Before the Redskins travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Perry Mattern provide the storylines and matchups to follow before Sunday's season opener.
1. Adrian Peterson must run effectively on first and second down.
Before running back Adrian Peterson's first preseason game with the Redskins – and to this point his only game – head coach Jay Gruden made it clear that the former MVP would only be used on first and second downs and the occasional short-yardage situation. He didn't want to burden Peterson, just a few days into his tenure, with more work and pass blocking responsibilities.
With a couple weeks under his belt now, Gruden might let go of the reins a little more, especially if Peterson comes out hot the way he did against the Broncos.
Peterson is now listed the starter on the unofficial depth chart, and he'll likely take the bulk of the carries against the Cardinals. When asked how many snaps Peterson might play, Gruden made a slight joke.
"Ideally it'd be about 40, you know, because we're…you know that'd be great," Gruden said. "But I don't know, as the game goes on we'll see how it goes. These guys are pretty good against the run. They like to stack the box also. It's a matter of how we're blocking and the big thing is, like I said, staying out of third and long. But sometimes you have to risk that to try and pound the rock a couple times on first and second down. We'll see, you know, I think he just got here. We feel good about his talent, his skillset, but we also feel good about Rob Kelley, Samaje [Perine] and Chris [Thompson]."
"Whatever. I'll take 40, 50. Whatever it takes to get that W, I'm all about it," Peterson said later.
An effective ground game to begin the season, to even begin the game, will only help quarterback Alex Smith as the Redskins insert more read-option schemes into the playbook and take advantage of Smith's mobility. One thing is for sure: Peterson will be ready to start strong on Sunday.
"I've been running for a long time," he said. "It's really just digesting the entire offense as a whole. You know, the pass protection, the routes, concepts. You know, two minute, things like that. No huddle. So I've been really digging in making sure that I'm knowledgeable about what's going on with this offense."
2. Limit the damage from running back David Johnson
It's been about a year since Johnson's played in a regular season football game, after dislocating his wrist in the 2017 season opener. But his versatility and his track record, especially against the Redskins in 2016, suggest he'll be ready to perform at his peak.
The last time Johnson played the Redskins he amassed 175 total yards of offense, which included 12 receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
"I always knew he was a great player," linebacker Mason Foster said about Johnson. "But the things that he was doing that game, I felt like he pretty much single-handedly beat us.
"I think limiting those big plays are going to come by, you know, stopping the vertical pass game and limiting 31 with his big plays...not giving up one little crease, because that crease could be a big gain up the seam, like a couple years ago when we played them," he added.
The key for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is playing team defense, especially considering the fact that Johnson could just as easily line up out wide as he will behind the quarterback.
"We have to make sure we tackle, tackle well on Sunday, and play team defense so everybody knows exactly where they're supposed to be, [where] your fits are, and try to swarm the running back because he's a good one," Manusky said. [He's] good in pass catching. He's a receiver. He can be out of the backfield and then running the ball."
Because of his versatility, linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons may take on the duties of covering him when split out wide or in the slot, as the Redskins bank on his athleticism and length as a nickel linebacker. It will still require a group effort to stop him.
"He's a dynamic football player and the big thing is we just got to bring a gang to get him," Gruden said. "It's just about gang tackling, pursuit to the football, and doing the best we can in that regard knowing where he is at all times."
3. Key offensive players must adjust to game speed quickly
Let's be honest, this storyline has been beat to death, but for good reason. Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson both have not played a live snap since significant surgeries while Trent Williams played just 13 snaps against the Denver Broncos. Throw in Jamison Crowder, who dealt with nagging injuries and missed the entire preseason, and four of the Redskins' biggest offensive contributors haven't seen much live action.
"Yeah, I mean get as much work as we can, when we can," Smith said this week. "You know, [I've] been out on the practice field with a lot of those guys working really hard. We've had great competition in practice, you know, I think a good simulation of game-like atmospheres, but that's just trying to take advantage of those reps."
Time and time again Jay Gruden and Alex Smith have pointed to the numerous practice reps that everyone has received as a reason why the Redskins will succeed immediately offensively. The reason to believe these answers is that the offense is filled with veterans. Reed, Thompson, Williams and Crowder all know the playbook inside and out and know what it takes to succeed in the NFL. They'll be ready.
It may not come immediately. The Redskins may not march down the field on their first drive – they certainly could, though – but it won't take long for the group to be effective. As long as the unit stays healthy, it's very hard to imagine the Smith-led offense won't put up points.
4. Put pressure on Sam Bradford
The Redskins have played against Sam Bradford six times in the 30-year-old's career. When the Redskins have sacked Bradford at least three times, they're 4-0. When the Redskins have sacked Bradford two times or less, they're 0-2.
Bradford's mobility has never been a calling card of his, which allows pass rushers to more or less attack the pocket from any angle without worry of the quarterback escaping with his legs. Outside linebacker Preston Smith's exploits against Bradford have been well documented (six sacks in three meetings), but the Washington pass rush should be complete – both inside and out – this season.
The Redskins will be trotting out a young secondary Sunday, and one way to help them will be to have them cover for as little time as possible. For Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, he's focused on the back end's communication.
"I think overall from a communicational standpoint, I think they've done a great job and we have to continue to do that." Manusky said Thursday. "We've got seven rookies and I think five or six second-year players on the defense, so it's a decent amount of guys that are young. From a communicational standpoint, it's vital for everybody to communicate and be on the same page. Like I always tell you, I don't care what we call as long as we're on the same page we'll have success."
Washington totaled five sacks in last season's win over Arizona, but this year's Cardinals offensive line is different at all five spots than the one used in Week 15 of 2017. Still, it isn't considered one of the league's best and the Redskins must take advantage.