By Mark F. Gray
For a team that remains a work in progress, the challenges for the Washington Redskins get tougher this week against the Green Bay Packers without Clinton Portis in the lineup. For all his drama, antics, and sometimes crass statements on his radio show, the Burgundy and Gold are still a better team with him in the lineup than they are without him. In order to beat the Packers the Redskins will need Ryan Torain to step up and do more than rush for 100 yards.
Portis doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being the most important cog in the Redskins offense. Not only has he averaged over 1,200 yards per season and scored 46 touchdowns in Washington, Portis brings the intangibles that have given the pedestrian unit a personality and toughness that will be hard to replace. Many have questioned his effort but there are few running backs who are missed in every down situation like he is.
There is not another running back on their roster who can run physical between the tackles and still get around the corner while averaging over three yards per carry without a pro bowl offensive lineman on his roster. When coach Mike Shanahan talked of “using him more in third down situations” it was less about his productivity on first and second down as much as he is the only back versatile enough to be a check down receiver in the passing game and a punishing blocker when picking up the blitz.
He will be missed in those situations especially with the Packers and their sack happy defense invading FedEx Field this Sunday. Mike Sellers, the 260 pound fullback who is built like Tarzan but blocks like Jane, figures to replace Portis in third down protection schemes. However, Sellers has been more of a matador in pass protection and even Portis had problems when he was leading him in short yardage situations particularly near the goal line. Portis has always been the Redskins safety valve in pass protection and without him returning to the lineup for at least a month the concerns for Donovan McNabb’s health grow dramatically.
Torain, who was one of the final cuts after training camp comes off his best performance as a pro. After Portis groin was ripped from the bone in Philadelphia last Sunday Torain rushed for 70 yards and a touchdowns to help move the offense. But as the number one tailback on the depth chart it remains to be seen if he can carry the load. If not Chad Simpson becomes the every down tailback which puts more of a burden on McNabb since he only has 15 career rushing attempts.
Washington has to run effectively for any chance at beating the Packers. The offense doesn’t have the ability to deliver a knockout blow and the secondary was exposed by the Texans and Rams before a lights off performance against the Eagles. Perhaps back to back weeks versus west coast offense teams will help them against Green Bay. Nonetheless, they have to win the time of possession battle by at least two to one for any chance at containing the potent Packers offense to win this game.
There is now a sense that the groin injury which leaves Portis sidelined for at least means he has started for the last time in D.C. and perhaps has played his final down. For a team that’s playing in a division that ripe to be stolen there’s a rush that might be premature which could be the Redskins downfall on Sunday.