The Washington Football Team are firmly in the mix for the playoffs after a stunning road win over the previously unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers but could be without one of their most important players for a crucial game with the San Francisco 49ers.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that rookie running back Antonio Gibson is dealing with a painful case of turf toe and is a doubt to face the Niners in their temporary home of Arizona.
It is difficult to overstate how impressive Gibson’s rookie year has been and how key he has been to a Washington team tied for the NFC East lead with the New York Giants at 5-7.
Drafted in the third round after starring as a running back-wide receiver hybrid at Memphis, Gibson has flourished in unexpected fashion.
Instead of continuing to be used in that versatile role, Gibson has made the starting running back job his own.
And, were it not for the exceptional seasons being put together by Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson, he would probably be the recipient of some Offensive Rookie of the Year buzz.
Gibson has rushed for 659 yards this season and has scored 11 touchdowns, only Dalvin Cook (13) and Derrick Henry (12) have more scores on the ground in 2020.
A list of rookie RBs since 2000 who’ve had 10+ rushing TDs through the first 12 weeks of the season
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) December 5, 2020
J.K. Dobbins (5.4) is the sole rookie running back with a higher yards per carry average than that of Gibson (4.7).
Breaking tackles has been a forte for Gibson in his maiden season. He averages a broken tackle every 8.8 rush attempts, the sixth-best rate in the NFL.
Though his receiving abilities have not been used to the extent they were by Memphis, he has still demonstrated significant value in that area of the game.
He has caught 32 of his 39 targets for 233 yards and is sixth among all running backs with 8.8 yards after catch per reception.
If he is absent against San Francisco, Washington will be missing arguably the focal point of the offense.
The case can be made that it may not matter given they pulled out a victory against a Steelers defense that has a much more ferocious pass rush than the Nick Bosa-less 49ers, despite Gibson missing most of that contest.
But the reality is Washington possess one of the least efficient offenses in the NFL, averaging just 4.7 yards per play.
That should not improve with Gibson out of the line-up, with a 49ers defense that ranks top 10 in the NFL against the run likely to be able to key in on Washington’s ground game and make former San Francisco first overall pick Alex Smith have to win the game with his arm.
Smith just about managed to do that against Pittsburgh but had significant help from the Washington defense. Ron Rivera’s team boasts tremendous strength in depth on the defensive line, which will hope to force yet more turnovers from a 49ers team that has committed at least two in eight games this season.
There is still a clear path to victory for Washington but, if they are without Gibson, it will be a more difficult one.