ASHBURN, Va. -- In his first game with the Washington Redskins, Adrian Peterson flashed shades of his glory days, such as making a jump cut in the hole and finding lanes with his vision against the Arizona Cardinals.
In his second game, Peterson didn’t do much of anything. Against the Indianapolis Colts, jump cuts to avoid danger only led to more danger. And the holes were hard to see. Other times he was too impatient, running into clogged alleys.
Some of it is a function of Peterson still adjusting to the Redskins, not to mention running more out of a shotgun formation, which has been an area of criticism with his running style in the past.
In Week 1, Peterson rushed for 96 yards on 26 carries. But in Week 2 against the Colts, Peterson finished with 20 yards on 11 rushes. Peterson managed only 0.64 yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information research -- a sign of how much penetration his blockers allowed, but also a little nod toward his impatience.
Sunday’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers, rank 24th in the league in rushing yards per carry, allowing an average of 4.6 yards. They are 18th in rushing yards allowed. Green Bay struggled against the run in the opener against Chicago (139 yards) but was better in Week 2 vs. Minnesota (68 yards).
“It’s just getting a rhythm,” Peterson said. “The defense we played last week had some big guys, but they were extremely athletic. The guys we face this week, they’re athletic as well, but not as athletic as the Colts.”
Green Bay also uses a front similar to what Peterson sees in practice with the Redskins. The Colts beat the Redskins by confusing them along the front, but the Packers likely won’t. That could help.
But Peterson is still adapting to the Redskins after being here for only one month. However, it's not as if every failed run stems from his newness to the team. Too often against the Colts there were plays on which he had little chance for success because the defense had too much penetration into the backfield.
Peterson admits he must be more patient, especially out of the shotgun. On his first carry out of the shotgun Sunday, he sprinted immediately on his path, following pulling guard Shawn Lauvao. But he was tight on Lauvao’s heels, and because he went so fast, nothing had yet opened up and the linebackers didn’t have to commit one way or another. No room meant no yards.
“It’s just being slower, so if it’s a gun run and it’s an outside zone, instead of being three-quarter speed, I slow it down to two-quarters and give the line time, or seeing the defensive line might flash backside,” Peterson said. “Me being patient, I can see that. Instead of being ahead of the play, now they’re pressing to the inside and forcing that cutback.”
That play also points out what running-backs coach Randy Jordan said Peterson is adapting to: not being hurried by backside pressure, trusting that the linemen will wall it off.
“If you get penetration, the first instinct of a running back, what they want to do is get up the field because they want to salvage the play,” Jordan said. “When pullers occur, you definitely have to be more patient. When it’s just a wide zone run, it’s just you. So you have to make the decision when to put your foot in the ground [and cut]. If you don’t have a lot of patience, you’re behind everything and maybe [the defenders] get reached, but you don’t want to continue to go because you feel like, 'Oh s---, I want to put my foot in the ground,' and now all of a sudden they’re able to fall back and make the play.”
In his career, Peterson has been a north-south runner who likes to power through the middle and use his vision and jump cuts to make plays. In a shotgun, he must run east-west first and be patient enough to let a lane open.
In this offense, the Redskins want to use him on some gun plays, taking advantage of run-pass option possibilities. That’s a key part of the offense with quarterback Alex Smith. That’s what they used on Peterson’s 17-yard carry out of the gun against Arizona in the opener. But on that play, receiver Paul Richardson motioned to the right, where two receivers already were stationed, for a possible bubble screen. That froze the back side of the defense and created openings the other way for Peterson.
“You get guys moving and taking guys out of the box. That’s what I like about it,” Peterson said. “It just takes a different mindset and you have to let things develop because you’re not coming downhill.”
The Redskins will continue to feature Peterson with Smith under center; of his 37 runs this season, 27 have been in this look. He’s averaging 3.3 yards in plays that begin under center, and part of that stems from poor blocking Sunday.
"He's going to be fine," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He's a Hall of Fame back and the more he sees, the better he will get."