Saturday, September 19, 2009

Still the Workhorse

Taking a different angle

As I prepare links for tomorrow's game two preview it seems this week's zeitgeist is all about discipline, conditioning and maybe even heart in the game.

Is this for real? Or is this the overheated reaction to a loss to a familiar by a football town hoping for the best but expecting the worst from a coach it does not really trust and an offense run by a quarterback it can't decide if it likes?

This uncentered sense manifested most seriously this week around tailback Clinton Portis. In a radio interview on Tuesday, Clinton was, as Dan Steinberg put it, quote given unquote several opportunities to critique the playcalling, strategy or his use or number of carries in the Giants game, and declined (op. cit.).

Then magically two days later the Washington Post runs a story on how the Redskins still run through Clinton, with this as the headline:

Redskins Succeed When Portis Does, but Back Isn't Clamoring for More Touches

Geez that's not too much of leading headline now is it?

The piece leads with that most hallowed NFL stat, the correlation of one hundred yard rushing games by the lead tailback and games won. When Clinton Portis runs for one hundred or more yards the Redskins are 21-4. Throw in Ladell Betts' six one hundred yard games in 2006 when Clinton was ailing with a separated shoulder, the team was 3-3 in those games, and the stat moves to 24-7, a damn good percentage, one enough to get you in the playoffs every year.

So the piece uses dry statistics to tease out an emotional response, that if Clinton is not shrieking like Real Housewife for more carries that his heart must not be in it.

Which is wrong. Yes Clinton Portis is an old 28, with more than 2000 carries in his NFL career, and yes his per carry average has dropped more than a yard since his arrival in Washington in 2004 (op. cit.), and yes his explosion is gone, no more 70 yards runs to daylight from Clinton.

And finally yes the notion that Ladell Betts can become some regular third down option would seem to work counter to the needs of the offense, Clinton is the superior blocker and pass catcher, third down is when you need that the most.

Washington needs to take a breath, the season is just getting started, yes Clinton Portis is not the same guy he was a few years ago, the plan from now on is likely to sacrifice carries and yards in each game in exchange for having a healthy and strong Clinton Portis down the stretch at the end of the season, if the Redskins are to make a run into January they are going to need to be able to run the ball and that means preserving Clinton.

Put another way, if the Redskins are to succeed while stretching Clinton Portis over a whole season, this precious stat will need a critical review.

Clinton Portis running past Osi Umenyiora: AP photo from here.