This member of Washington’s backfield had a spectacular rookie campaign that brought him national acclaim and helped lead to a playoff berth in 2012.
That was followed by a steady decline in production, leading some observers to question if his success was about the system more than his ability.
Now speculation is swirling that 2015 might be his last year in burgundy and gold, as the coaching staff is optimistic about another player at his position.
But unlike his famous teammate in the same predicament, Alfred Morris wasn’t a mere spectator in Washington’s opener.
And if the team hopes to experience the thrill of winning this season, Morris will need more outings like Sunday and fewer like the past two seasons.
Miami won the game, 17-10, but Morris did what he must to give Washington a chance. He had 25 carries for 121 yards, a healthy 4.8 yards per pop. The ground game helped Washington dominate time of possession and keep Miami’s potent defensive front from teeing off on quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Coach Jay Gruden knows the team’s best hope is a stout rushing attack and solid defense that keeps games close. The task in Week 1 was formidable, with Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake lined up against rookie guard Brandon Scherff and second-year tackle Morgan Moses.
But Washington doesn’t want a chameleon-like offense, ground-and-pound one week and air-it-out the following week. That’s no way to establish an identity.
What you want is to take the opening kickoff and ram it down the opponent’s throat like this: Morris for 5, Morris for 6, Morris for 9, Morris for 0, Morris for 10 and Morris for 5. The drive stalled and Washington settled for a field goal, but the point was made.
Establishing a new mentality that results in a tough, physical, hard-nosed running game isn’t easy. But Morris and his teammates are committed to the idea. How will they pull it off?
“Just keep doing it, honestly,” Morris said. “That’s the best way to get better at anything – repetitions. We gotta continue to work at and make it an attitude ‘We’re gonna establish our run game.’ It helps our offense so much more and we have to find a way to continue to do that and make it an attitude.”
We began to expect as much after Morris’ rookie season, when he finished second to Adrian Peterson as the NFL’s leading rusher. He flourished with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and coaches Mike & Kyle Shanahan calling a bunch of read-option plays. Morris averaged 100.8 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.
But his numbers have fallen off since. He averaged 79.7 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry in 2013; 67.1 and 4.1 last year.
There were reasons, excuses and everything in-between, including a sub-par offensive line and a non-threatening passing attack. The problem Sunday was Washington’s inability to continue what it started as Miami’s halftime adjustments slowed Morris’ roll.
In the end, the game was lost due to untimely penalties, interceptions, defensive lapses and Jarvis Landry’s 69-yard punt return for the winning touchdown. For the most part, Morris and offensive line did their jobs.
“Alfred’s a heck of a back,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “You give him a little hole and you give him a good, clean line of scrimmage and he’s going to get yards. That’s kind of what we expect from him.”
Expectations also are high for rookie Matt Jones, who could be the No. 1 halfback next season if Washington lets Morris walk. Jones had six carries for 28 yards, displaying a bruising style that gives defensive backs second thoughts.
If games were won on stat sheets, the Dolphins would be 0-1. Washington moved the ball better overall (349 yards to 256), on the ground (161 vs. 74) and through the air (188 vs. 182).
“We’re very confident in our offense and very confident in all of our players,” wideout Pierre Garcon said. “ We know Alfred’s going to run hard. We know the offensive line is going to block well. We just have to make those plays when they count. We have to come together and make plays.”
Maybe Morris could’ve made a few more plays.
He’ll have more than a few opportunities to do so in the coming weeks.