Redskins Key To Victory Over The Colts Starts On The Ground
Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson, Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Rueben Droughns, Tatum Bell, Selvin Young, and Peyton Hillis.
These are the men who led Mike Shanahan's teams in rushing in his previous 16 years as a head coach. Years that saw him win 149 games, five division titles,and two Super Bowls. Just once has he had a team finish lower than third place in a division.
Besides Allen, a Hall of Famer, Jackson, Young, and Hillis, each player ran for over 1,000 yards at least once. Many who came from virtually nowhere with little expected from them.
Only Allen, Jackson, Portis, and Bell were drafted in the first two rounds. Droughns was a third rounder run out of Detroit before being picked up by Shanahan, and sat deep on the bench for two years before becoming a star. Gary was selected in the fourth round. Davis and Anderson were sixth round draft picks, while Hillis was picked up on the seventh. Young was not drafted at all.
Now it may be Ryan Torain's turn to shine, and become the 11th different player to lead a Shanahan team in rushing. He fits the model, having been drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 by Shanahan with the Denver Broncos.
Torain's ability has never been questioned, having run for 1,229 yards as a junior at Arizona State University. Durability has been his issue. He spent about half his senior year injured, and this theme followed him to the NFL.
After three non-descipt carries in the eight week of his rookie year, his first as a pro, Shanahan decided to start him in week nine. After getting 68 yards and a score on 12 carries, tore his ACL and did not return to the NFL until the third week of this season.
He failed to make the team out of training camp, but returned when Washington tired of the non-production from an ancient Larry Johnson. Since then, Torain has mostly been a nice surprise, even catching the first four balls of his career last week.
With Portis out possibly a month or more, Torain will be making his second career start. He will possibly be without the services of primary reserve Keiland Williams, a rookie, because of injury, thus putting the complete onus on Torain's shoulders. His backup will be Chad Simpson, signed just two weeks ago and has yet to play.
Their opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, has a tiny defensive line that is ranked 29th against the run. Washington, however, is hurting as well along the offensive line. Trent Williams, their first round pick this year, has already missed two games due to a knee injury. The left tackle hurt the same knee again last week, which took him out the game, so he is questionable Sunday. Right tackle Jammal Brown and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger are also listed as questionable with knee injuries.
The Redskins offensive line has struggled mightily this year, helping Washington have the 25th ranked rushing attack. If they can run the ball, it will slow down the pass rush of Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and the Colts. After watching quarterback Donovan McNabb get run down by Clay Matthews III last week, the prospects of having two guys of that ability is worrisome.
McNabb will try to carry the seventh ranked passing attack again, this time against the 13th ranked Colts pass defense. Yet the real key to Washington winning this game may rest on the shoulders of Torain.
Most fans see the Redskins last ranked defense, that is 30th in pass defense, and wonder how many yards Peyton Manning will put up against him. Considering the Colts running backs are banged up, so he may have an abundance of opportunities to find out.
Washington has beat top quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers so far this year, but facing Manning is an entirely different test. Manning will look to spread the ball all over Fed Ex Field on Sunday night.
If that wasn't enough, the Redskins defense has linebacker Rocky McIntosh and safeties LaRon Landry, Kareem Moore, and Chris Horton listed as questionable, and no one has said for certain if nose tackle Albert Haynesworth will have returned from bereavement leave.
Keeping the ball out of the hands of a future Hall of Famer like Manning is critical. Statistically, he was off to the finest start of his legendary career until he had his worst game on 2011 last week. It was the first time this year he failed to toss a touchdown pass, yet his 11 still lead the league.
The best way for Washington to win and maintain their hold on first place in the NFC East is to ask something of Torain that hasn't really been requested of him since 2006. Carrying the ball effectively over 20 times and hopefully staying healthy the entire time.