ASHBURN, Va. — Coming off their two best rushing performances of the season, the Washington Redskins are starting to resemble the team that closed the 2012 regular season with seven straight wins.
Though, instead of two rushing threats — Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris — the Redskins have three.
Adding Roy Helu Jr. to the rotation has given the Redskins a fresh pair of legs, and a dimension they lacked last season when Helu was limited by injuries and Morris was the NFL’s third most-used back in the NFL, rushing 335 times.
“We trust him. He’s made a lot of great runs,” Griffin said. “To just give Al a chance to get out of the game and maybe not get as many carries as he would have last year, keep his body fresh, that helps.”
In the last two games — a 31-16 loss at Dallas and a 45-41 win over Chicago — the Redskins have had three players rush for at least 40 yards each. In Mike Shanahan’s previous 53 games as head coach, Washington had never had three players rush for at least 40 yards.
“It’s great. It’s a change of pace from every angle,” fullback Darrel Young said. “You see Roy on more third downs and passing situations and he runs the ball. Alfred’s being Alfred. Robert’s being Robert. It’s just three different threats.”
With Washington (2-4) facing a challenging game Sunday at Denver (6-1) in Shanahan’s return against the team he coached from 1995 to 2008, his offense enters in high gear. The 499 yards they gained Sunday marked their highest total in a regulation game since 1999. The energized rushing attack appears to have facilitated the passing game. Griffin’s 105.2 quarterback rating Sunday was his best this season.
“For us being able to run the ball is huge. It sets up the play action and really kind of helps us execute our game plan,” guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “When you run the ball that much, and that effectively, when you do have the dropbacks, it makes (the defense) hesitate for a second on pass-rush moves.”
Washington has waited patiently for Helu. He had a promising rookie season out of Nebraska, rushing for 640 yards and catching 49 passes for 379 yards. But last year, Achilles and toe injuries limited him to three games and nine touches from scrimmage. On Sunday, Helu carried 11 times for 41 yards and three touchdowns.
The emergence of Helu has coincided with more running from Griffin. After carrying 18 times for 72 yards in the first four games, Griffin has rushed 20 times for 161 yards, as Washington has used many more read-option plays. On Wednesday, Griffin said his increased workload is a simple matter of taking what defenses have been giving, not gaining confidence in his surgically-repaired knee. He suffered the second torn ACL of his football career in a playoff loss last year to Seattle.
“I think everyone wants to have that story and say it clicked mentally for him and his knee was fine at this moment. But I don’t think that’s what it was,” Griffin said. “I’ve had the confidence (in the knee). It’s just presented itself these past two weeks and I’ve taken full advantage.”
NOTES: The Redskins welcomed back a familiar face, signing free-agent Jordan Pugh. The safety, who played all 17 games last year, was released Oct. 15. Pugh fills a void created by the two-game suspension of Brandon Meriweather and the possible loss of Reed Doughty, who suffered a concussion Sunday against the Bears. Doughty’s status will be determined later this week as he undergoes league-mandated concussion protocols . The last time Washington gained at least 200 yards in back-to-back games, was 1984, in the glory days of John Riggins and the Hogs.
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