- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2019

ASHBURN — When Adrian Peterson was with the Minnesota Vikings, his former running backs coach, Eric Bieniemy, used to have a saying to describe the run game: “Famine, famine, feast.” Keep taking three-or-four-yard gains and eventually, a big play will break, the Redskins running back recalled.

Interim coach Bill Callahan shares a similar mindset, and in Sunday’s 17-16 win over the Miami Dolphins, that approach worked out in Washington’s favor.

Washington rushed for 145 yards on 33 carries — breaking off gains of 18 and 25 yards. The Redskins finally dominated on the ground, letting them control the pace for most of the afternoon.

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But for the Redskins, the question becomes whether Sunday’s performance was an exception or the standard moving forward. Miami, after all, had allowed 175.8 rushing yards per game through its first four games — a number the Redskins couldn’t match or surpass.

What will happen when they face better teams, like next week’s matchup with the San Francisco 49ers?

Callahan, though, liked what he saw when he looked at the film.

“We ran the ball for over 140 yards, which was tremendous when you’re on the road and pound it and give up no sacks, no penalties and only one (tackles for loss) in the run game on 30-something attempts,” Callahan said Monday. “I thought a lot of positives came out of that.”

In his first game at the helm, Callahan radically shifted Washington’s offense to a run-first mentality. Through the first five games with former coach Jay Gruden, the Redskins ran the ball on first down just 43% of the time. But against the Dolphins, Washington dialed up a run on first down a staggering 20 times out of 24 — good for 83% percent.

It wasn’t always effective either.

On Washington’s 20 first-down runs, the Redskins averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. That’s even worse than what the Redskins had done under Gruden, picking up an average of 3.2 yards on 54 carries in five games.

But from the moment Callahan took over, the 63-year-old emphasized rushing attempts — not yards per carry. The former offensive line coach is a strong believer in sticking with the run, so bigger plays can follow.

That’s what happened in Miami. The Redskins ran the ball 56% of the time (13 of 23) on second down, gaining 7.5 yards per attempt. Peterson said his team adjusted to the types of coverage they were seeing on the field as the game went on to further open up the run game.

“There was a couple of times they stuffed us, but we (were) dedicated to running the ball and being balanced,” Peterson said. “I feel like we were able to do that as an offense.”

Still, there will be times the Redskins will be forced to throw. They were able to run consistently because Miami trailed for most of the afternoon. That’s not going to happen every game. And even with the lead, the Redskins failed to fully put away the Dolphins — almost blowing a 14-point cushion in the fourth.

Washington had just 21 yards rushing in that quarter on eight attempts, failing to run out the clock. Instead, the Dolphins got back into it, only losing when they failed to convert a two-point conversion with seconds left.

Next Sunday, the Redskins will have their hands full as the undefeated 49ers have the sixth-best run defense in the league, giving up just 87.2 yards per game.

The Redskins also can’t be sure that they’ll have the same type of luck when it comes to avoiding penalties. For the first time this season, the offense went without being called for a penalty Sunday — helping Washington avoid unfavorable situations.

Though Callahan brought referees to practice last week to put an emphasis on cleaning up mistakes, the interim coach admitted he didn’t know if it made a difference.

“That’s just one game, you know?” Callahan said. “Everything’s different, next week’s crew may call completely different and emphasize something different. We may play different. So I can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

Regardless, the Redskins appear set on sticking with the run as long as possible. They see it as a positive for the defense, as well.

Washington being able to run the ball against Miami was “huge,” especially factoring in the heat during the game, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

“It was very big, you know the sun beating down on us and they got it situated in the shade on their sideline and we’re getting beaten down in the sun,” Kerrigan said. But that’s a big thing for our offense to be able to control the clock and keep us on the sideline as much as possible.”

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