The Redskins pounded the football early and often Sunday vs. the Browns, allowing Matt Jones to find a rhythm and rush for more than 100 yards for the first time this season.
Running back Chris Thompson has observed Matt Jones' anxiousness to assert himself in the run game since the start of the regular season. It was only a matter of time, he believed, until the Redskins' second-year lead running back would break out.
Which is what happened Sunday afternoon at FedExField, where Jones rushed 22 times for 117 yards (both season highs) and a touchdown to help seal a 31-20 victory over the Browns.
"He's been itching for it, and he finally got his shot today," Thompson said. "They were feeding him like crazy, so he was able to really get some work and he made things happen."
Jones has steadily received more carries since only rushing seven times for 24 yards in the team's season opener vs. Pittsburgh. Against the Giants last week, Jones effectively iced the game with 48 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, finding comfort with a balanced offensive formula that the Redskins continued against Cleveland, this time throughout all four quarters.
During the Redskins' first two scoring drives of the day, which both culminated in Jordan Reed touchdowns, the offense ran the ball 10-of-20 times, letting Jones find holes up the middle and allowing Thompson, who finished with 24 yards, to speed his way out of the shotgun for some gains on the outside.
For the final two touchdown drives, offensive coordinator Sean McVay leaned even more on his running backs, calling run plays on 9-of-13 total plays, forcefully shoving the ball into the Browns' front seven and following the lead of an offensive line composed of Spencer Long and Arie Kouandjio, making their first starts at center and left guard, respectively.
"Guys were just getting the job done, succeeding individually as well as a unit," Long said. "We had a good scheme, we kept switching up, good targets, that's just a credit to our entire offensive line and the running back making good reads. It just really takes everyone hitting on all cylinders to have a successful run game, and I think we did that today."
The Redskins finished with 145 total rushing yards – rookie Robert Kelley received a four-yard rush near the goal line – and helped the offense reverse its trend of not converting in the red zone.
By opting to run the ball early and often, Jones found a rhythm he hadn't achieved in each of the team's first three games. Jones seemed to thrive with the repetition and earned some sizeable chunks to set the tone in the first quarter.
"A big back like that runs better when the defense gets him worn down and he get in the flow of the game," head coach Jay Gruden said. "It's hard for a running back to get in the flow of a game with six attempts. With the type of game that we had today, we were able to give him more carries. He did a good job and took advantage of it."
"He was being decisive," Reed said of Jones. "He was seeing the holes and he was taking them and he was running really hard. He's going to keep on grinding and keeping the ball."
That was most evident after cornerback Josh Norman's interception gave the offense great field position. Jones lost a yard on the first play from scrimmage at the Browns' 39-yard line, but two plays later ran left for 16 yards to the Cleveland one-yard line before punching it in for a score up the middle.
That kind of success – and the willingness to keep with the run after a negative play -- is what the Redskins had missed from their first three contests, falling behind early and avoiding the run altogether to play catchup. That put a bigger burden on quarterback Kirk Cousins, helped telegraph plays for the opposing defense and prevented the Redskins' defense from getting adequate rest after making a stop.
Thompson, who also contributed a touchdown on a five-yard pass in the fourth quarter, said he noticed defenses dropping eight men out of the box during plays when he was in the backfield, an indication that other teams weren't worrying about stopping the Redskins' running attack.
Washington's quick start on offense on Sunday helped alleviate some of those previous limitations, and Jones found a groove by staying decisive in his cuts. It's what Thompson said he saw in Jones at the University of Florida.
"I get in a rhythm early and that's where coaches kind of excel me and they kind of get a feel of where I'm coming from," Jones said. "And they've given me more opportunities, and when we're rolling like that, they want to keep giving me the ball."
When asked for whom he was running for on Sunday, Jones didn't hesitate.
"I'm definitely running for my kids, man, my two little girls," he said. "It was my mom's first game out there, too. You know, I just wanted to just be decisive and show my mom what I got and what I'm capable of, what she brought in this world."
The Redskins hope that he'll be doing more of it. That would seem to rely on the type of balanced play-calling attack that worked so effectively against Cleveland, and the type of running Jones is capable of when given the opportunity.
"He sets the standard," Thompson said Jones. "We're going to be expecting that every game."