World’s Best Preview: Inside the Redskins

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here is a look inside Sunday’s opponent, the Washington Redskins.

ALL DAY: Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur used the “F” word to describe ageless Redskins running back Adrian Peterson. Well, not that “F” word.

“He’s a freak,” LaFleur said on Wednesday. “They just don’t make too many like that. He’s still doing it at a high level.”

Washington interim coach Bill Callahan used a different version of the same word during his conference call.

“It’s interesting because guys with his age and his caliber, it’s freakish in so many ways,” he said. “I would tell you first-off that when you go to the offseason, his regimen and his preparation for the regular year is incredible. How he trains and prepares, he takes advantage of every resource that’s out there. Obviously, with what he’s been doing to his benefit, my gosh, it’s incredible.”

Running backs are supposed to hit some sort of invisible wall at age 30. Peterson did. During his 30-year-old season, Peterson rushed for a league-high 1,485 yards for Minnesota in 2015. Peterson played only three games in 2016 due to a knee injury and split the 2017 season with Arizona and New Orleans. Peterson joined the Redskins in 2018 and found the Fountain of Youth. He rushed for 1,042 yards – the most by any back age 33 or older since 1983 and the fifth-most of all-time – and continued his career-long torture of the Packers by rushing for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 victory on Sept. 23.

He’s at it again in this, as the 34-year-old has a team-leading 642 rushing yards headed into Sunday’s game against the Packers. Among all backs age 34 or older since 2000, that’s already the fourth-most yards. Frank Gore, who ran for 961 yards with Indianapolis in 2017 when he was 34 and 722 yards with Miami when he was 35, holds the first and third spots on that list. Emmitt Smith, with 937 yards with Arizona in 2004 when he was 35, is No. 2. If Peterson averages 80 rushing yards the next four weeks, he’ll take the stop spot.

Video: Preston Smith on Ryan Kerrigan

CAPT. KERRIGAN: Ryan Kerrigan was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2011. On Sunday against Carolina, he missed the first game and first start of his career due to a concussion.

Kerrigan has been durable, productive and consistent throughout his nine seasons in the league. Last year, he recorded 13 sacks for a second consecutive season. In the process, he joined Jared Allen, Derrick Thomas, DeMarcus Ware and Reggie White as the only players since sacks became an official stat in 1982 to open his career with at least eight consecutive seasons of 7.5 sacks.

“We had a great bond,” said Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith, who spent his first four seasons as Kerrigan’s sidekick. “Ryan, he made me better. He came to work every day. He was a great leader. He was always talking to me and helping me be the best I can be. I always learned a lot of things from Ryan. He was a great teammate to have.”

With 89 career sacks, Kerrigan two short of Dexter Manley’s franchise record. In the star-studded 2011 draft, Kerrigan ranks third in sacks; Von Miller (103) and J.J. Watt (96) are ahead of him and Justin Houston (86.5) and Cameron Jordan (85) are in pursuit. Since entering the league in 2011, he’s No. 1 with 26 forced fumbles.

He’s got only 4.5 sacks this season, though he’s tied for the team lead with 13 quarterback hits. He rushes primarily from the defense’s left side, meaning he’ll face longtime nemesis Bryan Bulaga. Their clashes date to when Bulaga was at Iowa and Kerrigan at Purdue.

“He’s a good football player. He’s been doing it for a long time, too,” Bulaga said. “He has a motor that not a lot of guys have in the league. I think he plays extremely hard. He’s got good movement, he’s got great hands, he understands leverage points really well. He has an array of moves that have worked well and they still work well. Big challenge. Got to be on your game fundamentally to play against him.”

BULL’S-EYE ON IOANNIDIS: Defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis is the best defender on its best unit.

Taken 15 spots after the Packers took Dean Lowry in 2016, Ioannidis quietly has emerged as one of the NFL’s top interior defenders. Among interior defensive linemen (all 3-4 linemen and 4-3 defensive tackles) who are averaging at least 20 rushes per game, Ioannidis ranks fourth in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. According to the official league stats, he has 7.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and nine tackles for losses. The entire Packers defensive line combined has three sacks, eight quarterback hits and six tackles for losses. In his four seasons, Lowry has seven sacks and 14 quarterback hits.

“They’ve got Matt Ioannidis and they’ve got four other first rounders on that defensive line. You look at that D-line, they’re really, really talented,” LaFleur said. “I went against those guys last year in Tennessee and that was a salty group. They’re a good defense. And they’re very, very physical and you see the effort that all 11 play with on tape. It jumps off the screen. So, our guys are going to have a challenge. I think their defense has been out in some tough spots this year, but they play extremely hard. They attack the ball well. You can tell they’re really well coached. I’ve had to go against (Greg) Manusky a few times and I’ve always been impressed by him. So, it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

The other first-round defensive linemen are Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, who were taken in 2017 and 2018, respectively, from Alabama. Starting outside linebackers Kerrigan and Montez Sweat are the other first-rounders LaFleur referenced. Allen and Sweat, the second of this year’s top picks, have five sacks apiece. With all that firepower, Washington ranks No. 3 in the NFL in sack percentage.

Under Callahan, Washington’s defense has stepped up its performance. Over the last seven games, Washington is tied with Chicago for ninth points allowed (19.9 per game), 10th in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.87), ninth in opponent passer rating (84.5) and second in sacks (27).

CHUCK AND DUCK: Case Keenum started at quarterback for Washington’s first seven games. Keenum wasn’t awful but the Redskins went 1-6. With the team going nowhere, it made the logical change to first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Haskins has been awful but the Redskins are 2-3 in his starts, including consecutive wins.

By the numbers, it’s no contest who gives the Redskins a better chance to win.

Completion percentage: Keenum, 67.0 percent; Haskins, 54.1 percent.

Yards per attempt: Keenum, 7.1; Haskins, 6.0.

Touchdown percentage: Keenum, 4.8 percent; Haskins, 1.5 percent.

Interception percentage: Keenum, 2.1 percent; Haskins, 4.5 percent.

Passer rating: Keenum, 94.8; Haskins, 58.5.

In four starts and one game with extensive action off the bench, Haskins doesn’t have a single game with a passer rating better than Keenum has posted for the season. But the Redskins have at least won a couple games and they’re coming off a season-high 29 points.

“I think overall, his footwork and his decision-making is improving every week,” Callahan said. “He’s starting to slide in the pocket a little bit more, trying to feel the rush better. He knows how to elude it a little bit more efficient and then he’s making the throws down the field, spreading out not only the outside lanes, but he’s getting inside and he’s throwing it pretty accurately on the deep ball. He’s made tremendous strides. I don’t think that it just jumps at you as a fan, but if you watch the film and study his progress, you can see the small techniques improving.”

That Hawkins has struggled should come as no surprise. He was only a one-year starter at Ohio State and entered the draft following his redshirt sophomore. But what a season it was, with 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdowns. In games against Top 25 teams, he threw 20 touchdowns vs. two interceptions. But he’s smart (two-time all-Big Ten in academics) and has a big arm. The experience, as tough as it’s been, should be priceless in his development.

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