With Patrick Ramsey taking the reins at quarterback, Joe Gibbs eased him back into the lineup by emphasizing the run in the early going of last Sunday's game against Philadelphia. Twelve of the Redskins' first 16 plays were running plays, a strategy that was in part designed to keep the high-powered Eagles' offense off the field and out of rhythm.
For nearly three quarters, it worked. The Redskins were down just 7-6 as late as the 3:11 mark in the third quarter. But the Eagles pulled away with three touchdowns in the final 18 minutes, winning 28-6 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Although the Redskins did not have a great deal of success running the football on Sunday--just a 2.2 yards-per-carry average--the ground game has been the strong suit of the offense most of this season.
Of course, it's Clinton Portis who leads the Redskins' ground game. The 5-11, 205-pound tailback is ranked sixth in the NFL and third in the NFC with 928 yards on 238 carries. He needs just 72 yards to break the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career. Only nine other Redskins backs all-time have rushed for 1,000-plus yards in a season.
If Portis is able to break the 1,500 mark, it would be the third time in his young career that he would have accomplished that feat--something that no other back has done in league history.
Portis is on pace to break the Redskins' single-season rushing record of 1,432 yards, set by Stephen Davis in 2001. Of course, he's also on pace to break the Redskins' single-season record for most rushing attempts, set by John Riggins in 1983 with 375.
Even though Portis logged just 17 carries in the Green Bay, Cincinnati and Philadelphia games, he has demonstrated that he is the Redskins' long-term answer at running back.
"Clinton is very instinctive," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "He has a burst in there and sometimes he kind of twists to finish runs. He does what it takes. Real good backs have a feeling for that. Sometimes he looks like he is being patient and other times it's a real burst."
Portis has also had to be more patient as he weaves his way to a seam through the offensive line. He is not afraid to cut back against the grain, or reverse field if a hole has been clogged by the defense. Sometimes that can result in a loss, but it can also lead to a big play.
"Clinton has a real feel for when to press it and when to stay outside," Gibbs said. "A lot of backs are hesitant to break it back inside because that's where all of the traffic usually is. This guy will definitely do that."
Portis has also proven himself to be solid catching passes out of the backfield. He has 29 catches for 179 yards this year and is on pace to break his personal best of 38 receptions last year.
When Portis needs a break from his workload, Gibbs turns to Ladell Betts. Both Portis and Betts are third-year players and 2002 second-round draft picks. Denver selected Portis with the 51st overall pick in 2002--trading him to the Redskins last offseason--while the Redskins selected Betts with the 56th overall pick.
"Our biggest concern with Clinton is that he stays healthy and does not get tired," Gibbs said. "When you have a good running back, you certainly don't want him in there when he's tired because then I think you make mistakes and lose the ball."
Betts has 27 carries for 96 yards this season, plus nine catches for 51 yards, and has been increasingly used in third-down situations.
"Ladell is a real athletic guy," Gibbs said. "I have been impressed with Ladell because he runs a 40 or 50 gut and he is slamming it up in there. I think [third downs] are a good time to give Clinton a break, although Clinton can catch and pass protect as well as anybody."
One area the Redskins' ground game needs to improve is in the red zone. The offense has just two rushing touchdowns this season-and one came on Portis's memorable 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season.
The Redskins have not recorded a rushing touchdown since the Week 4 game against Cleveland.
"We went a lot of heavy down there," Gibbs said, referring to the Philadelphia game. "We tried to give ourselves a good run chance. This was the first game in the last four in which we didn't rush the ball with at least a 3.9 yards per carry average. I think a lot of it had to do with the penalties in the red zone forcing us into passing situations. But we'd like to be able to run a few in there."