The Washington Redskins enter their game on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers with questions about their backfield. And these concerns do not involve starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Washington is coming off a surprising playoff appearance in 2015 going 6-2 down the stretch to finish with a 9-7 record, which was good enough to win the NFC East for the first time since 2012. The Redskins fell to the Green Bay Packers 35-18 in the wild card game.
“We have a great opportunity."
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) September 8, 2016
Cousins, operating as a full-time starter for the first time, was a big reason Washington turned its season around. The 28-year-old only had two 300-yard passing games through the team’s first eight games and threw 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions as the Redskins opened the year at 3-5.
Cousins began to turn things around starting with the game against New Orleans as he completed 20-of-25 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns. The fifth-year pro would throw for at least 300 yards four times and tossed 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the final eight games. He finished the campaign, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (69.8) for 4,166 yards along with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Cousins did all this with virtually no running game as the Skins averaged 97.9 yards on the ground — ranked 20th in the NFL — last season. And Washington allowed running back Alfred Morris, its leading rusher, to move on to Dallas this offseason. Morris reached the 100-yard plateau twice and finished the season with 751 yards on 202 attempts (3.7 yards per carry).
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) September 9, 2016
With Morris not there anymore, it leaves the Redskins with a young and relatively inexperienced group of backs. Matt Jones is expected to get most of the carries, this year but there are plenty surrounding the 2015 third -round selection. The 23-year-old generated a few highlight plays last year though most of those came after a pass reception.
Jones finished 2015 with 490 yards on 144 carries (3.4 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 304 yards along with one touchdown. Jones, who is listed as questionable on the Redskins’ injury report (AC sprain) versus Pittsburgh, had one 100-yard rushing game and fumbled five times — losing four of them (all on carries).
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) September 10, 2016
Chris Thompson is slated to back up Jones. The third-year pro was productive in limited action last year, totaling 216 yards on 35 carries (6.2 yards per carry). He also had 35 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns. For his career, the 25-year-old has 38 carries and 35 catches.
Rookie Robert Kelley is the only other running back on the Skins’ roster, which is likely why John Keim of ESPN is reporting Washington is still interested in Pierre Thomas. Kelley, undrafted out of Tulane, had a fantastic preseason – gaining 198 yards on 38 carries and one touchdown. He had 99 yards on 16 carries against Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the preseason.
Thomas has been on the open market since the start of the free agent period and hasn’t garnered any attention except from the Redskins. The 31-year-old saw limited time with Washington in 2015 after starting the season in San Francisco. He finished the season with 11 carries for 52 yards along with nine receptions.
Thomas has been mainly used on third down throughout his career due to his pass catching capabilities. The nine-year pro has averaged around 90 carries and 37 receptions per season.
If Washington is interested in adding another running back, they do have other options on the open market. Ahmad Bradshaw, Joquie Bell, Donald Brown, Karlos Williams, David Cobb and Ronnie Hillman are also available.
Bradshaw has seen his rushing opportunities decrease since going over the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 though he is still is a good pass-catcher out of the backfield. The 30-year-old was limited to six games and 31 carries for 85 yards last year before landing on season-ending injured reserve with a wrist injury.
Bell has been on the open market since declining to take a pay cut with the Detroit Lions earlier this offseason. The 30-year-old had just 311 yards on 90 carries in 2015 and has never had a 1,000-yard season. He is a good receiver.
Brown was released by the New England Patriots in late August after spending most of the preseason on the sideline with an undisclosed injury. The 29-year-old racked up 229 yards on 59 carries (3.9 yards per carry) last year with the San Diego Chargers.
Hillman was released by the Denver Broncos after they were unable to trade the 24-year-old. Hillman gained 863 yards on 207 carries last year, but he makes a lot of mistakes between the tackles.
Cobb had drawn a lot of interest recently before signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers and being placed on their practice squad a few days ago. Cobb, a fifth-round selection by Tennessee in 2015, had 52 rushing attempts for 146 yards in seven games for the Titans last season.
Williams had a very good rookie season with the Buffalo Bills last year. But he came into camp out of shape and will miss the first four seasons due to a league suspension.
[Photo by Matt Rourke/AP Photo]