ASHBURN, Va. -- A number of plays all announced the same thing Sunday: Chris Thompson is back. There was the burst he displayed on an outside zone run out of a run-pass option look. There was the dash to the outside to beat a defender for the first down. There was the way he won on a route that resulted in a touchdown catch.
They were the sort of plays Washington missed after he was lost for the season in 2017 after breaking his leg. The Redskins want to get Thompson 12 to 15 touches per game, knowing he could break off a long one at any time. He’ll get his next chance vs. Indianapolis on Sunday; the Colts allowed Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon 95 yards on 17 rushing attempts in the opener. They ranked 26th in rushing yards per game allowed last season.
While it was important for Washington that Adrian Peterson provide power up the middle, it’s equally vital for Thompson to remain a playmaker.
“He’s just a baller. Flat out. I love that guy,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said. “The way he’s able to maneuver and move, whatever he wants just give it to him because that guy’s an unbelievable talent. … He is the best third-down back in the league. Bar none.”
In a 24-6 victory over Arizona on Sunday, Thompson carried the ball five times for 65 yards and caught six passes for 63 more, plus one touchdown. Eight of his 11 touches resulted in a first down.
Thompson can provide the lightning to Peterson’s thunder. Thompson’s quickness and vision make him a strong fit in the Redskins’ run-pass option game, which they used often in the first half. In fact, his first carry resulted in a 13-yard run off this look in the first quarter.
“That young guy got me going,” Peterson said.
When the Redskins lost Thompson in Week 11 last season, they lost their spark plug and, in many ways, the heart of their offense. He was their most valuable player because of his ability to change games with one play -- much like receiver DeSean Jackson did for them from 2014 to '16, but at a different position. Last season Thompson rushed for 294 yards and caught 39 passes for 510 more yards. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 13.1 yards per catch, with nine receptions of at least 20 yards.
As he has matured, Thompson has added patience and smarts to pair with his speed and burst. He’s learned to read one level ahead when he runs. That way, if he makes the defender directly ahead of him miss, Thompson already knows his next cut -- and that leads to big gains. All of that was evident Sunday as well. On one run, a 13-yarder, his eyes were upfield as the first block was made. Because of that, Thompson cut inside the block after drawing the second defender to the outside.
“He's been incredible. You know, his work ethic to get back to where he was,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I didn’t see any hesitancy whatsoever. He hit the hole hard. He was explosive. He was great in the pass game, both pass protection and in the routes. He just did what CT always does ….The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, the mismatches he creates, the protection that he provides for the quarterback, the second-and-long runs, get-back-on-track runs -- he does a great job on.”
At one point in the summer, Thompson expressed concern over when he’d be back to himself. Meanwhile, coaches said he might be quicker than in the past. As the summer wore on and he practiced more, Thompson felt better. Nearly a week before the opener, Thompson said he no longer worried about his leg and felt like his old self.
“It was huge,” Thompson said. “I had so many nerves before the game; just not sure how I would feel before the game. I was feeling good, but not to where I wanted to feel. Once that clock started and I got on the field, that was the best I had felt since my injury.”