Portis, playing without a fullback and undertaking his first run for the Redskins in Week 1, scored from 64 yards out on the third play of the game — heading left to begin with and, at the line of scrimmage, cutting away abruptly to his right.
Joe Gibbs' first day back, that was almost all the offense Washington could muster. But in a 16-10 game, it was enough because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after Joey Galloway was injured, played without their top three receivers and their top running back, Michael Pittman.
It was in his first Washington tour (1981-92) that Gibbs first brought one-back football to the Redskins. And in the same era, Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly rode the one-back to four consecutive Super Bowls. But as a power formation, it had been catching on slowly until this week, when, on opening night, Corey Dillon and Edgerrin James ran wild for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in a game New England won, 27-24.
The mystery is why any pro team uses a blocking back. Even if he makes a perfect block, there are two bodies in the runner's way: the blocker and the man he's blocking. Those bodies make it harder for a runner to slip and slide into the line, which is the essence of the modern running way. For, on an NFL ground play, there's inevitably a small opening somewhere in the line if a fullback isn't there shutting out the view, and, in Week 1, Portis, Dillon, James and Green Bay's Ahman Green all swarmed through little gaps for big yards.
When instead of a fullback there is an extra tight end in the offense, there are always two directions in which to run. Alternatively, when an NFL team attacks with one tight end, one back, and three wide receivers, an offense can be even more disruptive. It's taken too many coaches too long to figure this out.
Portis Can't Take the Pounding
The Redskins misused their new tailback in the opener. After beginning the day with his 64-yard touchdown, Portis, 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, ran 28 more times (a three-yard average) and was pounded on most plays.
At that rate, he'll never last the season. The NFC East is a division whose teams want to beat the stuffing out of ballcarriers, and that is Portis' fate now. It was also John Riggins' fate when Gibbs had him in the 1980s, but Riggins, unlike Portis, was a big, tough guy.
Against the Buccaneers, Portis was usually running on first and second down — each of which is a running down in the Gibbs system — and usually failing to get a first down, meaning that Redskin quarterback Mark Brunell was usually passing on third and four or more. That is Gibbs' passing down, but Brunell made no big hits. In fact, after their early touchdown, the Redskins scored only three field goals. Considering that Gibbs is basically an offensive coach, that wasn't much offense in a game that could well have ended 6-3 (either way) if not for Portis' dramatic, broken-play touchdown.
There are two principal Redskin problems. First, Gibbs had so much success as a running-play coach in the 1980s that he hasn't yet moved into what has become a pass-play era. Second, though Redskin backup Patrick Ramsey is Washington's best bet at quarterback, Gibbs thinks he's too immature. During Gibbs' first tour, a third-year pro passer normally was too immature. Not now.
A Packer Lesson in How to Run and Pass
The Green Bay Packers, operating most efficiently in one-back formations, easily won a 24-14 game Monday night from a Carolina team that looks like it hardly practices pass offense. The Panthers wore that look in the most recent Super Bowl. But that day, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme improbably, and uncharacteristically, hit a passel of long passes to nearly upset New England.
Against Green Bay's blitzing defenses, Delhomme, a fine passer throwing to good receivers Steve Smith, Ricky Proehl and others, hit only a few key throws when the game was on the line. His performance was an indication that his coach, John Fox (a winner in numerous ways though he doesn't know much about passing) needs to bring in a good pass offense coach as soon as possible.
The Packers lost the statistics but won the game convincingly with a modern two-front attack mounted by passer Brett Favre and runner Ahman Green, the same pair who for years have beaten back their competition by integrating their talents:
On Green Bay running plays, Favre was always threatening to throw. A statistical result was 119 yards gained rushing on 33 Green carries, an average of 3.6 yards per run.
On Green Bay pass plays, Green was a constant threat to run. One Favre result was 143 yards gained throwing on a 15-for-22 passing night, an average of 6.5 yards per attempt and 9.5 yards per completion.
The way Green and Favre integrated runs and passes — while their teammates addressed the problem of how to hold off Carolina's blitzers — added up to a lesson in how to play winning football. To watch the Panthers, though, is to question whether they're well enough acquainted with pass offense to understand the lesson.
Plummer Frustrates Pass Rush