Will Morris carry the Redskins?

ASSOCIATED PRESS Redskins' Alfred Morris is hoping to gain more yards than he did last season.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Redskins' Alfred Morris is hoping to gain more yards than he did last season.
Posted: September 05, 2013

SO, IT'S OFFICIAL. St. Robert Griffin III will walk across the waters of the Potomac Monday night and start against the Eagles 8 months after surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.

And while the Philadelphia media will pepper Eagles players and coaches this week with nonstop questions about the challenges of defending St. Robert, a much bigger dilemma for the boys in midnight green could be trying to stop the guy who shares the backfield with RG3.

Alfred Morris came out of sixth-round nowhere last year to rush for more yards than any NFL back not named Adrian Peterson. The 5-9, 219-pounder out of Florida Atlantic racked up 1,613 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. With one of the league's better offensive lines blocking for him, he is hoping to do even better this season.

"I left a lot of yards on the field," he said. "I missed some holes. A few times I could have done a better job of making a guy miss. Against the Ravens, I didn't expect a pitch and ended up dropping it. If I would have caught it, nobody would've touched me. The sideline was wide open. I look back on things like that and think, 'Man, I could've had a lot more yards than I had.' "

That's a scary thought for the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, Bill Davis.

If you managed to stay awake during the preseason, you may have noticed that the Eagles and their still-under-construction two-gap 3-4 defensive scheme wasn't very good against the run.

The Eagles gave up a hefty 5.3 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns in their four practice games. They were gashed several times for long runs, including 51- and 62-yarders against New England and a 53-yarder against Jacksonville.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has lost a step or two since those back-to-back Super Bowl titles with the Broncos in the 1990s. But he still is lucid enough to notice when an opponent' s defense can't stop the run.

Not that he needs any coaxing to run the ball. The Redskins averaged the third most rushing attempts in the league last season (32.4), behind only Seattle (33.5) and New England (32.7).

On top of that, RG3 spent the entire preseason in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar, and Shanny is under orders/suggestions from the kid's doctor, James Andrews, to handle his patient with extreme care, particularly early on. So, expect to see the ball in Morris' hands a lot Monday night.

A year ago, when they still were playing a 4-3, the Eagles did an OK job on Morris in their two games against the Redskins, holding him to 76 yards on 20 carries in a 31-6 Week 11 loss in Landover, Md., and 91 yards on 22 carries in a 27-20 Week 16 loss at the Linc.

But the Eagles' new 3-4 look had its share of problems this summer. A lot of square pegs in round holes.

They signed veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga during free agency to anchor the front. He's a round peg. But the 32-year-old Samoan looks like a guy with very little tread left on his tires. His backup, third-round rookie Bennie Logan, seems better suited to play end than nose in a three-man front.

"I didn't see Sopoaga make a play the entire preseason," a scout told me. "Maybe he's just saving it all for the season, I don't know. But he looks like a guy who doesn't have much left.

"And I don't know if they have anybody else who can play that position. Logan's not really big enough or strong enough to play the nose. He's much better outside.

"They need a nose tackle that can stay on his feet. Otherwise, when they play teams that play a zone-scheme up front like the Redskins, they're going to get cut on the backside every time, and there will be huge lanes to run through."

Ends Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton both have struggled with the transition from 4-3 playmakers to 3-4 block-occupiers.

"You've got to be a little more patient in this defense than in the previous one," Thornton admitted. "Hold your man as long as you can. Understand that you're trying to make that linebacker behind you or beside you better.

"It's all about patience and just trying to deceive the man in front of you so that the linebacker can come free and make the play."

Morris definitely benefited from Griffin's running ability on zone reads last season, just as LeSean McCoy should benefit from Michael Vick when the Eagles use their zone-read package this season.

Last year, Morris gained 334 yards on 57 carries on zone-read plays. That's 5.9 yards per carry. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry (1,279 yards on 278 carries) on nonzone-read plays.

Griffin rushed for 815 yards on 120 carries last season. Only three other quarterbacks rushed for more than 400 yards - Carolina's Cam Newton (741), Seattle's Russell Wilson (489) and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (415).

While the Redskins probably will use their zone-read package Monday, it's unlikely Griffin will run much, if at all, out of it, given that this will be his first game action since the ACL injury.

"The zone read is tough to defend," Morris said. "The threat of Robert [running], they've got to respect that. You have to have a disciplined defense to stop and contest it.

"If just one person misreads it or keys on the wrong guy or is out of position, you can have a big play. It only takes one person to be out of position."


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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