Keeping Tabs on Washington's Team

Do Redskins Have a Running Back Controversy?

Running game was finally effective, but where's CP?

By Janie Campbell
|  Monday, Sep 27, 2010  |  Updated 1:45 PM EDT
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<a title=Clinton Portis discusses the current situation in the Redskins' backfield. redskins.com; nfl.com" />

Clinton Portis discusses the current situation in the Redskins' backfield. redskins.com; nfl.com

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Mike Shanahan still doesn't have an answer for his running game -- one game from practice squadder Ryan Torrain does not a solution prove -- but one wonders after last night's embarassing loss to the Rams if Washington now has an even bigger question.

Do the Redskins have a running back controversy?

The site of Clinton Portis benched and confused coupled with his game and mystified comments in the locker room are enough to hint at "yes." 

Add in one even more confusing -- and apparently voluntary -- slide to end a 27-yard carry, and it's impossible not to wonder if Portis is going to be drained of his snaps.

Shanahan said CP wasn't benched for the play, in which he might have gained another five yards if he had continued churning through contact. Instead, Portis ended up on the ground untouched, though it wasn't entirely clear if he tripped and fell or dropped purposefully.

"That was our plan," Shanny said of the running back by committee approach. "I thought both of them did an excellent job running in the first half. I'm not sure what their yardage was, but both of them had a lot of yards, and we were gonna keep Clinton in there on passing situations on third down and Ryan on the first- and second-down situations."

That, however, was news to both Portis and a stymied stats sheet, which suggested otherwise in the first quarter. Portis had 45 yards on six carries from first- and second-downs in the first quarter before he was inexplicably given just one more carry on a third down in the third quarter.

Five of his six carries came after the slide, meaning Shanahan either isn't lying, or he's slow to boil, or no one knows what's going on. Especially Portis.

"I think that's their plan," Portis said. "I can't question it. When they called my number and told me to go in, I went into the game... I guess [Torain] was hot... I felt like when they called my name, I go... We've got a lot of playmakers, so if they call somebody else's number..."

It was the verbal equivalent of trying but sliding at the end of a good effort, and a noble attempt at team-speak from a guy who hasn't always given it.

Of course, some fans may argue he hasn't been always giving it on the field lately, either. Portis may have destroyed Eugene Wilson last week with a brutal block for Fred Davis, but he also had a very similar tumble to avoid contact in the red zone.

Football Outsiders' Bill Barnwell found that CP has just one run longer than 38 yards in the last five years and 949 carries. And SBN notes that one run also ended early, because Portis can no longer finish one off and get through the secondary.

It's as if he's not afraid to hit, but getting hit is no longer much fun. After that concussion last year in Atlanta, who could really blame him? 

Portis has lost a step, though he is still obviously effective (the play in question was already 27 yards long when it died before its time). And it's too early to suggest the Redskins, even after they looked entirely awful in St. Louis, are going to chalk up the year and choose to work out younger guys over the aging stars of the old regime.

But one more slide like that...

"Even if it was [a permanent use for Portis]," Shanahan said, "I wouldn’t say, for obvious reasons.”

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