After Further Review: Why a revived Adrian Peterson should be the Falcons’ focus vs. the Redskins 

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) rushes for a touchdown against the New York Giants during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) rushes for a touchdown against the New York Giants during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Adrian Peterson has been revived this season with the Washington Redskins and there has been a direct link to his play and the team’s success so far in 2018.

In the Redskins’ five wins this season, Peterson is averaging 24 touches, 129 yards and a touchdown. In the Redskins’ two losses, Peterson has averaged just 10 touches, 48 yards and no scores.

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Now, that’s an overly simple way to look at things, but there’s no doubt that Peterson has had a major impact on the Redskins’ offense.

Through seven games, Peterson has gained 738 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns, which surpasses his totals from the last two years, combined. His 5.4 yards per touch this season is the third-highest mark he’s had during his 12 years in the league.  

Watching him play this season provides glimpses of Peterson in his prime. In case you needed a reminder, the 33-year-old Peterson is currently ninth on the NFL’s all-time leading rushers list with 12,863 yards. While he doesn’t have the top-end, breakaways speed or the rapid acceleration he once had – and that’s not to say he isn’t still fast or quick – Peterson still knows how to combine excellent vision, lateral agility and power to make big plays.

“Adrian Peterson has seemingly turned back the clock this season,” Pro Football Focus wrote in their preview of the Redskins’ game against the Giants in Week 8. “The veteran running back has looked good, forcing 20 missed tackles on the season, tied for fifth-best among running backs with at least 75 carries. Peterson is also averaging 3.02 yards after contact, which ranks ninth among running backs.”

It’s no surprise that Peterson is among the league leaders in missed tackles forced, as he hasn’t been giving defenders a clean shot on him very often this season.

Peterson’s combination of skills allows him to be effective in a variety of run schemes. Like a lot of NFL teams, the Redskins utilize both man- and zone-blocking schemes; Peterson’s strength gives him an edge on downhill power runs that are common in man-blocking schemes, while his vision and agility still make him a threat in zone-blocking schemes.

Atlanta’s defensive speed should be enough to easily match Peterson’s, but he is a savvy player who could use the Falcons’ speed against them and find easy cutback lanes if a defender over-pursues. He did just that and more on an outside-zone run against the Dallas Cowboys by reversing field and finding a lot of running room.

"I think when you watch him play, you still see his ability to jump," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Peterson. "We oftentimes think of how big he is, and how strong he is. But I think what makes him unique is at that size where he can go full speed and jump cut to avoid and extend the plays."

The same vision and patience that helps Peterson on zone plays have also shown up on a couple of goal-line runs this season. We all know Peterson has the power to run over defenders in short-yardage situations, but why take an extra hit when he can side-step a pile and trot in for an easy score?

But don’t think Peterson isn’t still a handful to get on the ground. The Falcons were very focused on getting multiple tackles to Saquon Barkley during their win against the Giants, and they will likely have the same game plan this weekend to prevent Peterson from running through arm tackles like this:

While the Falcons have been in plenty of shootouts this season, the Redskins have been winning with a style reminiscent of that prior to the NFL’s passing boom. The Redskins are focused on stopping the run and establishing control of the game on offense with a steady, consistent run game.

Thus far, they are succeeding with that strategy. Washington has the No. 2 run defense in the NFL, allowing just 80 yards per game on the ground, and it has the No. 8 rushing offense with an average of 128 rushing yards per game.

The Redskins don’t win in flashy fashion, but they are very good at winning low-scoring and sometimes ugly games, as displayed by their last three wins: A 23-17 victory against the Panthers, a 20-17 victory against the Cowboys and a 20-13 win on the road against the Giants.

Peterson may no longer have true breakaway speed, but he can consistently pick up first downs and chunk yards which allows the Redskins to control the pace of the game. The play below is a pretty typical run for Peterson this season, and it fits what Washington wants to do.

The best template for victory against the Redskins was provided by the New Orleans Saints in Week 5. The Saints jumped out to a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter and were ahead 26-13 by halftime. New Orleans continued to be aggressive on offense in the second half, eventually running away with a 43-19 win.

By getting an early lead and forcing the Redskins to play from behind, New Orleans forced Washington to play a style of football it isn’t suited to play. In that game, Peterson carried the ball just four times for 6 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards, while Alex Smith threw the ball 39 times. Those 39 attempts were the second-most of the season for Smith, behind his season-high 46 attempts which came in the Redskins’ only other loss of the season against the Indianapolis Colts.

Notice a pattern?

The Falcons are capable of putting points on the board quickly. If Atlanta is able to corral Peterson early in the game and get a couple of quick scores of its own, the Falcons will force the Redskins to take the ball out of the hands of their most dangerous offensive weapon.

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