Despite another slow start, the Redskins offense finally got going against the Bengals Sunday evening thanks largely to Rob Kelley and a commitment to the rushing attack.
Like the first half of the Redskins' preseason, it took a while for the first-team offense to find a rhythm against the Bengals Sunday evening at FedExField. It didn't acquire a first down until the fourth series and didn't find the end zone until its fifth possession. Unsurprisingly, that's when the run game found its legs.
The kick starter for that crucial second-quarter scoring drive – the tonic the team needed after quarterback Kirk Cousins's interception the play before put the team in an early 14-3 hole – began with a 21-yard run up the middle from Rob Kelley, the first explosive jolt of the game. From there, the offense opened up – running lanes got wider and play-action became more effective.
Kelley bookended the drive with a one-yard touchdown run up the middle, highlighting the physical style the Redskins had been waiting to see from their leading running back. It set the tone for the rest of Washington's 23-17 victory, its first of the preseason.
Entering the game, Kelley's preseason body of work was minimal. He tallied just two yards on three attempts against the Ravens and nine yards on nine rushes at home versus the Packers. His stats lines and the slow starts became a recurring topic of focus throughout the practice week, something the offensive line took responsibility for and knew they wanted to fix.
"We know what we can do," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "We just got to get all 11 people on the field going and the right play calling. And you know for Rob, he's an amazing back. All our running backs are amazing backs. It's just about hitting the hole and getting the front block."
Kelley, who finished with 57 yards on 10 attempts (the team accounted for 96 rush yards), gobbled up more yardage by consistently moving piles once running lanes clogged up, turning short gains into something more manageable on the next down. Unlike the previous two games, five times on first down Kelley ran for at least five yards.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' 2017 Preseason Week 3 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals Aug. 27, 2017, at FedExField.
"That was something Rob just focused on this whole week, preparing, he was like 'Man, I got to -- on first down, I got to get it to second and five, and most of his runs he did that today," running back Chris Thompson said. "It makes it easier for Coach Gruden, it makes it easier for Kirk, you know, and it puts us in a really good situation all the time, so as long as we run the ball well and we can control the clock, the sky is the limit for our offense."
The extra efforts had a domino effect on the entire offense, and as Cousins stated after the game, "the seas just parted."
After the 21-yard gain, Kelley ran for five yards, opening up a play-action boot pass that Cousins completed to tight end Vernon Davis for another first down. Rookie running back Samaje Perine added slight changeup around midfield, pounding the rock to spell Kelley and continuing the pass game's momentum with completions to Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of our passing game and off of me, really good play design," Cousins said. "I just thought Rob and Samaje ran really hard today. They lowered their pads and did all the could trying to fight for extra yards…[Kelley] finds a way when it's a one-yard loss to get a two-yard gain. I think that's the sign of a good back."
"I think the difference for me was the offensive line," Kelley said. "They opened up some holes. Obviously you can see they had some holes that anybody could run through out there. I think just getting back to what got me to starting running back today. Just some hard runs, pushing the pile and stuff like that."
Because the team's starters won't dress for Thursday's final preseason game, this performance had some urgency to it. With this being the final game action tune-up before the regular season, head coach Jay Gruden remains confident that the offense will have more urgency and things will begin clicking quicker.
Kelley knows the run game is vital to that happening starting on Sept. 10, when the Redskins host the Eagles to begin the regular season.
"Hopefully come out there and pick up where we left off," he said.