Dwayne Washington’s Woes As Power Back Can be Traced To Blocking, Not Talent

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Sophomore running back Dwayne Washington is the most recent Detroit Lion to draw fans’ ire during a three-game skid. The much-maligned Washington was limited to twelve yards on six carries against the Steelers, furthering the widely-held perception that he’s incapable of fulfilling the role of short yardage back.

After the game, reporters questioned a testy Jim Caldwell as to why Washington was deployed in that capacity. Caldwell provided them with laptop fodder, but perhaps not the sort they expected. After quipping, “Because he can run with power,” Caldwell bristled at a follow-up question and volleyed condescension at the reporter. Meanwhile, One Pride nation took to social media to bemoan Washington and petitioned Bob Quinn to trade for a more suitable power back in advance of the deadline. Alas, 4 p.m. came and went and Allen Park remained tranquil.

Before I proceed, a caveat: I’m a Washington apologist, so beware all ye who enter. With that out of the way, I’m here to tell you that the narrative surrounding Dwayne Washington is demonstrably false.

Dwayne Washington Converted at a 50% Rate in 2016

He was the team’s best running option in power situations in 2016. While that’s not exactly a high bar, he converted three of six attempts for either a first down or a touchdown in 2016.

Surprisingly, Theo Riddick also converted three of six attempts, but I would hope nobody would argue Riddick runs with more power than Washington. On the other hand, fan favorite Zach Zenner converted just one of six attempts. Ameer Abdullah was one-for-one in an injury-shortened season.

Washington was given two opportunities in power situations on Sunday, and came up short on both. We’ll break down the three shortcomings of 2016, and then his two failed conversions against Pittsburgh. And when we do, we’ll see a trend emerge.

Breaking Down Failed Attempts in 2016

The first failed conversion came on 1st & Goal at the 1-yard line against Indianapolis. The Lions ran a counter play out of 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) with a sixth offensive lineman. The play isn’t blocked well by Laken Tomlinson, who whiffs a block on DT Zach Kerr. Still, Washington has a real chance to get in here and fails to. You could make the argument that he crossed the goal line, but it’s inconclusive at all angles. He does a good job of absorbing the contact, but ideally, he sticks this ball across the goal line here. It’s worth noting that the Lions called the exact same counter on the next play and Washington punched it in.

This one-yard loss came at the hands of Mike Daniels on 3rd & Goal from the Packers’ 1-yard line. Mike Daniels uses great strength, pad level, and burst off the ball to drive Larry Warford into two other offensive linemen, creating a traffic jam. This play was over before it even got started, but Washington was able to push the pile and minimize the loss on an otherwise futile play.

The last play from 2016 was yet another attempt from the opponent’s 1-yard line, this time against the Cowboys. On this rep, you could make the case that Washington should attempt a cutback, but the lane he took was still available to him. You’ll notice his right foot get snagged on Larry Warford’s left foot, which causes him to lose his power base as he approaches the goal line. This speaks to Washington’s mindfulness of his blocks – which is an area he could certainly improve in – but not his ability to run powerfully.

Sunday vs. Pittsburgh

In the Pittsburgh game, the issue was blocking. On this play, Graham Glasgow fails to cut Javon Hargrave, who meets Washington in the hole with the help of teammate Vince Williams. Football is a game of physics and those two are listed at a combined 538 lbs. Washington ultimately fails to convert this attempt, but he plays with great pad level and contact balance, which speaks to his power as a runner.

On the second attempt, Washington is met by a free-running Sean Davis in the hole, who cuts him down. Obviously, you’d love to see Washington shake him off, but there’s no shame in this. Davis is a hard-hitting safety and this was simply a great tackle by an unblocked player.

More often than not, Dwayne Washington wasn’t the problem. He has often been a victim of bad blocking, and that was certainly against the case on Sunday. It is important to evaluate his traits using context, and not his raw statistics. He has demonstrated the ability to run with good pad level, contact balance, forward lean, and strength, and should continue to be the Lions’ power back for the rest of the season. And with good reason.

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