Should Alfred Morris be more involved in the passing game?
November 22, 2013 in Redskins Personnel
Alfred Morris has clearly proven that he's one of the top running backs in the NFL as he's third in rushing yards and 1st in yards per carry (among running backs with 100 or more carries). Morris is clearly the Redskins best and most consistent offensive weapon and should be the focal point of their offense. One area where Morris's value takes a hit is in the passing game. Morris has just 3 catches for 22 yards on the season, just one year after catching only 11 passes for 70 yards as a rookie.
It has become clear that the Redskins aren't going to utilize Morris heavily in the passing game and it has gotten to the point where it's a true platoon situation. According to Pro Football Focus's snap count, Morris has only been on the field for 398 of the Redskins 753 snaps. That is just 53% of the Redskins offensive snaps that their best player is participating in. You look at other top running backs in the league like Adrian Peterson, Jammal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte and they are all between 80-90% of their teams snaps. Even a big back like Marshawn Lynch who isn't known for his receiving ability (though he does have 24 catches on the year) is at about 68%. Lynch's number is even a little artificially low given how many times he's been pulled early due to the Seahawks being up big in a game.
Morris' snaps breakdown are even more troubling. Of his snaps 60% have come on a play that results in a run, with 40% being passing plays. Overall Morris has been on the field for 78% of the Redskins total runs. Of their passes Morris has been on the field just 36% of the time. Those are pretty wide gaps and can help tell a defense what is coming when Morris is on the field over Helu (who is getting 47% of the total snaps). Are teams going to respect the run and bite on playaction when Helu is in the game? Part of the controversy about the Redskins offense becoming predictable is in their personnel packages, which can give the defense some advantages when they start to see these tendencies. Sure when the Redskins run when Helu is in the game or throw with Morris maybe they catch the defense off balance every now and then, but most plays the advantage will be with the defense.
Now game situation is a big part of the reason why Morris isn't on the field more, but that is part of the problem. Because Morris isn't involved involved in the passing game far too often this year he's simply been neutralized by the other team getting a lead on the Redskins in the 3rd or 4th quarter. Just 18 of Morris's 180 attempts have come in the 4th quarter. Now being down as much as the Redskins have been that isn't shocking that the carries are low, but he's not even on the field in these situations. When other teams are down late they can still utilize their back out of the backfield as a threat. It also allows the team to have the back in there if they do want to run the ball at all. Take for instance the Vikings game where after the Jordan Reed catch that got them down inside the 10 yard line. They decided to run on that next play and Roy Helu got 4 yards. Had it been Morris in there perhaps he would have had a chance to break it for a TD. But Morris wasn't on the field when it mattered most for the Redskins and that is a real limit to the Skins offense at this point.
The fact that you can keep the Redskins best offensive weapon and most consistent player off the field when it matters most is a huge win for opposing teams. The Redskins are forced into playing a style of football that they just aren't capable of succeeding at. Another factor is the Redskins will sub Morris out on most third downs. Now 3rd down is typically not a running down and most backs will see a big just in their runs on that down, but Morris is almost non-existent. Of his 180 rushing attempts just 4 have come on third down. Roy Helu has 43 total rushing attempts, 8 of which have come on 3rd down and Darrel Young has run on third down on 7 of his 10 rushing attempts. Morris just isn't seeing the field in crucial situations and it limits some of what the Redskins are able to do.
Now this isn't to say that Morris should start playing 90% of the snaps like backs like Peterson or Charles, but the Redskins do need to feel more comfortable with him on passing downs. Morris's snap counts should at least be on par with Marshawn Lynch if not higher. There are too many crucial situations where Morris simply isn't on the field, and that can't happen. Even if he can just show a moderate ability to catch the ball and be involved in the passing game, it would allow you to have him out there late in the game and on 3rd downs. With Morris on the field teams would have to respect the run a bit more and he could be used as a decoy at times that a guy like Roy Helu jr. can never be used as.