Washington Football Team Is Finally Running a Smashmouth Offense

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DeAndre Carter knows exactly why the Washington Football Team‘s offense has been better the last two weeks. There isn’t any mystery as to why. It is a formula as old as the NFL itself, and one Carter was only too happy to share after Washington’s Week 11, 27-21 road win over the Carolina Panthers:

How the Washington Football Team’s Offense Became Smashmouth

Emphasis on Running the Ball

The change in Washington’s offensive mentality has been long overdue. This roster has been constructed to favor a run-heavy offense. Injuries to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Curtis Samuel and tight end Logan Thomas compounded the need for more running plays. It has taken a while, but coordinator Scott Turner has finally obliged.

Washington has run the ball 74 times during the last two games, both wins, against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The run-pass ratio is now firmly skewed towards the ground game with 74 runs compared with 54 pass attempts over the last two games.

Turner’s shift in play-calling means he is taking better advantage of the talent at his disposal and Washington’s running backs are getting more chances to shine. Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Jaret Patterson have all embraced the extra workload. While Gibson was the primary workhorse, lugging the rock 19 times for 95 yards, the trio split 33 carries against the Panthers. However, another fumble put Gibson on the sideline, and Turner had no problem turning to McKissic (seven carries for 46 yards) and Patterson (seven rushes for 23 yards).

It’s not all about the primary ball-carriers, though. Unheralded players in the trenches are also embracing the change in mentality.

Ereck Flowers, Offensive Line Starting To Dominate

No player has responded better to the Washington Football Team’s new smashmouth approach on offense than left guard Ereck Flowers. He has added a nasty, overtly physical edge this offense had been missing. That attitude has been most obvious in the trenches, where Flowers has been feeding the mean dog within. It is no secret that offensive linemen love to block for the run because of the opportunity to win and punish with power. Flowers has made that his mission and is aggressively pursuing a career renaissance in Burgundy and Gold.

He was dominant enough against the Panthers that Brian Baldinger was reminiscing about the legendary offensive lines from this franchise’s glorious past. Baldinger highlighted several plays, including when Flowers (79) drove defensive tackle Derrick Brown to the floor and created an outside lane for McKissic:

The second of these plays showed Flowers moving into space to obliterate linebacker Shaq Thompson. No matter where he went, Flowers engulfed and deleted run defenders all day. His appetite for destruction proved contagious.

Notice how Baldinger highlighted the play of both guards at the 0:57 mark. Brandon Scherff (75) is the right guard here, a perennial All-Pro who has built his reputation on bulldozing strength and a mean streak. It is another reminder that this offense is built to play smashmouth football.

Turner and head coach Ron Rivera inherited Scherff, but they traded for Flowers earlier this year, just by exchanging seventh-round picks with the Miami Dolphins.

John Bates’ Value Is Increasing

Flowers isn’t the only unheralded member of this offense whose value has increased in recent weeks. Backup tight end John Bates is fast becoming an essential part of Washington’s run-first schemes. He is enjoying an impressive turnaround after arriving without much fanfare as a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Bates wasn’t much of a receiver at Boise State, where he caught just 47 passes in four years. Middling numbers are one reason why NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projected Bates as either a seventh-rounder or an UDFA. Bates did at least prove he could move people off the ball in the running game for the Broncos, and Turner is incorporating those core skills into his play designs. Bates was the key part of these outside-and split-zone runs detailed by X’s and O’s analyst Mark Bullock:

Turner is trusting Bates to seal the edge and he is winning on cutback blocks against backside defenders to eliminate pursuit, and on wham blocks to eliminate downhill penetration. No running scheme works without contributions from those supporting the offensive line, and Bates is thriving in a role that is narrow, but tailored to what he does best.

New Mindset Could Be the Key to a Late Playoff Charge

There is an important distinction about Washington’s new identity on offense as playing a smashmouth style of football is as much about mindset as it is about personnel. Nobody is going to mistake Gibson, McKissic, or Patterson for Derrick Henry or Marshawn Lynch. But a team can be smashmouth without a 260-pound running back if the rest of the unit is committed to mauling and bludgeoning the opposition. Washington’s shift in mindset has transferred from the running game to every phase of the offense:

This nastiness comes from a determination to win individual matchups and be tougher than the opposition. That mentality makes a team difficult to beat in cold weather when the race for the playoffs heats up. Washington remains in the race thanks to a two-game winning streak made possible by running the ball, controlling the clock and easing the pressure on quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Sticking with that same formula could prove beneficial for a 4-6 team that still has five games remaining against NFC East opponents.

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