The Redskins have seen their effectiveness in the run game diminish over the last few weeks, but it hit a season low Monday night in a crucial loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The Redskins had their struggles in every facet of the game in Monday night's 26-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers, but none was more surprising than Washington's inability to get the running game going.
On 11 carries, the Redskins running backs gained just 29 yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins' 12-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest run by the Redskins all night. Starting running back Robert Kelley had eight yards on nine carries.
"I was, yes I was," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said when asked if he was surprised with the run game's struggles. "We miss-targeted a couple runs for whatever reason. So not a lot of good looks for Rob unfortunately. Chris [Thompson] had I think a couple of carries, got a couple of decent looks. Rob had nothing. So we got to look at our running game and try to figure out ways to get him more involved. That's part of the issue."
Kelley, who was leaned on heavily in his first three career starts with attempt totals of 21, 22 and 24, has seen his workload decrease of late. He's carried it more than 15 times just once in the Redskins last four games. His nine attempts Monday were his fewest since Week 7.
However, it's hard to continue running the ball when there's no success. Kelley's five-yard touchdown run in the first half was the closest thing he saw to a hole all night long. Thompson managed 10 yards on two carries.
"We didn't have any attempts," left tackle Trent Williams said. "We only had 11 attempts. We dropped back 50 times. [We were] down basically the whole game. We weren't in position to run the ball. [Carolina] did a good job when we did run the ball."
While it was the worst Redskins rushing performance of the season, it wasn't the first frustrating outing. Washington has finished with less than 90 team rushing yards in six games. The Redskins are 1-5 in those games.
Kelley, who had rushed for more than 60 yards in five of his six starts before last night, didn't have many answers either.
"Obviously the run game would have helped the pass game more, but [Carolina] was stopping the run game so we had to move on and stop running the ball," Kelley said. "We just weren't clicking tonight. Hopefully we can get back on track next week."
To be fair, Carolina is now the NFL's third-ranked rushing defense after last night's impressive performance. However, the Panthers rank 25th in points allowed this season – an indictment of Washington's passing struggles. Again, not much went right for the Redskins on Monday night.
"We probably had more three-and-outs this game than ever had all season," center Spencer Long said. He was right: the Redskins had a season-high five three-and-outs.
There's no doubt that the Redskins ineffectiveness running the ball had plenty to do with that. Four penalties on the Washington offense didn't help. A season-high three turnovers prevented the Redskins from ever finding a flow after a seven-play, 89-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
With Long and left guard Shawn Lauvao back in the lineup after missing last week due to injury, Washington had its most popular offensive line combination back together, with Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses rounding out the starting five. When that group has started together, the Redskins were averaging 130 rush yards before last night's disappointment.
"Some of it was mental by us and some of it was physical by [Carolina] so it's a combination," Gruden said. "In the running game, it's hard to pinpoint one area. I think our lineman played hard. They did some good things today. But, if you don't have everyone in unison on running plays, it takes one guy to blow it up. Unfortunately, that happened quite a bit."