MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The determined look earlier in the week spoke volumes; the look of joy after the game did the same. Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson’s frustration over the run game — or the lack of one — was mounting. Finally, Peterson could exhale, smile and enjoy what had just transpired. It wasn’t a declaration that their run game was back; it was, they hope, a start.
Not only did the Redskins win for the first time, but Peterson cracked the 100-yard mark for the 55th time. A 17-16 win against the Miami Dolphins (0-5) doesn’t signal a turnaround for the Redskins, but their 145 yards rushing — 118 by Peterson — at least provides optimism.
Chris Berman and Tom Jackson recap the weekend’s games with extended highlights and analysis.
The show will stream live at 7:30 p.m. ET each Sunday during the 2019 season and will be available on demand each week until late Wednesday night. Watch on ESPN+
In order for the Redskins to do more than beat a bad team, they must continue to run the ball well. It will be a lot harder with games against San Francisco, Minnesota and Buffalo over the next three weeks.
“We want to build off it,” interim coach Bill Callahan said.
“We got to get better as we go on,” Redskins left guard Ereck Flowers said. “We’re going to play some good defenses. You want to be able to do this on good defenses.”
To establish a consistent ground game, they know they must first establish the proper mindset.
“I really thought we ran the ball well,” Callahan said. “Through three quarters, I thought we pounded it well … We came into the game thinking rush attempts. We wanted to have more attempts. We weren’t really concerned about the yardage but the attempts was really, really important.”
They had a season-high 33 rush attempts out of 58 plays. Having a lead all game helped immensely. In truth, plenty of work remains. Miami, after all, entered the game having allowed 175.8 rushing yards per game. And in the Redskins’ first three series, they managed 4 yards rushing on three Peterson runs.
However, because the defense shut down Miami’s offense, Washington could stay committed. It also led to big pass plays. It should have led to more and that’s one reason they’ve struggled to stay with the run; Sunday, they were 2 of 11 on third down. Quarterback Case Keenum missed on some throws and had another long one — that came off a run fake — dropped. Against good teams, missing opportunities limits possessions and leads to double-digit deficits.
The Redskins also couldn’t close out the game on the ground: After taking a 17-3 lead late in the third quarter, their backs ran the ball eight more times for 27 yards and managed one first down on the ground. Still, it beat the alternative.
“It felt good to get out there and get into a groove,” Peterson said. “I left some out there, but we all needed this, to get our bodies conditioned to running the ball throughout the game.”
In the first five games, no back carried the ball more than 12 times. Falling behind by double digits often prevented the Redskins from sticking to the run. But Callahan, who replaced the fired Jay Gruden on Monday, stressed his desire to find an offensive identity. And he wanted it from the run game.
On the Redskins’ fourth series, Peterson rushed for 60 yards. Then, after seven runs got them to the Miami 25-yard line, the run threat led to a touchdown. On second-and-7, the Dolphins stacked the box with eight defenders against Washington’s two-tight-end look. A run fake, max protection and receiver Terry McLaurin’s route running led to a touchdown pass.
Later in the game, on second-and-10 from their own 1-yard line, using another two-tight-end look, McLaurin caught a 32-yard pass on an out pattern.
“You saw some of the play-action hits late in the game,” Keenum said. “That opens up a whole new ballgame when they have to bring that many people up in the box. So I’m excited to get that part of the offense going.”
Or, as Callahan said, “There were some wide-open routes that complemented what we were doing in the running game.”
Entering the game, according to Next Gen Stats, the Redskins had used multiple tight ends on 39 of their 307 plays. Sunday, they used that look on 21 of 58 snaps.
“We want to bring physicality,” Flowers said. “That’s pretty much the mindset, putting your head down and just working … It was great; everyone enjoys it. This was a positive step.”
On Thursday, Peterson, clearly frustrated under Gruden, said of the emphasis on the run: “I’m hyped about it. It’s [been] totally opposite from what we did last year when we were able to be more successful as a team. Obviously something isn’t working so there needs to be some sort of change.”
Sunday, he liked that they could use the same run play multiple times, giving him a chance to use knowledge based on earlier attempts. He heeded the words of his former running backs coach in Minnesota, Eric Bieniemy: “famine, famine, feast” — be patient and the big runs will come. That happened Sunday. Finally.
“You definitely get into the groove,” Peterson said, “as far as the possibilities of what could happen. … That’s what we want to be about.”