It was a departure from last season, when Peterson, a power back who is more effective with more carries, was named the team’s offensive MVP after rushing for more than 1,000 yards. But all of that is poised to change now that offensive line coach Bill Callahan has been promoted to interim head coach following Gruden’s firing Monday. Callahan said he wants to instill a run-first mentality.
The No. 1 benefactor from the change figures to be Peterson.
“I’m hyped about it,” Peterson said. “You look at the first four weeks … totally opposite from what we did last year when we were able to be more successful as a team. Like I’ve said, obviously something isn’t working, so there needs to be some kind of change. It feels good to have this change.”
The Redskins have attempted just 17.6 rushes per game after averaging 25.9 a year ago. Some of the discrepancy can be attributed to the team falling behind and needing to throw to catch up. But Peterson said there have been opportunities to establish more of a rhythm in the running game that the team didn’t take.
Peterson pointed to a seven-yard first-down run late in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots called “14 structure” on which he nearly broke loose. Defensive lineman Lawrence Guy was cut to the ground but got up and pulled Peterson down by the tail of his jersey.
“It was that close,” Peterson said, snapping his fingers. “I don’t see that play again till the next quarter. It’s like, God, I’m in a rhythm, I’m feeling it, and you just simmer back down on the sideline just 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 right back up and run it again. So it’ll be a different mind-set for the guys up front, and we’ll be able to set the tone.”
Callahan has said that he wants to see more rushing attempts, and there is more to the strategy than him simply being an old-school coach looking to return to the days of three yards and a cloud of dust. This team doesn’t have the aerial weaponry to throw the ball all over the field the way some teams can, especially with tight end Jordan Reed out with a concussion. Rookie wideout Terry McLaurin has been a pleasant surprise, but the other receivers have been lacking, and the team still doesn’t have an established starting quarterback. Callahan has said he will announced his starter Friday for Sunday’s game at the winless Miami Dolphins.
The hope is a more consistent dedication to the running game will put the team in better down-and-distance situations. Being in third and long often has contributed to Washington’s 31st-ranked third-down conversion rate of 24 percent. And an inability to stay on the field has led to more plays for the defense; the Redskins average the third-lowest time of possession in the NFL at 26 minutes 31 seconds.
“We all know we’re going to have to throw the football at some point. This is the National Football League, and you’re going to have to throw the football to win,” Callahan said. “… But I do think running the ball sets an attitude, sets a physical style. It sends a message, and it puts confidence in your line and your backs. It takes a little bit more pressure off the quarterback as well.”
The team is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, a total inflated by last week’s 65-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. But Callahan said he is more concerned with the numbers of run attempts and pass 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 just an identity that I believe in. So if we can combine those two and create big plays off of it, I think we’ll be successful.”
Peterson and the offensive linemen seem happy with the new direction.
“To grow up being an offensive lineman, you kind of have to have that in your DNA,” guard Wes Martin said, “to enjoy coming off the ball and moving people against their will. So, yeah, we enjoy that.”
Martin (chest), linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (hamstring) and Reed (concussion) did not practice Thursday. Offensive tackle Donald Penn (hamstring) was limited, along with tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), tackle Morgan Moses (shoulder), safety Deshazor Everett (ankle) and guard Brandon Scherff (ankle).
The Redskins announced Wednesday that they had promoted Phil Rauscher to offensive line coach and hired Aaron Stamn as an offensive assistant.