- - Sunday, October 21, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LANDOVER — Adrian Peterson is making Jay Gruden lazy.

Who needs drive, ingenuity and creativity, when you can trade those in for the luxury of handing off to an age-defying runner who’s turning back the clock? Why try to devise new and innovative ways to maximize your limited offensive attack, when you simply can let Peterson do the heavy lifting?

That wasn’t a bad idea 10 years ago, or five years ago, or maybe even three years ago. In 2015, at age 30, Peterson led the league in rushing and carries. But he missed 15 games the following year with a torn meniscus in his right knee … which occurred five seasons after he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.

Peterson has cheated the odds twice in his Hall of Fame career. Asking him to do so once again is probably asking for trouble.

But that hasn’t dissuaded Gruden from putting the offense on the veteran’s back. Peterson rewarded his coach by carrying Washington to a 20-17 victory Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. A.P. rushed for 99 yards on 24 carries, but it seemed like he toted the ball twice as much.

Perhaps that had something to do with the predictability of Gruden’s play calling. Four of Washington’s first five offensive possessions began with quarterback Alex Smith handing off to Peterson. Washington had three drives in the third quarter. Care to guess what happened on first down each time?

I understand he can have an intoxicating effect. The temptation is overwhelming. In four of Washington’s six games, Peterson has rushed for 96 yards or more. Last week against Carolina, like Sunday against Dallas, he fell just shy of 100 yards (97). He has shown a burst, acceleration, and power that belies his age. His relentless work ethic and chiseled physique make him a physical marvel like few we’ve ever seen.

But, seriously. This workload doesn’t bode well for Washington’s long-term success. He’s certainly a building block, but at age 33, he can’t be the walls, the roof and the four cornerstones.

Something has to give, and the smart money is on his body.

Perhaps this all is a bit harsh, considering that Washington played without starting receivers Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder, and was missing third-down back Chris Thompson as well. They represent the offense’s biggest playmakers outside of tight end Jordan Reed, and Gruden certainly had to rely on Peterson more in their absence.

However, Washington needs to get more out of whoever lines up on Sunday. Smith’s limitations seem to be growing from week-to-week. Josh Doctson is taking forever to become a force at wideout. No other halfback has gained Gruden’s trust (although Kapri Bibs made a nice impression with a touchdown and 56 yards from scrimmage against the Cowboys).

Gruden needs to rediscover his inner guru and stop relying so heavily on Peterson’s magic. Play-action fakes on first-and-10 aren’t radical. But the coach shuns them like triple-reverse flea-flickers. Smith’s arm doesn’t scare anyone, but a few more designed runs would help. So would more attention to Reed, who was targeted only four times Sunday.

The trend through six games is a clear and present danger to Peterson’s well-being and the team’s overall success. In the losses against Indianapolis and New Orleans, A.P. rushed 11 and four times, respectively. In four wins, he has averaged 21.5 carries. If wins are equated to Peterson’s workload, and Gruden keeps going to that well as if his job depends on it, the offense will become even more one-dimensional.

Washington’s best chance for sustained winning involves more counterpunching off of Peterson’s strength. Let Smith throw more dinks and dunks early on. Let him take a few more deep shots, too, like the passes to Doctson that just missed. Make it a multifaceted attack, even if no one aspect is as efficient as Peterson has been in victories.

There were some nice flashes Sunday, including Bibbs and Michael Floyd. Gruden needs to overcome any tendency to take the easy way out and run Peterson into the ground. Washington doesn’t have the league’s most dynamic and explosive weapons, but with solid defense and special teams, there’s enough to compete if Gruden isn’t too predictable.

The formula has worked more times than not this season — and it just might be enough to win the suspect NFC East — but Washington needs more production on offense besides A.P.

He’s not going to complain about the workload. He probably feels like he needs more carries. But Smith and the passing game won’t develop if all they do is block and watch Peterson run.

As tempting and enjoyable as that has been, Gruden needs to have more up his sleeve.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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