- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2019

ASHBURN — Maybe “optimism” isn’t the right word here, but Adrian Peterson seems to believe in the Washington Redskins‘ ability to end the season on a winning streak.

After Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills dropped Washington to 1-8, Peterson said the team’s goal was still to finish with the best record it mathematically can.

“You just continue to get better. The goal now is 8-8,” Peterson said, after alluding to the fact that 8-8 teams have made the playoffs before. “It was 9-7, now it’s 8-8. That’s the way you have to look at it.”

The reality is, that almost never happens when a team starts a season the way Washington has.

More than halfway through the season, the Redskins enter their bye week with an interim head coach, a rookie quarterback coming off a tepid first start and more questions about the grand scheme of things than how they can finish .500. Here’s a look at how the team is approaching its bye and what lies ahead.

Extra work this week

When Jay Gruden was coach, his style was to give his players the full bye week off. That’s not how Bill Callahan plans to do things.

The Redskins will practice in shells Wednesday and then have Thursday through Sunday off, the minimum four days required by the collective bargaining agreement. Callahan’s thinking was simple: At 1-8, there’s plenty to fix, and they need the reps.

“I think it’s a practice that’s been designed to implement the changes that we make coming off the self-scout,” Callahan said. “That’s a big aspect of it. So as we delve and take a deep dive into the self-scout, we can make the appropriate changes. I know we need work, third down, red zone, as I mentioned last night, we’ve got to find a way to get it in better than what we’re doing.”

On the coaching side of things, Callahan plans to use the week to “take a fine-tooth comb” through the entire season up to this point — assessing games before Gruden was fired and after with the same eye.

Remaining schedule

When the Redskins return from their bye week, almost a month will have passed since their last home game against the 49ers. They’ll be rewarded with consecutive home games: the New York Jets, their final AFC opponent of the year, and the Detroit Lions.

Following that is a trip to Carolina to start December. It’s looking more and more each week like Cam Newton won’t play again this year, so the Redskins could face fill-in quarterback Kyle Allen instead.

Then it’s a visit to the 7-2 Green Bay Packers before Washington wraps up with NFC East rivals for the final three weeks: hosting the Eagles, hosting the Giants and visiting the Cowboys. Both Philadelphia (5-4) and Dallas (4-3 entering “Monday Night Football”) are likely to have something to fight for in late December, as the division title looks destined to come down to them just like it did a year ago.

ESPN’s Football Power Index favors the Redskins to win only two of their remaining seven games: the Jets and the Giants.

Goals for the rest of the year

For a team like the Redskins, for whom the playoffs are no longer a realistic hope, the rest of the year is better spent evaluating pieces for the future and trying to shore up yearlong problems so ideally, they won’t carry over into next year.

One of several problems on Washington’s list has to be the third-down defense. Through nine games, the Redskins have allowed their opponents to convert on an even 50% of all third downs.

“There’s always that 35 percent, 40 percent chance that a team’s going to convert. That’s the basis of our league,” Callahan said. “But when you get into longer downs and distances, those are the areas that we’ve got to contain and when we get into double-digits we’ve got to do a better job.”

He pointed to a third-and-18 in the fourth quarter of their loss to Buffalo, where the Bills gained 23 yards on a deep pass along the sideline to John Brown, as “uncharacteristic” and disappointing.

There’s also the question of starting quarterback, which Callahan deflected for the second day. The rest of the season would afford Dwayne Haskins to get more reps and show the Redskins what exactly they have in him. But Callahan said he won’t name a Week 11 starter until next Monday.

However things shake out, the season is far from over, and Peterson’s comments illustrate that the players have no interest in lying down the rest of the way, even as dissatisfaction builds.

“There’s definitely frustration, but these guys know how to handle it,” Jonathan Allen said Sunday. “So, back to the drawing board, get ready for New York and we just have to use this bye week to get ready and get your body back right.”

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