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Antonio Gibson embraces increased workload in Washington's playoff push

Antonio Gibson carries the ball during the Washington Football Team's game against the Las Vegas Raiders. (Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
Antonio Gibson carries the ball during the Washington Football Team's game against the Las Vegas Raiders. (Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)

Antonio Gibson let the Las Vegas Raiders know on the first play exactly how the day was going to go. He was going to run the ball as he pleased, and there wasn't much they could do to stop him.

Taking Taylor Heinicke’s handoff to the right, Gibson followed Brandon Scherff and Keith Ismael, who cleared a hole in the silver and black defensive front, and sprinted past the secondary and up to the 46-yard line.

The play represented more than just a 22-yard gain for his team. It was the latest example of just how well Gibson is playing during the Washington Football Team's win streak. He's been running with intensity, following his blockers and punishing defenders. That formula has led to Gibson rushing for 800 yards, which is fifth-most in the league.

And with Washington making a push for a playoff spot and the NFC East crown, Gibson has been the workhorse for that success.

"Just physical running," Gibson said after the 17-15 win over the Raiders. "They trust me to do that, and I'm going to keep doing it."

It's an understatement to say that Gibson has been busy since the bye week. Nearly half (95) of his 206 carries this year have come in the last four games, pushing him to fifth in rushing attempts behind the likes of Jonathan Taylor (241), Joe Mixon (227) and Derrick Henry (219).

The added emphasis to the ground game is not unintentional. It's part of a larger strategy Washington has been executing since the bye week. Scott Turner and the offensive staff wanted to lean more heavily on what the unit does best. Therefore, fans are seeing Gibson's average carries jump from about 14 per game to 23.8 per game.

"We really kind of found our footing," Rivera said. "I think coming out of it with the realization that, let's take advantage of what we do really well and let's make sure because it'll take a lot of pressure off of [Heinicke], which it has. And because Taylor is very good with play action, that's helped us as well."

Although Washington generally uses the duo of Gibson and McKissic to establish the run game, it is Gibson who has benefitted the most, and Washington has reaped the rewards. After receiving eight rushes against the Denver Broncos, Gibson carried the ball 24 times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and recorded 64 yards -- the most since Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons.

That was followed by 19 against the Carolina Panthers and 29 against the Seattle Seahawks. And each week, Gibson improved with 95 yards against the Panthers and 111 against the Seahawks.

"He's doing a really good job of carrying the load for us back there," Terry McLaurin said. "He's running really hard behind his pads, and I think the No. 1 thing I've noticed throughout the whole season with him is his yards after contact. There's not too many guys that are taking him down on that first hit."

In addition to putting together Top 5 stats in terms yards and carries, Gibson has also excelled at yards after contact. He's currently sixth in the NFL with 353 yards, and his 18 broken tackles are the second-most among running backs.

Gibson took a slight dip in rushing production with 88 yards on 23 carries, but it was still the eighth-highest total for his position in Week 13. Washington has made it clear it is trusting Gibson to carry the load for the team, and as a competitor, he loves the faith being placed in him.

"You want the ball in your hand, and that's what they're doing," Gibson said. "I'm fine with that. I just gotta keep making plays, trying that [offensive line], trusting the team and keep pounding."

The Washington Football Team travelled to Allegiant Stadium to take on the Las Vegas Raiders for a Week 13 matchup hoping to extend its win streak and keep its playoff hopes alive. (Photos by Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)

With Washington looking to make a playoff push in the final five games of the season, there should be opportunities for Gibson to inch closer to his first-career 1,000-yard season. Washington's next two opponents -- the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles -- are 14th and 13th against the run, respectively. The New York Giants -- Washington's last regular season opponent -- is 25th, giving up 122.8 yards per game.

Washington has rushed for 548 yards since the bye week; Gibson has accounted for two-thirds of that. And with all of the team's playoff hopes in front of it, the formula isn't going to change.

"I think part of it is his preparation," Rivera said. "With the shin getting better you see him get an opportunity to practice more earlier in the week and get a much better feel for what he needs to do and that's, I think, a big plus for him. I think he's getting a better feel for his body lean in terms of when he's getting downhill when he's hitting the holes."

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