The Jacksonville Jaguars couldn't hold onto a 17-point lead against the Philadelphia Eagles for several reasons. Chad Henne and the rest of the offense's inability to convert more than two out of 15 third- and fourth-down attempts was most certainly one.
But the fact that the running game couldn't get established on early downs was also one of them, and I think an effective running game is what's going to be the biggest factor in Jacksonville's chances in beating Washington on Sunday.
I have more hope in our stable of running backs, led by Toby Gerhart, to carry the load. But with nose tackle Barry Cofield ruled out, Washington's defense (which already showed vulnerability against the run last week) is going to be even more susceptible to a strong running game.
Last week, the Houston Texans gained 115 total yards on the ground and converted 50% of their third downs, largely because Arian Foster gained so many yards on first and second down over the left side of Washington's defense.
Of his 27 carries and 103 yards, 15 carries and 66 yards came over right guard Brandon Brooks or off right tackle Derek Newton. That's 56% of his runs and 64% of his production.
But the dominance in which Brooks and Newton were able to push around Washington's defensive line, and the ease at which Foster found his running lanes, was even more astounding.
Take these two plays for instance. The first is the first run of the game and Brooks absolutely dominates his man and center Chris Myers swings around to open up a big hole.
The second is the next play, one of Foster's only two runs for a loss all game. (The other was also over the left side.)
Watch how important No. 96 Barry Cofield (the nose tackle who dives into the Texans offensive line at the beginning of the play) is to Washington's run game, and how much penetration No. 92 Chris Baker is able to get on the left side of Houston's offensive line.
Not only that, but Houston had three separate times throughout the game where they ran at the same gap in consecutive plays. And all three times, it was over the right guard.
This second quarter series consists of four plays -- the first three being runs for four, six, and three yards, respectively:
And what was the fourth play? Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing a 76-yard touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins -- the game's only passing touchdown.
Am I fearful that the Jaguars offensive line will struggle against a weak Washington defensive line that's missing it's starting nose tackle? Yes. But if Cameron Bradfield, Brandon Linder, and Jacques McClendon can get some confidence early it could be a huge step in the right direction for a Jacksonville running game that needs a spark.