscent of 2010 Kyle Shanahan, someone who we all want to move on from.

Those first four pass plays that Kyle called? They were all play action bootlegs, a foundation of this offense. Why did we run them?

Not because they're the foundation of the offense, but because Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith had destroyed the Rams with it the week before.

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Running back  Roy Helu #29 of the Washington Redskins rushes the ball against the Arizona Cardinals at FedExField on September 18, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Instead of developing his own gameplan, Kyle Shanahan decided to take the Ravens game plan. The problem? Rex Grossman is no Joe Flacco, and with Anthony Armstrong nursing a hamstring injury, there was no one close to a Torrey Smith on the field.

Even while Torain was running hard, there seemed to be a bizarre juggling of the running backs. Instead of going with the hot hand, and feeding Torain the rock until they stopped him, Torain was frequently replaced with Hightower (who had been ineffective and has apparently been slowed by injury) and Roy Helu. The offenses greatest success was when Torain was in there.

But Kyle insisted on getting "cute" with the play calling. Grossman was woefully ineffective, and threw a horrendous interception on a play that was nearly identical to the play on which he threw an interception versus the Cowboys less the a week before.

But still, the passes kept coming. Again, understanding that you can't run on every down, the Redskins still threw the ball too much, considering how Grossman was playing. Play calling on the Redskins offense has become predictable; pass on first down (play action or no), try the run, pass on third town.

It was a miracle when the Redskins actually began to run the ball on back to back plays.

Even as someone who is more forgiving of Rex than others, I understanding that you can not put the entire game on Rex's shoulder. Rex is a game manager, not a game breaker. Unless game breaker means the other team capitalizing on two turnovers from Grossman that let them hand in a game they had no business being in. Rex's best friend is a running game that causes a safety to creep in the box, and then Rex can take the lid of a defense. That's what happened in the first game. That's the way this offense seems to work best.

Mike Shanahan's teams have lived and died by the run. That's how he's turned so many so called unknowns until star running backs with 1,000 yard rushing names. But make no mistake; every single back Mike's ever turned into a star, has been chosen for a reason. Torain, Helu and Hightower are here for a reason.

Kyle Shanahan must accept the one thing that he seems steadfast in his refusal to accept; the Redskins are a run first football team.

The Redskins have the foundation of a team that can be very good in the future. But, though they are winning, they are still in the midst of rebuilding. They do not having a Matt Schaub. They do not have Andre Johnson.

Rex is always going to be Rex. He will astound people with incredible play one week, and then stun with horrific play the next. The best way to mitigate that? Hand the ball off. Early and often. I can't remember the last time the Redskins opened a game with the run.

This whole offense is based on that. That is why the Houston Texans are having the success they are. Matt Schaub doesn't have to throw for 4,700 yards anymore now, Kyle. Because Gary Kubiak has given Houston a balanced attack. Their running attack scares people. They also benefit from having Andre Johnson, but even so, when Johnson's not in the game, they don't miss a beat.

They stick to the run, whether their up or down, whether it's Arian Foster or Ben Tate or whoever, and it doesn't matter what team they face or when. Their offense, their passing is explosive because of their running game. The Redskins passing game is stalling because of an unwillingness to stay with the running game.

This is not the Philadelphia Eagles, Kyle. After the Cowboys game, Kyle Shanahan was quoted as saying "We're not playing to conserve the clock. You're trying to win, and the best thing we've got to move the ball is throwing it at the time". No, Kyle. No. This is the Andy Reid mindset.

It's a mindset that will win you a lot of regular season games, if you have the talent. But it fails you in the playoffs. Sometimes, three points is just as good as seven. If the Redskins scored a field goal at any time in the 4th quarter, it's over. The Cowboys were not going to score a touchdown on the Redskins defense.

Running the ball is not the enemy, but often times, it seems like it is. Kyle, as an aggressive, young coordinator, wants to always go for the kill, when a simple tranquilizer dart will suffice. Kyle wants to score big play touchdowns. He wants his quarterback to throw for a bunch of yards. To hell with balance; we need points.

No. This is a run first team. Some teams have indenties that just work; it's what they are, it's what they'll always be. With the talent we have, the running game should be our number one priority.

A (relatively) young man by the name of Joe Gibbs once had the best offense in the NFL. It was in 1981. The problem? He had a quarterback that was turning it over a bunch, and a defense that, while it could be solid, also would let a team slip back into the game. That quarterback threw for a lot of yards, but turnovers killed them, and no matter how well the defense played, they couldn't over come silly mistakes and a quick strike offense that couldn't strike when it counted most.

So Gibbs adjusted. They used more two tight end sets. They ran the ball more. They played ball control football; not exactly the flashiest form a football, for a man who had learned under Don Coryell. But it worked. The Redskins played to their strengths, and the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1982.

They made it back to the Super Bowl in 1983, after they got better talent, and better defense. Joe Theissman became the NFL MVP and threw for a lot of yards and touchdowns. And as much as people remember hard nosed running of John Riggins, I think you'll be hard pressed to find a team that put it in the air as much and as often as the Redskins of the 80's and early 90's did.

It's time to adjust, Kyle. I'm not saying the Redskins get to a Super Bowl. But I do know this; you have some running backs who are all itching to get playing time. You have a much improved offensive line, that needs to run that stretch play as much as possible to get down the timing and coordination with one another. You have a couple talented tight ends, including one that you seemed to forget existed, or who can't get open because...well, we're not running the ball. In fact, all of your wide receivers would benefit greatly if you ran the ball.

The play action and the naked bootlegs, all those plays and concepts your father designed to get guys open? Yeah, those work. Wanna know how they work. Because he ran the ball and stuck to it.

This team still has room to grow, and once you get the quarterbac and weapons you need to throw it all the time, be my guest. I still think you've got a brilliant mind, and there's still plays you call that make me gasp in pure awesomeness. That probably makes me a homer, but it's the truth.

But right now? This team needs to run with reckless abandon. The Redskins are 3-1. In two of those three wins, they've run the ball for over 100 yards.

The Eagles are coming, Kyle. The last time they were at FedEx Field, they embarrassed us. They made fools of this whole team.

The great thing about the Eagles right now, though? They suck against the run.

Torain is healthy. Hightower is hungry. Helu is speedy. And the Eagles are reeling.

Time for a little ground and pound; a healthy dose will lead us further than you can imagine.

A less than healthy dose? Welp, be prepared, Kyle. For a very, very long rest of the season.



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