Roy Helu is becoming too productive to ignore. Give the Washington Redskins rookie a start, and he’s good for about 150 yards of total offense.
At least that’s what happened the first two times he got the nod. He piled up 41 yards rushing and 105 receiving against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 6 but found himself back at second-string the following week.
Now he’s coming off a 162-yard day – 108 rushing, 54 receiving – and a leap-the-defender touchdown in a 23-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks that broke a six-game losing streak.
Coach Mike Shanahan is dealing with uncertainty at many positions as he heads into December with a team that is 4-7, but the running back position looks settled – for now.
”He’s our starter, for sure,” Shanahan said Monday.
Helu was part of a day of Redskins resilience. Anthony Armstrong finally caught another pass – his first in five weeks – and it was a big one, a 50-yard touchdown grab that gave Washington the lead in the fourth quarter. It was the team’s longest completion of the season, and it more than doubled Armstrong’s yardage total for 2011.
DeAngelo Hall, who a week ago said he ought to be cut because of the way he was playing, made the game-clinching interception in the final minute. Rex Grossman completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 314 yards, both season-highs. A defense that allowed 27 points against the Dallas Cowboys a week earlier clamped down, proving the Redskins still have some pride despite the longest losing stretch in Shanahan’s head coaching career.
”It’s tough,” Shanahan said. ”That’s what you’re in this game to do, is to win. But at the same time, when you’re around a football team that’s giving you everything they’ve got, you feel good. I’ve been around some teams that have been on losing streaks and you didn’t feel like you got the type of effort that you’re hoping for.
”That’s why I feel good about the character of this football team, and it was nice to find a way to win because they deserved to win. Our players have been working extremely hard, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
To keep it going, Shanahan needs the solid running game that was a hallmark of his Denver Broncos teams. He got it Sunday, when Helu gave the Redskins only their second 100-yard rushing performance of the season.
The fourth-round draft pick from Nebraska found yards when there appeared to be none, and his acrobatic 28-yard touchdown run ignited the fourth-quarter rally. Shanahan called the play ”the difference in the game.”
”You can see he got some tough yards,” Shanahan said. ”He broke some tackles. He made some people miss. You could some elusiveness, power, some speed. That’s what you look for in a running back. He played with a lot of confidence. He knew he was going to be the guy. We told him he was going to have the workload, and he really took advantage of his opportunity.”
Tim Hightower emerged from training camp as the starting tailback, but he was lost for the season with a knee injury five weeks ago. Ryan Torain had a 135-yard game in relief against the St. Louis Rams but failed to tally more than 22 yards in any of his four starts.
Helu set a Redskins franchise record with 14 catches against the 49ers in his first start, but Shanahan kept going back to Torain because Helu was still developing, especially as a blocker in pass protection.
On Sunday, it was Helu all the way – with more to come as the Redskins prepare to host the New York Jets.
”We’re going to go with the guy with the hot hand,” Shanahan said.
Notes: Shanahan said breakdowns in blocking technique were to blame when the Seahawks blocked a field goal in the second quarter and an extra point in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have had four field goals blocked this season, and injuries have prompted a shuffling of the personnel up front. ”Unless you have some guys on the team that I don’t know of – there’s not a whole lot of options,” Shanahan said. Shanahan said Graham Gano was not to blame on either play and will remain the team’s kicker. … FB Darrel Young, who suffered a concussion on Sunday, will undergo tests over the next couple of days to determine when he can return. … DE Stephen Bowen tore the PCL in his left knee and is sore but will not require surgery. ”Hopefully he’ll be able to play this weekend,” Shanahan said.