Alfred Morris: Can Washington Redskins Running Back Bounce Back in Week 2?

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2013

Sep 9, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Eagles won 33-27.  Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Alfred Morris could not have made a worse start to the 2013 NFL season. The Washington Redskins' star running back fumbled two of his first three carries and was forced into a loss on the other.

The player who was the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2012 ended the first week of this season with just 45 yards. His inability to spark a normally dominant ground game into life was a major factor in Washington's 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Redskins need Morris to have a short memory and quickly rebound ahead of their trip to battle the Packers in Green Bay. For Morris to bounce back, his ball security must be better, but the same goes for the blocking in front of him.

Ball Security

Morris' struggles holding onto the ball against Philadelphia won't have been lost on the Packers defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is sure to tell his unit to attack the ball first every time Morris has it.

A look back at his first fumble reveals some issues with the way Morris protected the ball in traffic. The turnover was forced by outside linebacker Trent Cole.

It is easy to see in the first image how loosely Morris cradled the ball. The positive is that he kept it close to his body.

The loose carry made Cole's job easier, but overall, this was simply a great play by an opportunistic defensive player. One thing Morris might try is the two-hand approach, particularly early on against the Packers.

However, there was nothing about this particular turnover to suggest Morris will become prone to fumbling.

As for his second takeaway, Morris gets to share the blame with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Understandably rusty, Griffin's delivery of the pitch was clearly wayward.

It was high and too far in front of Morris. Although Griffin being errant does not quite excuse Morris' poor hands.

Ultimately though, while it is often an overused excuse, this was clearly a case of miscommunication and poor timing between a quarterback and his runner.

If coaches are especially concerned, they could eliminate toss and pitch plays from the game plan. It is not as if they are crucial to the smooth running of the offense.

The issues with ball security look like an easy fix for Morris. But he won't have as much control over the performances of those in front of him.

Better Blocking is Essential

What was so disturbing about Morris in Week 1 was how often he was dropped for no gain at all or even negative yardage. In all, Morris was knocked for a loss twice and limited to no gain on three occasions.

Those kind of numbers are at least as much the fault of blocking as the runner. A look at the first loss Morris sustained reveals how much the Redskins blocking failed him in Week 1.

The offense had set up a stretch play to the right behind tackle Tyler Polumbus.

But the play soon broke down when Polumbus was easily stood up by outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

Polumbus was forced backwards, losing his leverage in the process. That allowed Barwin to easily shed his block and force Morris to the sideline.

Because Polumbus generated no movement and was pushed back, there was no cutback lane for Morris to exploit. Without it, the linebackers were free to pursue laterally, forcing Morris to head for the sideline.

In the end, it was inside 'backer Mychal Kendricks who forced him out, resulting in a three-yard loss.

This kind of collapse on the edge was not just limited to Polumbus and the right side. It also happened on the left, even when the Redskins added extra blockers.

On this particular play the Redskins were ready to execute their famed stretch run to the left behind a pair of tight ends stacked on that side.

But again, the first blocker on the edge failed to win his matchup. In this case, it was rookie tight end Jordan Reed. He could not neutralize outside linebacker Brandon Graham.

Not only did Graham shrug Reed off with ease, he also pushed left tackle Trent Williams backwards. With Williams unable to escape Graham and move to the second level of the defense, the Eagles' pursuit defenders were free to attack Morris.

So by the time Morris made it to the left edge, Philadelphia had three willing tacklers ready and waiting.

These two plays show the kind of blocking failures that were all too common against the Eagles. Head coach Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme depends on lateral movement from linemen, not the runner.

It is also vital for linemen to win their initial blocks and move to take on second-level defenders. When those two things are combined, Morris has the room to attack cutback lanes.

His best run of the night against the Eagles was a perfect example. Again, the Redskins were running the stretch play to the left, with Williams the crucial blocker this time.

Not only did Williams win his block against Cole, but he moved him along the edge. That opened up a lane to the inside.

Williams' success also allowed other linemen, like center Will Montgomery (63), to move to the second level and occupy a linebacker. That secured the cutback lane for Morris.

Morris now had two obvious lanes to attack. He opted to press the play to the outside. Morris went around the block from Williams before cutting back inside where Montgomery and guard Chris Chester (66) had knocked open a lane.

This precise and skilled blocking along with his zone instincts created an easy 15-yard gain for Morris.

The Redskins simply must produce more consistent blocking of this quality to maximize Morris' zone and cutback skills.

Morris is still the Redskins' Best Zone-Runner

As much as he struggled to start the season, Morris is still the best zone-runner the Redskins have. No other back on the roster identifies and attacks cutback lanes as quickly and decisively.

Two solid runs against the Eagles amply proved this point. On the first play, Morris initially followed zone-blocking that stretched to the right side.

Notice how every member of the O-line, along with tight end Logan Paulsen (82), shifted that way.

Once the Eagles went the same direction, Williams and Paulsen sealed the back side with a double-team. Meanwhile, guard Kory Lichtensteiger (78), and Polumbus moved up to the linebackers.

The shift of the line combined with these three key blocks gave Morris a huge cutback lane to the inside. He quickly turned into it and gained six yards.

Morris was disciplined enough to let the blocking to the right develop. But he was also quick and decisive enough to attack the cutback lane as soon as it opened.

This ability to move from patience to sudden action is what makes Morris so good in the Shanahan system. He would display those same qualities nearer the goal line, later in the third quarter.

The Redskins essentially ran the same play the other way. Only this time they included some pre-snap manipulation.

They spread out the Eagles defense by splitting fullback Darrel Young out wide and putting wide receiver Joshua Morgan in the slot.

But then Young drifted in motion back into the backfield on the left side. With tight end Fred Davis also on the left, the Eagles anticipated run that way.

This was evidenced by linebacker DeMeco Ryans frantically waving that way, alerting the defense to attack that side.

At the snap, the Redskins blockers fanned to the left. Philadelphia's defensive front slanted that way, overplaying a left-sided run.

Morris had a convoy to the left, but the Eagles' pursuit also created an obvious cutback lane to the right.

Morris again quickly saw the gap and shifted his feet in one instant cut.

That let him ramble in untouched from five yards out for an easy touchdown.

This play is owed more to the speed of thought and zone instincts of Morris than competent blocking. 

The Packers are very much a feast-or-famine run front. For every negative gain they force, they are just as likely to surrender a big play on the ground.

If the Redskins can consistently produce more precise blocking, Morris will exploit the Green Bay defense.

Despite a rough first outing, Morris still showed he has the essential qualities needed to succeed in the zone system. That is why he can bounce back in a big way against the Packers.

All screen shots courtesy of ESPN and Gamepass


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