It’s really hard to quantify how much of an impact Alfred Morris had on the Redskins in his rookie season. His 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns propelled this team to having a top 5 offense. While Robert Griffin III is an elite talent, without Alfred Morris’ hard nosed, physical style of running, the offense likely doesn’t work quite the same way; Morris allowed us to keep a balanced attack. With RG3′s accurate passing and his Morris’ threat as a runner, play action passes out of the pistol and the zone-read were a problem defensive coordinators could never figure out.
But, as awesome as Alfred Morris is — and let’s be clear here, Alfred Morris is awesome — his contributions in the passing game were lacking. Usually utilized as a last resort after Robert had gone through all his progressions, Alfred Morris only totaled 11 receptions for 77 yards out of the back field, while back-up running back Evan Royster had 15 receptions for 109 yards and fullback Darrel Young had 8 catches for 109. All told are running backs had a combined 34 receptions for 295 yards.
Many things help Kyle Shanahan’s offense go, but a running back that can pass protect on third down and catch the ball out of the back field can be just as deadly as anything else. Morris is a willing pass protector, and while he wasn’t the best at it in year one, I’d expect to improve in year 2. But when it comes to a change-of-pace back who can break the big play, that’s not Morris’ job. His job is to mash you into mush, tire you out and make you sick of hitting him all day.
Chris Thompson’s job is to make you pay for that laziness.
Mark over at Hogs Haven already showed one concept for a halfback wheel route using play action out of a two-back pistol formation. Here, we have an example of the Houston Texans running a similar play off a bootleg from a standard I formation.
The zone stretch and the bootleg suck the defenders up in the run game as they try to attack Matt Schaub before he can get the ball off. The receivers run inside seam routes to draw away the coverage outside, while Foster leaks out of the traffic and is wide open. Arian Foster wound up celebrating in the end zone after this play. With Chris Thompson, it’s as good as putting six on the board the second he gets his hands on the ball.
Another element that went missing from our offense was the screen game. With Helu out of commission, plays like this one completely disappeared.
Chris Thompson has some nagging health issues of his own, but despite being smaller than Roy Helu, I actually think he’s somewhat less of a health risk than Helu. Helu’s up right running leads to more hits on his legs and therefore more smaller, nagging injuries on his hamstrings, where as Thompson runs behind his pads a little more. And without having to take all the carries of an every down back, that would allow Thompson to be fresher. Here’s Thompson running a similar play at Florida State.
One more downfield block, and Thompson houses this for a touchdown, no doubt.
Another missing element from our offense was working the cutback lanes. It wasn’t that Alfred couldn’t do it; he could and can. But when defenses over pursue on the stretch run, we need to be able to punish them for chunk yardage.
I had to make this one bigger just so you can see the nasty, nasty cuts Thompson makes on this play. The defense over-pursues, taking away the end on the zone stretch run. Thompson sees it, puts a foot in the ground and accelerates through the backside hole, then has not one, but two lateral cuts that leave defenders asking where the hell he went. A tired defense that’s been getting beaten to mush trying to take down Alfred Morris and chasing Robert Griffin III is not going to stop Thompson on this play.
Another formation the Seminoles utilized with Thompson was a split back formation out of shotgun. Typically, you’ll see a split back formation with a running back and a tight end, which gives the offense latitude to have max pass protection while keeping their passing options open. The Seattle Seahawks actually utilized this formation a lot with Russell Wilson in their variation on the read-option offense. Check on this Field Gulls article to see more on how they utilize it. (I may not like the Seahawks, but the guys at Field Gulls do really great, knowledgeable work.)
At Florida State, they used this formation with their own mobile quarterback E.J Manuel. Here we see a zone run play, with Manuel in the gun with Thompson and #24, Lonnie Pryor.
Pryor gets a piece of number 40, and that’s all Thompson needs; he sees the hole form, plants and cuts up field. He breaks a few tackles and then it’s pretty much seven after down field blocks by his receivers. This is the kind of play easily transplant-able to the Redskins offense, and can be run with either Alfred Morris or Darrel Young operating as the lead blocker.
They also ran play action passes with this same formation, after Thompson rips off some big runs.
Pryor and Thompson cross the formation, sucking defenders up on the run action. The tight end, #35, runs a deep post. The linebacker is actually able to sink back under the throw, but an accurate throw beats him and it’s another big play in the red zone.
Ideally, Thompson could become our Darren Sproles; a change of pace back who can catch the ball out the backfield and turn what would ordinarily be a two-or-three yard chain mover into points on the board and big time plays.
If Thompson can come to camp relatively healthy and able to contribute even playing spot duty, he’ll add a huge dimension to our offense and make it much, much harder to defend. Watching Thompson play is going to be a fun ride, so get on board now and watch the magic happen.