What does Ron Rivera’s ‘very hopeful’ message on Antonio Gibson actually mean?

What does Rivera's 'very hopeful' message on Antonio Gibson actually mean? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In five of Washington’s six wins this season at least three running backs all got multiple carries. The Football Team carried three running backs – Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber – each with distinguished roles and specific purposes.

That formula took a major hit two weeks ago in Pittsburgh when the rookie stud Gibson went down with a toe injury. He got just two carries in the early going against the Steelers, and missed all of last week’s game against San Francisco. 

Despite the injury, Washington coach Ron Rivera continues to sound optimistic about Gibson’s prospects.

“Very hopeful,” Rivera said of Gibson’s recovery. “We want to have everybody ready to roll.”

In the words of the late, great Rich Tandler, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. 

Washington signed Lamar Miller earlier this week, and while Covid protocols won’t let the former Pro Bowler play this week, he should be ready to roll for Week 16 against Carolina. 

Even in a reduced role or merely for depth, signing Miller is not good news for Gibson’s recovery.

“We checked up on him and found out everybody thought he’s good to go. We’re looking forward to having a veteran guy give us some quality minutes available just in case,” Rivera said of Miller. “That’s what this is more so than anything else, just an insurance policy more so than anything else.”

Gibson hasn’t practiced since the Steelers game, so at least for Washington’s content this weekend against Seattle, it’s safe to assume he will miss his second consecutive game. 

The offense then will probably look similar to what Washington rolled out against the 49ers, and it wasn’t pretty. 

Download and subscribe to the Washington Football Talk Podcast

In that game, QB Alex Smith hurt his calf and had to come out of the game. Dwayne Haskins entered in relief. In the first half, Smith looked clearly hurt and very inaccurate. In the second half, Haskins looked marginally better than the injured-Smith, but inconsistent. 

Smith’s status for Sunday is far from certain and Haskins has gotten the first-team work in practice. 

Add all that up, and it would sure be nice for Washington to have Gibson on Sunday. That’s probably not going to happen. 

Last week, however, McKissic impressed. 

He rushed 11 times for 68 yards and caught another two passes for 18 yards. Barber contributed too with 12 carries for 27 yards and two catches for one yard. McKissic is dynamic; Barber is a short-yardage specialist. 

Neither is Gibson, but the duo can help on the ground. 

Unfortunately, Seattle’s defense is stout against the run. The Seahawks give up just 95 yards-per-game on the ground, which ranks 4th in the NFL. Seattle’s defense can be beat through the air.

In fact, the Seahawks defense ranks as the worst pass defense in the league, giving up nearly 300 yards-per-game. Which brings everything back to the Washington quarterback, an equation that right now doesn’t look to have good results. 

Washington’s run game has been a work in progress for much of the year. The team averages a little more than 100 rush yards-per-game and ranks in the bottom third of the league. 

The run game started to take off in the last month – and then Gibson got hurt. 

It’s not impossible to envision a successful run game this weekend against Seattle, but for a Washington dealing with key injuries, it seems like tough sledding ahead. 

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up