The highlight of the Washington Redskins trip to the Cleveland Browns, won't be the quarterback duel between Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden.
No, it will be the matchup between rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson. They were selected at opposite ends of the draft, but they have both impressed in the pros.
The Browns traded up to take Richardson with the third overall pick. The ex-Alabama star was considered the most complete running back in 2012's draft.
Morris meanwhile, had to wait until the sixth round to hear his name called. The Redskins were probably a dream destination.
That's because head coach Mike Shanahan specialises in producing 1,000-yard runners in the pros. Morris has emerged from obscurity to become Shanahan's latest late-round find at the position.
He is dominating the more high-profile Richardson statistically. Morris has rushed for 1,235 yards in 13 starts. He is averaging 4.9 yards a carry and has seven rushing touchdowns to his credit.
The key to his success has been the zone-blocking scheme Shanahan has helped make famous. The Redskins offensive line is a mobile, agile group that excels at executing tandem blocking on the move.
They create natural cutback lanes for Morris to exploit. He has the vision, acceleration and quick decision-making to see these lanes the instant they develop and turn back through them.
There's also no doubt that Morris benefits from playing behind a dynamic athlete like Griffin. A quarterback who can make plays with his feet, always improves a running game.
So it has proved, as the Redskins currently boast the best ground game in the NFL. They are winning with the run and Morris is a significant part of that.
Washington's staff has moulded together their zone-blocking concepts with principles of the read-option offense Griffin ran in college. This combination of backfield deception and mobile blocking, is opening up huge holes in the running game.
If the Redskins make the playoffs it will be thanks to their versatile rushing attack. They will be confident about exploiting a Browns defense that is ranked 17th against the run.
Cleveland's 4-3 front is surrendering 120.5 yards per game. The Browns best chance to negate Morris, will be to challenge his ball security.
The former Florida Atlantic prospect has fumbled four times, losing three. He has spilled the ball at key moments, in his last two games.
The Browns have forced 14 fumbles this season. Against hated rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12, the Browns forced six fumbles from four running backs and recovered four of them.
Richardson's rookie season hasn't been quite as prolific. He's currently rushed for 869 yards, but he's only averaged 3.5 a carry.
Consistency has been the issue and the Browns haven't always given Richardson to chance to be the workhorse. When he's been at his best, Richardson has been exceptional.
The 5'9", 230-pounder has displayed a brute force power that often flattens would-be tacklers. He's also showcased the quick burst to break for big gains.
Like Morris, Richardson has been very effective near the goal line. His excellent footwork and toughness between-the-tackles, has contributed to nine rushing touchdowns.
The Browns run a West Coast offense, so they incorporate some of the same zone-blocking techniques as the Redskins. However, they also let Richardson use his power from I-formation looks, on straight-ahead draw plays.
The 21-year-old has also proved himself an adept receiver. He has recorded 45 receptions for 348 yards and a touchdown.
Richardson is certainly more of a multi-purpose back than Morris. With wide receiver Josh Gordon stretching defenses deep, Richardson has room to produce underneath, both as a runner and in the passing game.
He will be motivated to bounce back from a poor showing against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14. Richardson managed only 42 yards on 18 carries, averaging a woeful 2.3 yards per attempt.
He did however, again prove his instincts as a goal-line runner. Richardson converted two short-yardage rushing touchdowns in the second half.
He is definitely the player to watch when the Browns are anywhere inside the 10-yard line. Of course, Richardson may find rebounding difficult against Washington's seventh-ranked rush defense.
Repelling the run is the one thing the Redskins' 3-4 front does well. Defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, along with linebacker Perry Riley, are filling gaps and getting into the backfield.
The Browns' pass attack has improved recently, but Weeden still needs Richardson, or at least the threat of him, to succeed.
Both the Browns and the Redskins go as far as their running backs take them. Whoever wins the duel between Morris and Richardson, will determine which team wins the game.787551