LANDOVER, Md. — If the Washington Redskins are going to make a run to get back to the playoffs after a 2-2 start, they’ll need Matt Jones to have more games like he had against the Cleveland Browns.
Jones rushed 22 times for 117 yards in the Redskins’ 31-20 victory Sunday, his first 100-plus-yard game of the season. It was also his most carries of the season — not a coincidence for a team that has struggled to find offensive balance.
“A big back like that runs better when the defense gets worn down and he gets in the flow of the game,” coach Jay Gruden said. “It’s hard for a running back to really get in the flow of the game with six attempts. The type of game that we had today we were able to get him some more carries, and he did a good job and took advantage of it.”
Gruden liked that Jones ran decisively, as opposed to when he didn’t have as many carries. Jones said he’s still learning how to take advantage of his size as a power runner.
“It’s kind of hard to tackle a guy like me,” said Jones, whose next test is at the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) next Sunday. “I’m learning from guys around the league — Marshawn Lynch last year, guys like Adrian Peterson, they get downhill and they finish runs.”
Jones had seven carries in a Week 1 loss to the Steelers, 13 in a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys and 17 in a Week 3 win over the Giants. He kept the defense honest against Cleveland (0-4), opening up the field for quarterback Kirk Cousins to find tight end Jordan Reed and others for wide-open completions as the Redskins (2-2) went 4 for 5 in the red zone.
Because Jones and third-down back Chris Thompson consistently gained yards on the ground, the Redskins were even able to go long a couple of times to DeSean Jackson. Twice the Browns were flagged for pass interference, penalties that led to 71 yards of offense.
Here are some other things learned from the Redskins’ victory over the Browns:
PROTECT THE BALL: It wouldn’t be surprising to see Browns coach Hue Jackson place extra emphasis on protecting the football during practice ahead of next Sunday’s game against the visiting New England Patriots (3-1), who will get Tom Brady back from his four-game suspension. Cleveland gave the ball to Washington on three consecutive possessions — fumbles by Malcolm Johnson and Duke Johnson, and an interception by Cody Kessler.
“That’s the key to our season: Can’t turn it over,” Jackson said.
TACKLE SOMEBODY: Missed tackles continue to be a major area of concern for the Redskins’ defense.
“The coaches can go over it until they’re blue in the face, but when it’s time to get on the field that coach (isn’t) going to be on the field to help you,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “We got to learn how to tackle.”
REED STILL MATCHUP NIGHTMARE: Reed should be the Redskins’ perfect red zone target given how difficult he is to cover.
“He’s a receiver in a tight end body,” Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun said after Reed had two touchdown catches. “He moves like a receiver, but he’s 240, 250.”
GO WITH CRO: Seems clear that the Browns are going to rely more and more on RB Isaiah Crowell, who heads into Week 5 with 386 yards on the ground, the most by a Browns player since Hall of Famer Jim Brown gained 476 in 1965. Crowell is also the first Browns player since Earnest Byner in 1985 to run for at least 60 yards in each of a season’s first four games.
“I still think there’s more in there,” said Jackson, who joked that he needs to figure out a way to keep Crowell from getting tired, maybe even by using an oxygen tank on the field.
Said Crowell: “I’m kind of more comfortable and I feel like I’m getting more opportunities, so I appreciate my coach for trusting me.”
AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.