- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ironically, the more Morris runs the ball the better chance there is for Helu. It likely means more plays for Washington, more time of possession and more chances to get to the plays they want. The lack of third-down success limits the opportunities for Helu. And it’s not like pass plays are always called for him: his two biggest receptions versus Oakland came when quarterback Robert Griffin III escaped the pocket and dumped the ball to him.
Helu has touched the ball 21 times in the first four games combined, though 15 occurred against Oakland when Morris missed the fourth quarter with bruised ribs.
Still, even with Helu’s playmaking ability as a third-down back, finding room for both is difficult.
“I’d like to get Helu out there more,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s always a hard thing when you’ve got two guys you believe in and with the success Alf's had last year and how much we do believe in Alf, so we don’t like to just keep rotating those guys all the time…. You don’t ever want to do that at the expense of another one of your good players.”
Helu played only three games last season because of turf toe. But he looked sharp this summer, both in training camp and preseason games. However, he looked better in the pass game; he’s capable of snapping off excellent runs in the ground game, but his impatience getting to the hole at times also leads to missed opportunities. Morris is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, so they want him getting those carries. Still, Helu's quick feet always makes him a threat.
When the Redskins have passed this season, they’ve mostly looked downfield in an attempt to get big plays to overcome double-digit deficits. The Redskins could always experiment with both in the backfield, but that’s something you do when you have momentum and have a defense confused, not when you’re trying to come from behind.
The big area that must improve is third downs, where the Redskins are 26th in the NFL, converting just 32.0 percent. Then again, they ranked just 24th at 35.8 percent a year ago. They just happened to be better with big plays on earlier downs, one reason they averaged 11.9 third downs per game in 2012 compared to 12.5 through four games this season.
“When his time comes, we can never predict it as coaches, but you hope he’s ready for it,” Shanahan said. “He got that opportunity versus Oakland and I thought he was one of the main reasons we were able to win the game. … He looked good. I think he’s looked that way all this year. I think he looked that way starting about half way through his rookie year. We believe in Roy.”