- It might not be a Victory Monday, but we are not far enough into this 2020 ride yet for me to wake up on Monday and be anything but thankful for a Sunday full of NFL action. The long pause in the sports world really succeeded in putting some serious distance between that Monday morning feeling we have all grown so accustomed to here in the DC area during the season and what I am feeling today, which again, is appreciation. That said, I won’t be pasting a whole tube of lipstick on this one. Instead of just focusing on the negatives though—of which there are plenty—I figured it would be a better use of our time to discuss our expectations for what solutions could look like in the short term. I don’t expect Ron Rivera is just going to throw in the towel on this group, hand it off 55 times a game and fast-forward to the 2021 season. To the extent possible, this coaching staff is going to do exactly what they promised: take the group of players they have and build a scheme that attempts to maximize their abilities.
- This Washington team is young and in some places, extremely inexperienced. The quarterback and receivers are not yet fully on the same page. The offensive line began the season with new faces at key spots, and the best player who started the season (Brandon Scherff) was helped off the field yesterday. Our tight end position is manned by a few players that have a lot to prove (yes...an understatement). Penalties on offense and defense come at the worst possible times, and we aren’t converting third downs at a very good clip. (Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?) Almost none of this is really surprising, which is driving the lack of my total despair. This season continues to be all about one thing: Ron Rivera digging into every nook and cranny of the franchise to see what’s what to ultimately determine what he can build around in the future. It’s a rebuild, y’all. A TRUE rebuild. Under Dan Snyder, we have never actually embarked on one of these—not a real one anyway. Bruce Allen and Vinny Cerrato were empowered to “reload” instead of rebuild—at least from a marketing perspective—and we were all left to watch as our favorite team remained woefully noncompetitive...with little hope for the immediate future. That is not what is happening here in Washington this season. We get to have front-row seats a year of evaluation.
- In terms of what may or may not be the “hottest ticket in town,” getting up close and personal to the evaluation of the Washington Football Team is...ummm...maybe not gonna be solely responsible for rebooting the local economy. I get it. Those of us who have stayed front and center for what came before this, however, have to truly be excited about watching this season. It isn’t all just flawed execution, penalties and three-yard passes on third-and-four. It’s so much more!! Come on...this defense is worth the price of admission. The line is as impressive as they are productive. That guy who everyone said was a generational talent that should never have been available at #2 overall has sacked the quarterback in every NFL game he has ever played in—in fact, Chase Young leads the league in sacks after two weeks (tied with TJ Watt actually). Two other players—Ryan Kerrigan and Jon Bostic—are right behind Chase. Getting to the quarterback is the name of the game, and we can do that. As for stuffing the run—which this defense can also do—well...things were made tougher yesterday weren’t they? While we kept Kenyan Drake below 100 yards rushing on the day and out of the end zone, we faced one of them there running quarterbacks. Kyler Murray did us with 8.4 yards per rush and a pair of rushing touchdowns. A great defense is going to have to find a way to combat that kind of athlete under center, so no excuses there.
- The secondary got beat deep again a couple times, which was disconcerting. I am not joining the chorus of folks wanting to sign a veteran safety to pair up with Landon Collins. I am also not suggesting we just guarantee Troy Apke a lifetime contract back there. To me, the communication breakdowns that were clearly on display in our secondary are part of this process we are committed to this season. It won’t be pretty at times. Kamren Curl seems to be carving himself out a place on this defense and I will be interested to see how he gets used in the coming weeks. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not just throwing my hands in the air and saying we should accept sloppy play all season long. Instead, I’m thinking we push through some mistake-filled performances and see if these players can learn enough to minimize or eliminate those errors. Apke earned the confidence of the coaches in August, and he has to be given some room to grow. Two games ain’t all she wrote when it comes to that kind of thing, but Curl should also be put in situations that help us learn what kind of player—or starter—he could turn into.
- The offensive woes we witnessed yesterday seemed like more of the same from this club, but I think it was just a matter of seeming that way. Honestly, hanging the failures of this franchise on so many young players and fresh coaches is patently unfair. That doesn’t make it any easier for us to watch, given the memories of those recent failures are fresh and prominent in our hearts. It also doesn’t excuse poor play and sloppy execution. What it does mean is that we have to figure out what makes this season compelling for us. Ron Rivera’s job isn’t to simply clean out the horse manure from the stalls in Snyder’s office. It isn’t just about being the face of the personnel department and picking the players who will get to wear the burgundy and gold. It is also about taking a full season of real games, with something on the line, to determine which players are going to form the nucleus of the contender Ron Rivera wants to lead in the coming years. Washington will have plenty of salary cap space (at least $50 million before any wheeling and/or dealing takes place), and loads of young talent to build around. The next fourteen games of this season will be instrumental in determining which of those young players will be who Rivera turns into the foundation of this team. Pretty much everyone we drafted the last three years (minus a few names) is still on this roster. If you were looking for Rivera to take that and turn it into a contender overnight, I think you might be suffering from a severe disconnection from reality. All signs point to the fact that he has been given the longest leash ever given out by Snyder, the current steward of this organization. It isn’t a license to suck, as I have heard some suggest. It’s a license to let some young guys make mistakes and potentially learn the kinds of lessons that will make them reliable in the years to come. It is a luxury, to be sure. If Snyder wasn’t buried in scandals right now, and worried about selling tickets to FedEx Field, this window of opportunity would look far different.
- Just as I wasn’t urging anyone to book postseason plans for this team after defeating our sister team from Philadelphia in week one, I am not calling for any kind of drastic reaction to the loss in week two to Arizona. The Washington Football Team is starting to look exactly like who we thought they were: a young, inexperienced team that has yet to gel with a talent deficit at crucial positions. And yet, we aren’t even the worst team in our own division (perhaps not the classiest of distinctions...) nor are we completely unexciting. The unknowns associated with rolling out a young trio at QB-WR-RB (Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson) are inherently exciting. The defense has enough talent to not just keep us in games, but to potentially win those games. The coaching staff is actively involved in dissecting the play in front of their eyes and adjusting to our strengths and weaknesses in real time. Like I said...it won’t be pretty, but it is a different brand of ugly the kind to which we have grown accustomed. It has purpose. It has direction. It has meaning to us, and therefore, at least at this early point of what could be a long, long season, there is something inherently fun about it. The icing on the cake of this year one experiment would absolutely be a run in November and December that would see us playing for a chance at a playoff appearance. Nothing I have seen (from the WFT or any of the NFC East competition) tells me that this is out of the question today.