ASHBURN — Adrian Peterson did a double take as soon as he was asked the question. The Redskins running back slightly pulled back, with his eyebrows scrunched together, before nodding in the affirmative that yes, he was excited about Bill Callahan’s pledged commitment to the run.
A small smile broke out in the corners of his mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m hyped about it,” Peterson said. “You look at the first four weeks I played, it was like 11, 12, 10, seven carries. It was totally the opposite of what we did last year when we were more successful as a team.”
As the Redskins prepare for the lowly Miami Dolphins on Sunday, they’re doing so with a renewed emphasis on committing to the run. Through five winless games, the Redskins rank third-to-last in rushing attempts, much to the dismay of Callahan, Washington’s new interim coach. The Redskins stopped running the ball because they trailed in games, but Callahan and others felt like it was abandoned too quickly.
Now, facing a team giving up 175.8 rushing yards per game, the Redskins have a good opportunity to get back on track.
“It’ll be exciting to see what (Callahan’s) able to do with full control and kind of doing things the way he actually wants to do them when it comes to the play-calling and stuff like that,” Peterson said. “(if) the head coach says the run game is going to be a big emphasis, then that’s what it’s going to be what it is.”
Under Gruden, Callahan had control of the run game, but did not call plays. In the Redskins’ new structure, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell will be the one calling the plays, but Callahan has the authority to overrule or change the call upon hearing it.
Detailing his philosophy to reporters, Callahan said he wants running backs to be able to establish a rhythm — something the Redskins haven’t done this year.
Peterson pointed to a play in the New England game that he felt like was a perfect example of not capitalizing on an opportunity. With 2:30 left in the first quarter on first-and-10, the Redskins ran a “14 structure,” or a mid-zone run, that resulted in a seven-yard gain.
Peterson, though, got the look he wanted. He was stopped because linebacker Dont’a Hightower made a great play to force the Peterson back inside. But the hole was there If only the Redskins had just ran it again right away, Peterson thought, it could have popped off for an even larger gain.
Instead, the Redskins took him out and didn’t run the play again until later on.
“It’s like ‘God, I’m in a rhythm and I’m feeling it,” Peterson said. “And you kind of just simmer back down. … You’re kind of just on the sidelines anxiously waiting to get back in there to get that look again.
“Now I know how Bill loves to run the ball, he might line it right back up and run it again.”
Another reason Gruden was hesitant to run the ball was due to the lack of success when they ran it. After being Washington’s leading rusher last year, Peterson is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry in 2019. As a team, Washington is averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt.
Callahan, though, dismissed yards per attempt when speaking to reporters and said he’s focused on two things: Rushing attempts and pass completions.
“That’s one of the league statistics that we all look at is rush attempts and a lot of times, your rush attempts and completions if you have more than an opponent, really you’re in good shape to win the football game,” Callahan said. “It’s a very high percentage — I think it’s over 80 percent. … “It’s not always perfect; it’s not always right. It’s just an identity that I believe in.”
Peterson has bought in, and into Callahan’s methods in general. On Thursday, he raved about Callahan’s changes to practices, noting how they felt similar to the ones during his time in Minnesota and New Orleans. Beyond focusing on an increased pace, Callahan has implemented more 9-on-7 work, reps that are designed to boost the run game.
Peterson, who pointedly noted after the loss to New England that something needed to change, said players have bought in.
“Guys are busting their butts,” Peterson said. “They’re working hard. This has been the best week of practice since I’ve been here.”