The Redskins' running game hasn't quite found its groove thus far in the preseason, but Sunday's game against Cincinnati will provide the best dress rehearsal of the preseason.
Orchestrating a successful run game is like putting together a rock band.
"You've got to be in unison," head coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday. "All six, seven, eight, nine, 10 guys have got to be in unison and we just haven't been right when the ones are in there."Yes, it's just preseason – football's version of the dress rehearsal – but the Redskins running game has been off key. Through two games, starting running back Rob Kelley has carried the ball 13 times. He's gained 12 yards.
"Rob Kelley hasn't gotten many good looks," Gruden said simply. "Other guys came in there, we got [Samaje] Perine some good looks and he had some good hits."
Gruden's right. Perine was indeed effective, rushing for 45 yards on eight carries, as the second-teamers took the field in the second half of preseason game No. 2 against Green Bay.
However, the first teamers haven't gotten it going on the ground yet. The cause for concern is understandable, considering Washington ranked 21st in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season. On top of that, the Redskins could potentially be without starting center Spencer Long for the beginning of the regular season as he recovers from a minor knee injury.
But on the other hand, the reason Gruden and his players are answering run game questions is because of 12 carries by Rob Kelley – roughly just a half's worth of work in a regular season game. When the Redskins did run the ball in 2016, they did so effectively, averaging 4.5 yards per carry – the ninth-best mark in the NFL.
"I'm not really concerned, no," Gruden said in his press conference after the Green Bay game. "I know the guys we have up front and I know [offensive line] Coach [Bill] Callahan and I know the runners that we have, so I'm not concerned. We do have to execute better. We have to put them in better situations. Maybe we'll look at the calls that we're calling, but for the most part, I'm not concerned really."
Gruden obviously won't be pushing the panic button in August, but the importance of a successful run game was paramount to the Redskins in 2016. When they had success on the ground, they ran the football more often. When they ran the football more often, they won more often.
Kelley made nine starts in 2016 for Washington. When he had at least 15 carries, the Redskins were 4-0-1. Less than 15 carries – the Redskins were 0-4.
For better or worse, Kelley has the numbers attached to his name. But the Redskins offensive line has plenty of talent, as does the tight end group, and they expect success too.
"It takes all 11 players on the field at one time," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "It's not one position – we've got to come together and get it working. Obviously in the second half (against Green Bay) the second group got the ball running a little bit. So there's capability of doing that. We've just got to go out there and show it."
The Redskins next test comes against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday. A middle-of-the-pack rushing defense in 2016, Cincinnati has an aggressive front seven that could cause issues if the Redskins don't execute.
"They're just a physical, sound football team," running back Chris Thompson said. "We played them last year, ended up in a tie. We can look back at that game from last year and take some things that we did wrong, some things that we did right and carry it into this game."
With the fourth preseason game most likely scheduled as a rest day for the starters, Sunday against Cincinnati may be the last chance for Washington to find it's running rhythm before taking the stage Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"You know, I've said this before, when the run game doesn't work, it's not one guy. Sometimes it's tight end, sometimes it's a tackle, sometimes it's a back, sometimes it's the center," Gruden said. "So, we've just got to get everybody on the same page.
"We've just got to keep at it. It's all about practice and working at it and getting better."