Beginning a healthy rushing attack in the middle of the second quarter, Matt Jones helped pave the way for the team's young group of running backs against Detroit.*
Chris Thompson glanced to his right, to Matt Jones' locker, and smiled as he began to consider the possibilities of the Redskins running attack this season.
He had good reason.
A helping part of the team's impressive 179-yard rushing attack against the Lions during Thursday night's 21-17 victory, Thompson, along with the rest of the Redskins offense, became the beneficiary of Jones' tone-setting 44-yard rushing night.
"You're definitely going to have trouble with that," Jones said of his combination with Thompson. "You've got a big back and then you got a scat back who can run real fast. It takes a defensive kind of game plan. I don't think [Detroit] really game-planned for that."
That could just be a casualty of the opponent's preseason philosophy, but the Redskins are hoping that becomes a reality in the regular season, too.
Without even mentioning Alfred Morris, who was limited to three rushing attempts in the first quarter, the Redskins have in Jones someone that is able to pound defenses up the middle, giving smaller, bouncier backs like Thompson and Trey Williams wider avenues in which to operate.
The attrition began midway through the second, when Jones found a hole up the middle and stormed his way through for 24 yards, keeping his feet moving to make a few defenders miss in the process. He finished the 10-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard dive up the middle, his first NFL touchdown.
"Matt Jones continues to hit the hole the way we want him to – hard," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He gets through the second level, he's a problem. Trey [Williams] makes some excellent runs. And of course, Chris Thompson continues to do what he's been doing throughout camp."
Gruden credited the running game as the key to sparking the offense in the second quarter, giving quarterback Colt McCoy, and later, Kirk Cousins, positive field position and play action capabilities.
"I just feel like I'm getting better, I feel like I'm getting used to the speed of the game and that's a big shout-out to our defense getting me ready for that," Jones said. "Once you get that down, you can play way more faster."
Thompson ended his night with 37 rushing yards thanks largely to a 19-yard gain down the sideline, part of that first touchdown drive that was bookended by Jones. Williams became the primary back in the third quarter and provided a different burst of energy from the position.
In his first rushing attempt of the night, he juked his way towards the sideline and back towards the middle of the field for 38 yards, highlighting his footwork that gave trouble to corners guessing which way he would cut.
"The coaches did a great job of coaching us up for the game…and we're ready at all times, we're ready for those blitz pickups, we're ready for hitting the right holes, the A-B gap," Williams said. "That helps us a lot."
After watching running back Silas Redd go down for the season with a knee injury, Thursday night's game offered a glimpse into how the team will adapt in its backfield rotation.
"I think it was good for him to bruise 'em, get the defense tired a little bit and then me being able to go in and use my speed after he tired the defense up trying to hit them and everything," Thompson said of Jones. "It's good to have someone who can do different things because it helps the team as a whole."