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Washington fan confidence in team direction is slowly eroding

Hogs Haven Reacts

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2020 NFL Draft - Round 1 Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Over the past couple of years, SB Nation has run a series of polls under the FanPulse moniker. The polling has been expanded this year and includes a name change to NFL Reacts. There is a poll every week during the regular season, and at key points during the off-season that covers things like fan confidence in the direction of the team, the most exciting games each week, and a fan Pick’em where you get to predict the winners of every game on the schedule.

If you’d like to become part of the process, you can sign up to NFL Reacts by clicking here.

You’ll get a survey via email each week that takes just two minutes to complete.

Make your voice heard as part of the Hogs Haven fan base!

There will be additional articles this week (and every week for the rest of the season), but this one will focus on the confidence of Washington fans, and how it has fluctuated from early in the year to this week.

Fans were asked how confident they are in the direction of the team

The “floor” for fan confidence prior to this week had been 55%. Three times in 2020 survey results had landed on that number, including last week, but they had not fallen lower.

Until this week.

The Week 7 survey results show that fan confidence has slipped to its lowest level this year, falling below 55% for the first time. This week’s confidence level is 44%, which is still surprisingly strong for a team that sits at 1-5, last in its division, and which benched its franchise quarterback in favor of a 3rd year undrafted player with a career record of 5-10 in his past 15 starts.

Click here to read last week’s article on fan confidence

Ben Standig published an article in The Athletic on Tuesday that enumerated many of the things that fans are concerned about. He started with the lack of healthy receiving talent beyond Terry McLaurin, and discussed the team’s lack of run production in the context of the decision to cut Adrian Peterson prior to the start of the season and Scott Turner’s reliance on the same offensive scheme run in Carolina despite obvious differences in personnel.

He then reviewed concerns that revolve around Ron Rivera as head coach:

Rivera’s actions and words warrant further examination if not scrutiny. After six games worth of hoarding timeouts, fourth-down gusto, NFC East division title talk and confusing lineup change explanation/justification, there’s plenty of meat on this bone.

Standig then went through the litany of messages and reversals that we’ve seen from Ron Rivera in the ten months that he has been the head mucky-muck of the Washington Football Team’s football operations, and discuss some of the puzzling aspects of Ron’s decision-making with regard to his quarterbacks.

NBC Washington expanded this theme on Thursday with an article about Ron Rivera’s latest statement that he has no deadline, cut off point or drop-dead date for making a quarterback decision.

I didn’t have a cutoff point for Dwayne Haskins. I made a decision based on what I was watching and what I was seeing, and that’s what happened,” Rivera said. ”So, with Kyle, I’m going to go as long as I feel I can. Again, it’s about watching him and if I’m seeing what I want to see or not.

The NBC Washington article contrasted this with Rivera’s post-game press conference in Week 3, following the loss to the Browns in which Haskins threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. Asked in that Week 3 press conference if there was a point at which Rivera could pull the plug on Dwayne Haskins as the starter, the head coach answered:

There are guys in that locker room that are playing well enough for us to win,” Rivera said at the time. “There is a cut-off point for me. There is.

You can see that Coach Rivera made specifically contradictory statements, using identical language, three weeks apart.

It’s this sort of contradictory messaging from the head coach that has fans wondering exactly what the mission is this season, and how to measure progress. The signals from Rivera have been all over the place, starting with his decision to pursue Amari Cooper with a full-court-press during free agency, but to otherwise sit back and sign journeymen and third tier free agents and refuse to engage existing Washington players in long-term contract talks. It includes his initial exhortation for everyone to be patient as he instilled a new culture into the organization suddenly giving way to benching the franchise quarterback in a Quixotic pursuit of the NFC East division title four weeks into the season.

This is all happening against a background of Ron Rivera saying that he doesn’t believe he’s been inconsistent with his messaging. On Tuesday he was asked a question about the consistency of his messaging, and he gave a brusque answer:

I think my message has been consistent. I’m not worried about the timeout thing earlier in the year, guys. I explained that to you guys once before, and I’m not going to have to explain it again. You guys know how I felt about what went on early. But where we are right now, again, everything we talk about is going forward.

Coach Rivera has given this sort of clipped answer more and more frequently of late, and appears to be unaware or unwilling to admit that he seems to have flip-flopped between messages about patience & team development and “win now”, or that he talked about a “cut off point” for Haskins in Week 3, but says in Week 7 that it never existed. Haskins seems to have failed a “test” on a 4th down play against the Ravens, while Allen received no criticism following the loss to the Giants when Allen did not give any receiver a chance at the ball on a do-or-die 2-point conversion attempt.

Standig spent some time in the Athletic article dissecting Rivera’s decision to go for the two point conversion at the end of the game, putting it in the context of the earlier communication inconsistencies and the puzzling moves at quarterback.

Tangentially, the Athletic article also discussed the offensive line at the end of his article, and I was interested in his comments about Saahdiq Charles, who saw his first NFL action as a starter on Sunday against the Giants:

Two plays won’t make an evaluation, but constantly missing games with injuries leave an impression. It also slows the development part of the season. Seeing Charles next to left tackle Geron Christian would offer the staff a chance to process its OL options. That’s necessary regardless, but there’s extra attention this year with Brandon Scherff entering free agency this offseason.

Overall, Standig’s article seemed to be striving for a balanced view of what’s happening offensively for the Washington Football Team, but I couldn’t help but sense an underlying skepticism from him.

I think that’s where a lot of Washington fans are at right now. Not many people had high expectations for this season, so it’s not the 1-5 record that concerns them. However, the expectations were for the organization to appear more organized and focused, with commitment to a clear plan that had both short term and long term perspectives. Instead, what fans have gotten has been mixed messaging and puzzling decisions.

Asked again during Thursday’s media Zoom session about inconsistent messaging, Coach Rivera stated that he makes decisions based on his “gut” and admitted that “that’s probably why it looks inconsistent”, reinforcing with some arrogance that it’s his “prerogative” as the head coach. Indeed, the seemingly wild careening between contradictory messages that has marked his very brief tenure certainly is more akin to a decision-maker affected by indigestion than one who has a clearly defined path and a coherent philosophy that he can enunciate consistently.

No, it’s not the losses that are concerning to fans; most of us expected the team to struggle this year. It’s the way that Ron Rivera is communicating with stakeholders (fans, that is) that is eroding confidence.

The head coach said on Thursday that the message that players hear and the message that he gives to the media are very different. I don’t doubt that, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but — perhaps in an effort not to “throw anyone under the bus” or maybe for some other reason — Coach Rivera seems to struggle to make sense when he’s talking to the press about his decision-making. For many fans, it’s confusing and leads to a loss in confidence.

For now, more than 4 in 10 fans are holding onto their belief in the direction of the franchise, but it feels as if the ship is sailing awfully close to the rocks. It won’t take much to send the WFT crashing into those rocks, but it will take a careful and steady hand to steer the franchise out of dangerous waters in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully Coach Rivera’s gut is up to the task.

For better or worse, Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, followed by a bye week in which the media will have little to do aside from analyze the state of the team, feels like it will be critical to what’s left of the 2020 season and beyond.