Before the Redskins host the Indianapolis Colts at FedExField, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Perry Mattern provide the storylines and matchups to follow in Sunday's home opener.
1. Keep the run game rolling
Last week against the Cardinals, any questions the Redskins had about the running game were answered once Adrian Peterson touched the football. The 33-year-old rushed for 96 yards on 26 carries, providing a burst in the first half that eclipsed some milestones along the way.
Peterson said Thursday that, after enduring a full game for the first time since last season, his body returned to normal on Tuesday, and he’s not concerned about his condition for the long haul.
"Yeah, it's something we have to be in communication with him about. He has to be honest with himself, with me and himself and let me know if it's too much or if he's getting a little bit worn down,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “But we're in Week 1. He's in good shape right now. As the season progresses, if he feels like he's getting a little worn down, which I doubt, I doubt he'll tell me anyway, we'll get Rob [Kelley] in there and get the other guys in there. We probably will start to feature [and] get Rob in there a little bit more anyway just because it is a long season."
His energy certainly helped running back Chris Thompson, who had strong debut as well on Sunday, rushing for 65 yards and catching seven passes for 63 yards. As tight end Jordan Reed coined it, if the “thunder and lightning” provide this kind of dynamic throughout the season, the Redskins offense should be in good shape.
Most of that has to do with confusing the defense, which the Redskins can do more of with Alex Smith under center, himself a viable running threat. The read-option has become a bigger part of the scheme and a continually successful ground game will only enhance Smith’s options down the field.
“Anytime you have a run game like that, a defense has got to defend it,” Smith said. “It opens up a lot of opportunities for us on the edge, in the perimeter, whether it's play-action pass, just spacing the field. A lot of favorable matchups I felt like we had [was] because of the run game going so well. I mean you love to have balance, any good offense has balance and obviously with us running the ball the way we did – I think kind of setting that tone – certainly a lot of stuff in the pass game came off it."
2. Put pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck
It hasn’t been since 2014 that the Redskins faced quarterback Andrew Luck, though the team has changed quite a bit in the last four years. What’s universal, despite Luck missing last year with shoulder injuries, is that the Colts’ quarterback remains a physical challenge in the pocket.
In his first game this season, a loss to the Bengals, Luck dropped back 53 times and completed 39 passes for 319 yards, throwing an interception and taking two sacks. That’s a lot of drop backs, and so the Redskins must be prepared to get the pass rush working effectively on Sunday. Against the Cardinals, linebacker Ryan Anderson collected his first career sack while Matt Ioannidis effectively sealed the game with a strip sack in the waning minutes. Overall, however, Bradford didn’t face too much pressure, a product of the defense wanting to keep more eyes on running back David Johnson.
That should shift against Indianapolis, and with Luck’s big frame, taking him down will need to be a team effort, especially as Luck scrambles and makes off-schedule throws.
“It’s going to have to be a gang of just to take him down,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “So, knowing that, and knowing he reads his keys pretty well, we got a task on our hands with him.”
That will be a task for the defensive line, helping to push the pocket and forcing Luck into edge rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, who were quieter than usual in the season opener.
“The best thing he does is get out of the pocket and tries to make plays,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said of Luck. “We understand that because I was there with him for four years, but overall, a great player; can make all the throws, favorite targets across the board. He’s got a bunch of guys that he can go to. He’s an experienced quarterback that we have to defend on Sunday and you know that’s what it is.
“He can avoid the pocket and when you get in his face and stuff, he can scramble,” Manusky added. “Once he scrambles, he can get out of the pocket and keeps his eyes up and throws it to the guy that’s open.”
3. Take advantage of turnover opportunities
The Redskins didn’t necessarily need the two turnovers they forced last week, but they sure helped. Coming off a season in which the Redskins finished tied for 23rd in the NFL with a negative-4 turnover differential, Sunday’s game at Arizona was a good start.
In Jay Gruden’s first four seasons, the Redskins have had a positive turnover differential just once – in 2015 when the team won the NFC East. The correlation between turnover differential and overall record is always strong around the league.
Both of Indianapolis’ turnovers were big in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. Andrew Luck’s first quarter interception ended the momentum Indy had gathered when it had intercepted a pass itself just three plays prior.
Then there was tight end Jack Doyle’s fumble, which came as the Colts were closing in on a go-ahead score in the final minute. The fumble was returned 83 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.
Luck has never been shy when it comes to fitting passes into tight windows, even during his best seasons. In two of his three Pro Bowl seasons, Luck threw at least 17 interceptions. He’s going to make plays, but he’ll also likely give the Redskins at least one shot to pick off a pass.
“I played against him all the time in the AFC South,” linebacker Zach Brown, a former Tennessee Titan, said. “He could be down 17-0 and he’s still going to sling that ball. He’s a smart guy. We’re just going to have to make sure when it’s our chance to catch the ball, we’ve got to make him pay. We can’t leave a big opportunity on the table.”