Former players spot things those of us who did not play in the NFL can’t when it comes to a team’s mindset. So it struck me when Clinton Portis, Brian Mitchell and Chris Cooley hit on a similar theme, ranging from having too many nice guys to not enough players who love the game. That’s a hard thing to measure, but some of the names mentioned -- Redskins center Spencer Long, for example -- I find it hard to agree with. A guy who went to Nebraska as a walk-on yet made it to the NFL has to have a healthy love of the game.
That said, I think any team is helped by having more “nasty” players. And I think the Redskins defense could use a jolt of such energy, as long as those players are good, too. It’s not about nice guys or mean guys; it’s about finding players who have passion and are good. That’s where the draft comes in. You can find talent in free agency, of course, but what you want is a group of hungry, young players worth developing. Any team would want such a group. When you have older guys, the motivation can be different. I think a young kid such as Su'a Cravens has a lot of what those guys are talking about; now we just have to see how he’ll fare as he is used more at safety next season. Keep in mind, though, that some of the packages he played in this season were akin to him being a strong safety. But he brings energy and passion to the field and that’s always welcomed. You find spots for players with that description.
The Redskins will finish with their second-fewest rushing attempts since 2001 unless they go crazy in the final two games. Washington has attempted 329 runs, but should surpass the next-lowest total (351 in 2010) after the next two games. If the Redskins are running well Saturday, they could pass it then. Regardless, it’ll likely be only the second time in the past 15 seasons Washington will finish with fewer than 400 carries.
The Redskins clearly have talent in the pass game, but know they must be better on the ground to establish a true identity and enhance their attack. In Joe Gibbs 2.0, the Redskins averaged 496 carries per season. However, this team averages 24.6 points per game while those run-heavy Gibbs teams averaged 19.4. And during that time, the Redskins were 14-17 in games when the opposition scored 21 points or less.
Running back Rob Kelley said just because the Bears will be without nose tackle Eddie Goldman doesn’t mean the Redskins will automatically have success running the ball Saturday. “We were thinking the same thing with Luke Kuechly not being in there [for Carolina on Monday night]. We won’t change anything.” But Kelley said one thing he won’t do is tell the coaches to put the offense on his back. “I wouldn’t bait coaches for carries if it’s not working,” the rookie said. “If the run game is working we can stick with it, but if not we have to go elsewhere to try and get the team going.”
Kelley said he’s still learning to run with more patience. There are times when he admits to cutting back when he should have stayed on his path; it's something he’s talked about a few times since becoming the starting back. Other times he might do the opposite. “We had one run blocked perfectly [Monday] and I didn’t make the bounce read,” he said. “It’s not the line’s fault. That’s why I can’t get mad at them. We all played a role in it so we have to fix it together.”
Redskins tight end Vernon Davis played with San Francisco for four seasons when Vic Fangio was the defensive coordinator. He’ll face a Fangio-led defense Saturday. The Bears are not the most talented group, but they do have some good young building blocks in the front seven and that’s made a difference. “[Fangio] likes to get after the quarterback so they guys off the edge, he’ll get them at the quarterback fast and early. If you have a tight end who can get off the ball, he’ll try to slow you down. We have to be cognizant of that and know that we have to be ready to work our release to get off.”
The offensive line Washington has heard a lot about this week in comparison to Chicago: Dallas. The Bears have a good, big line with a powerful back in Jordan Howard behind it. Chicago averages 4.5 yards per carry, tied for seventh in the NFL. Howard is third in the NFL averaging 2.19 yards after contact (right ahead of Kelley), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears have had six games where they’ve averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry. “He’s a good back, he’s big and runs strong,” linebacker Will Compton said of Howard. “They are going to try and run the ball; any team that watches us wants to establish the run against us.” The Bears love running screens and their line does a good job blocking on them, but Howard has dropped a few passes lately.