Derrius Guice, healthy OL can solve Redskins' run-game woes

The Redskins’ run game hasn’t been consistent. To make the playoffs, that likely must change. And that leads to this week’s mailbag.

John Keim: Good question, Katie, but there’s not a simple answer. I did trade text messages with some scouts and coaches with other organizations just to gauge their thoughts. I don’t view this as a big offensive-line issue and neither do others. They have excellent players at both tackle spots and right guard; that’s enough to form an excellent line.

But shouldn’t the line get some blame on short-yardage situations? On third-and-1 since 2014, the Redskins rank 28th in yards per carry and 22nd in converting those runs into first downs. That’s an issue.

Still, it’s a respected line when healthy. The injuries along the front changed their run game last season. In Weeks 1-8, the Redskins ranked 17th in yards per carry, 23rd in total carries and eighth in yards before contact. After the injuries took a toll, in weeks 9-17, they ranked last in yards before first contact, 24th in attempts and last in yards per carry, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Is it commitment? As one scout said, the goal is to get defenses to respect the run and get more players in the box. He also called the notion of committing to the run “overrated.” It’s not about number of carries or striking some sort of balance, whatever that might be. It’s about the threat. One defensive assistant from another team said a year ago the Redskins didn’t have a back they feared. That didn’t change in the 2017 season.

Certainly, there have been times in games where the Redskins could have stuck with the run a little more. But would it have helped them win more? Hard to say.

One note: Eight of the top-10 teams in terms of number of carries finished with a winning record last year. Eight of the top 10 in terms of yards per carry also did the same, though one of the teams was the 0-16 Browns. Yes, teams that win get more carries in the fourth quarter to run out the clock, so number of carries -- without context -- provides an incomplete barometer.

Regardless, the Redskins have not been a consistent rushing team in Gruden’s first four years. During this time, they rank 24th in yards per carry, 27th in total carries and 25th in yards before first contact. They rank 10th in rushing attempts on first down, but 30th in yards per carry on that down. To me, that stat is a big problem and it’s why sticking with the run is not as simple as, "More carries!" At times last year I believed they forced the run too often on first down.

Some of those short throws in this offense are comparable to long handoffs in their mind. Here’s a stat: Since 2014, the Redskins lead the NFL at 7.75 yards per reception on first-down throws that are at or behind the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Is it scheme? Keep in mind, offensive line coach Bill Callahan is in charge of the run game, as he was in Dallas back in the day. I’ve heard minor rumblings about this from other teams on occasion, but I can’t say it’s a consistent belief. Neither the scout nor the coach felt it was a problem. The scout said that because the Redskins are more power-oriented, when injuries force changes, it leads to more breakdowns. His belief is that a zone scheme works better in these situations, but he also blamed the Redskins’ issues on not having a consistent running back.

Is it the back? They drafted Derrius Guice for a reason, believing he provides more juice at the position (again, excluding third-down back Thompson). They’ve long wanted someone who can make a lot of something out of nothing, and who doesn’t want that? If Guice is effective, then defenses -- in theory -- should play more eight-man fronts and therefore open up other areas of the Redskins’ offense. On paper it always sounds good, doesn’t it?

The Redskins’ issues stem from a variety of problems: health, inconsistency at running back, tight end/receiver blocking (Jeremy Sprinkle needs to help here; it’s been an issue). The coaches aren’t immune, either. It’s their schemes, playcalling and game plans. Their job is to fix the problem.

Bottom line: it’s not about running more; it’s about running better. If the Redskins have improved health and if Guice is as advertised, you might see both happen this year. To make the playoffs, it will be necessary.