- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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They know that as well as anyone, coming off a season in which much of their offensive success stemmed from the ground game. But slow starts, poor third-down conversions and falling behind in games has equaled a ground game that yearns for more.
The good news for Washington is that Morris expects to play Sunday at Dallas. He said the bruised ribs he suffered against Oakland feel fine, with some "remnants" of the injury. But Morris practiced in full Monday and said it's "nothing serious, nothing that will hinder me out there playing so I'm not worried about it."
Which is what the Redskins need. Morris averages 5.3 yards per carry after gaining 4.8 per run a year ago en route to 1,613 regular-season yards. He also averages 2.30 yards after contact, after getting 1.92 per run in 2012. The big number: Morris averaged 20.9 carries per game in 2012; he's averaging 14 this season.
"It's not that teams know who I am, they do know but at the same time I'm not getting that many carries," Morris said. "As long as we win I [couldn't] care less. I'll do my part regardless."
Morris said he's not frustrated.
"Even if it's not running the ball I can get in on the passing game," Morris said, "keeping the blitz off Robert so he can get that opportunity to make his reads and make his throws. Whatever I can do to help my team win, even if they want me to run down on special teams I'm fine with that."
It doesn't change his approach or alter his enjoyment, either.
"I love what I do. I have fun out there," Morris said. "My fun isn't dependent on how many carries I get or how many touchdowns I score or how many yards I get. I get to do what I love to do every day. I'm blessed enough to be in the NFL. Hundreds of thousands of people who wish they were in our shoes but they're not. I don't take it for granted. I appreciate it."
But there's no doubt the Redskins appreciate what Morris brings to the ground game -- and its importance to the offense and quarterback Robert Griffin III's passing. They love using play-action passes, but it's hard to do that when you can't run as much or have fallen behind too far. And when the run game is clicking, it forces the defense to use a safety closer to the line of scrimmage.
"It opens up doors for everything you do," Redskins fullback Darrel Young said. "It means the deep ball's open and the corners have to play man. I'll take my chances with Pierre [Garcon] in man coverage."
The result: better passing opportunities. Last season, Griffin averaged 12.49 yards per pass attempt off play-action -- and his 169 dropbacks were second most in the NFL behind Minnesota's Christian Ponder. This year? Griffin is averaging 7.00 yards per play-action pass attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He averaged 8.6 play-action dropbacks in the first five games; 11.3 per game last season.
The real key was Griffin's play fakes fooling the linebackers, whether off regular play-action or zone read play-action. At times when the linebackers dropped back, they lost sight of the ball and were out of their lanes. The result: better alleys for after the catch.
"When everyone else is chasing the run and you get the ball, three's a lot more room because they're chasing you instead of you coming to them," Garcon said. "There's definitely a lot more room to run."
But it starts with being able to get Morris additional carries.
"It's frustrating but he's not a guy based off numbers," Young said. "He's not a guy that needs to have the ball. He's one of the coolest guys I've been around. He's still humble ... . Now we have to take it to the next level."
That's what the coaches say they want too. Nobody knows better than them how much more efficient the offense is when Morris and the ground game are churning.
"We believe in the running game," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "Usually, teams that can run have a lot of success. We always have that philosophy. Hopefully this week we can get back to where we think we can running the football."