The Washington Commanders want to incorporate the running game more often in their game plans after leaning on the pass for the first three matchups, and they will lean on Antonio Gibson to do it.
Gibson, who had the second most rushing yards in the NFC last season, does not have eye-popping numbers on the ground, partly because of the team falling behind by double digits in Weeks 2 and 3. Do not confuse that with a lack of confidence, though; the staff still has plenty of belief in Gibson and is pleased with his development.
"I think he's been doing a pretty good job. I really do," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. "I think he's been aggressive. He's been downhill a couple times. A couple times when he hasn't had the crease on the front side, he's cut back to the backside."
While the Commanders have proven during the first three games that they can move the ball in the passing game, they have run into some issues on the ground. They average 3.7 yards per game, which ranks 25th in the league, and have the seventh-lowest rushing DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.
The Commanders were at their best last season when they relied on their running game. During their four-game winning streak, the Commanders put up at least 100 rushing yards three times. However, as offensive coordinator Scott Turner pointed out on Thursday, entering second halves down by at least 20 points makes it difficult to put more emphasis on running the ball.
Gibson has been effective when given the opportunity, though. His 12 carries for 38 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles do not look like an impressive day, but he ran hard and fought through traffic to gain positive yardage, which was one area of his game that could have used improvement from a year ago.
The only true error Gibson had was a 10-yard loss after trying to reverse the field and make a play for his team that was down double digits in the fourth quarter. The play is Rivera's only criticism of Gibson; instead of trying to reverse the field, he should have simply lowered his shoulder and got as much yardage as possible.
"I like how he is running hard, though," Rivera said. "He's gotten into the secondary a couple of times, and you see him just roll over his pads and lower himself and deliver the blow."
That is what Rivera and the offensive coaches have been hoping for from Gibson. They want to see him use his size to his advantage against defensive backs in the second and third levels. Because when that happens, "there's some business decisions [that are] gonna be made out there," Rivera said.
"Guys aren't gonna want to get up in front of him," he added.
The Cowboys have a stout defense against the pass, but they have also given up 136 yards on the ground, which ranks 23rd in the league. The Giants put up 167 yards in a 23-16 defeat, including 81 yards from Saquon Barkley.
So, if Washington can gain some momentum early, they may have the chance to establish a multidimensional attack.
"We can run the ball more frequently," Turner said. "I think that helps, and then we got to be more effective when we do it."
Here are some other notes from Thursday.
-- Charles Leno was back on the field after taking a veteran's day off on Wednesday and was a limited participant. There is still no concern about his status for Sunday.
-- Turner had a conversation with Terry McLaurin earlier in the week about his targets, most of which have come in the second half of games. Turner wanted McLaurin to know that he is an important part of the offense and "it's not lost on me that we didn't get him the ball in the first half."
"I think he already knew that, and I think he appreciated just having the conversation, and he's all in."
-- Turner also commended Brian Robinson’s recovery from being shot multiple times in his leg, saying that "it's pretty cool" to see the progress that the rookie has made.
"I'm not a doctor, so I don't know exactly when he'll be ready. I know the rules that he's got one more game by rule and then it'll be evaluated, and we'll see when he's able to get back and we'll all be excited when he's able to come back."
"He has a kind of a calming influence on the group. He's so reliable and his communication is so strong. His understanding of what we're doing is so strong, so great to have him back."