Peterson, Redskins paint a portrait of what the Cardinals want to be
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals want to pound their opponents on the ground. In Week 1, the Washington Redskins did it better.
Arizona expected to lean on an all-around strong defense. Washington visited State Farm Stadium with the execution to do it.
Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy had a new offense and quarterback Sam Bradford to build around a bruising, proven running back in David Johnson.
The Redskins, who also ushered in a new era with quarterback Alex Smith having replaced Kirk Cousins this offseason, showed them how to do it right.
It was Washington painting a portrait of everything that Arizona wanted to identify itself as in a 24-6 loss to open the year.
“The nemesis right now is just stopping the run. Got to do a much better job getting off blocks, using our hands, getting downhill and fitting into our gaps. Tackling was the issue,” Wilks said.
Thirty-three-year-old back Adrian Peterson, recently installed as Washington’s No. 1 back, took 26 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown against his former team.
But flipping through a set of packages that included the more perimeter-oriented running back Chris Thompson, the Redskins kept Wilks’ defense off balance all night long, converting 30 first downs while tallying 247 passing yards and 182 rushing yards.
It began up front. Washington wore on Arizona, which itself attacked this offseason with rebuilding its offensive line as a top priority.
“(Offensive tackle Trent Williams) is a close friend of mine,” Peterson said. “I’ve sat back and watched this offensive line the last two years and dreamed about playing behind an offensive line that’s aggressive and plays with the technique they do.
“You add (Chris Thompson) in there, and that young guy got me going today.”
Once Peterson had established himself behind a strong offensive line, Washington stretched the Cardinals’ linebackers and safeties thin, working the ball side-to-side thanks to Thompson’s versatility and quarterback Alex Smith’s mobility.
“We were down against the clock a few times throughout the game with the play clock and almost had to take a couple timeouts there, but overall I like our packages,” said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. “We got about four, five or six different packages that can be pretty efficient.”
Arizona’s defense worked primarily out of a nickel look with three safeties and two linebackers, and it struggled to get pressure when using only its defensive line. It also struggled to locate the ball and fill gaps.
During a 15-play drive following Washington’s first score, Arizona’s substitution patterns tipped Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb’s worry level. The Cardinals used their backup defensive line for the first five plays and regularly subbed as Washington used 15 plays to burn 9:06 off the clock. To finish the drive, Peterson walked in on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 4:10 to play in the first half, putting the home team behind 14-0.
“I’ve been in the league eight years so I’ve played him numerous times,” Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes said. “It’s not like a new AP or anything. It’s AP.
“Adrian Peterson came in and did his job. We didn’t do ours at the same time. That’s just what it is.”
But Peterson, being his old self, opened up all those packages for Gruden’s team.
Thompson rushed five times for 65 yards and led Washington with seven catches for 63 more yards and a touchdown.
Down three receivers, two of whom were lost during the game, the Redskins did just fine through the air, and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis combined for 57 receiving yards to help with the diverse attack.
It was a formula that Arizona would’ve liked to have followed.
Not helping after Larry Fitzgerald’s seven catches for 76 yards, plus 54 more receiving yards from its running backs, the Cardinals’ young receivers, Chad Williams and Christian Kirk, only accounted for one catch for four yards.
“It’s pretty frustrating, but you just have to push through it because we know all the time, dedication and work we’ve put into this,” Williams said.
— Right tackle Andre Smith will be further evaluated after he left in the second half with an elbow injury, Wilks said. John Wetzel replaced him on the field.
– Arizona quarterback Sam Bradford, who went 20-of-34 for 153 yards, threw an interception to cornerback Quinton Dunbar with two minutes left in the third quarter by overthrowing tight end Ricky Seals-Jones to kill a drive at the Washington 25-yard line. He said he was attempting to get the ball over a nickel corner sitting underneath his target.
“It could’ve been footwork, could have been bad timing,” he said. “Obviously that’s a little bit uncharacteristic of my game. Definitely going to look at the film tomorrow to see where that came from.”