For Ron Rivera, the Washington Football Team’s record in 2020 was always going to be secondary to his longer term goal - building a team made to succeed at the highest levels of NFL play. Through two games so far, we’ve already seen that play out. Even after the win against the Eagles in Week 1, Rivera acknowledged that the team was just scratching the surface:
Rivera said that, in terms of implementation, the offense has a "ways to go" thanks in part to the wild offseason. Defense is pretty much there.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 17, 2020
After the Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, Rivera pointed to the lack of experience on the team being a critical element in the defeat:
"We played two teams today -- them and ourselves. And we hurt ourselves today." Ron Rivera said they're not experienced enough to overcome the kind of mistakes they made today.— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) September 20, 2020
I recognize that the inexperience of the team is frustrating to some, but Rivera has been telling us for a long time now that this is exactly the plan this year. Recall that, just before the Combine, he said this about the WFT’s secondary:
We’re going to replace [Norman] with guys we have on the roster. Some of these guys, these guys we think have the same type of skill set. The young guys that have to be trained. You know we got a bunch of fourth year guys that just need to play football. We need to get those guys out on the field and develop them....Now is an opportunity to play a lot of young players.”
Like it or not, it seems clear that Rivera has set aside 2020 as a year to evaluate his very young roster, and to allow several of the young guys to develop. What follows are my predictions/projections as to how that is likely to play out for various elements of the team over the course of the year.
Haskins has not played great for the first two weeks of the year. He hasn’t been terrible - in fact, he engineered a nice comeback against the Eagles in Week 1 - but he’s had two very rough first halves. Whether that is primarily on Haskins, on the offensive line, on the thin group of “weapons,” or on offensive coordinator Scott Turner, is difficult to tease apart.
In any case, Dwayne seems at his best when he is operating quickly, struggling when he has to spend more time for plays to develop. It seems pretty clear that Haskins would benefit from a more up-tempo playing calling to take advantage of his strengths.
A look at Dwayne Haskins' passing numbers and ranking among the 33 starting QBs (w/ Herbert and Taylor in L.A.) based on time to throw: pic.twitter.com/e34i9eCf6b— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) September 21, 2020
Despite Dwayne’s struggles, I think he gets 16 games this year to show what he does (or does not have). If Dwayne isn’t the answer, QB has to be a first round target in the 2021 draft. If Dwayne is the answer, he’s our starter until he’s injured. Calls for playing Kyle Allen or Alex Smith are ridiculous and neglect Rivera’s perspective on the season. This year is about getting Dwayne, and most of the others on this list, practice in order to see how good they can be:
Rivera went full Malcolm Gladwell by saying it takes players 5,000 reps to know what's what, basically. Experience doesn't develop overnight but the lack thereof on this team overall is apparent.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 20, 2020
Short of Deion Sanders, Troy Apke hasn’t had many advocates since he was taken in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. By almost any measure, he was probably overdrafted, and in his first two years, he hadn’t contributed much to the team beyond special teams.
That changed this pre-season, when the coaches saw something in Apke that hadn’t been seen before - the prospect of a starting NFL free safety. Apke’s performance was solid enough that the team cut free agent Sean Davis and his $2 million contract in order to roll the dice with Apke. Through two games, Apke has made some of the same mistakes he’s made in the past, most notably, a failure to diagnose plays quickly enough.
Nevertheless, Rivera, Del Rio, and presumably, Chris Harris see something in Apke they believe can be molded into a starting-caliber player. In his Monday press conference, Rivera confirmed that. Expect Apke to be given several more weeks to get things right:
Rivera said they are "putting a lot on the quarterback" right now. Also Apke, another player who didn't play a ton last year. Part of the choice to take short-term lumps for hopefully long-range growth.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 21, 2020
The offensive line was average last year, then it lost Donald Penn and Ereck Flowers. Penn is out of the league and Flowers is playing ok in Miami. Going into the season, third year vet, Geron Christian, and sophomore, Wes Martin, were slated to take the left tackle and left guard slots respectively. Both players were abused in Week 1, but appear to have played quite a bit better in Week 2. Unfortunately, the team also lost right guard, Brandon Scherff, to a knee injury in Week 2.
Perhaps more than any other unit, the offensive line depends on training camp and pre-season games to gel and work on communication. The absence of that practice period this year put the unit at a distinct disadvantage, and the reality is, these early games are serving as their breaking in period. And it hasn’t been pretty.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about alternative steps the team could have taken to bolster the line in the off-season (e.g., sign Jason Peters or Cordy Glenn), but the truth is, many of the names bandied about are still either unemployed or underperforming. There is no short-cut to a good offensive line in the NFL. Teams just don’t let the guys who have anything left get away, if they can help it.
The WFT drafted two OL in the 2020 draft (Charles and Ismael), and have to see if they have players worth keeping by giving young guys a shot this year. Perhaps more than any other position group, the team’s OL has been hampered by an underfed pipeline. Expect Christian, Martin, and others to continue to get playing time this year, if, for no other reason than there is no real alternative.
Like so many of the key players on the team, our offensive coordinator is still cutting his teeth in the league. Yes, “theoretically” speaking, Turner has the right ideas on offense, but theory seems firmly to be banging up against practice through these first two games. It’s tough to say exactly what’s going on, but reading between the lines, it sounds like perhaps Turner is overloading his young pupils with schemes that are overly complicated and difficult to execute, particularly without the benefit of a pre-season.
At this point, offensive difficulties in successive weeks have prompted conversations between Rivera and Turner during and after each game about making life a little bit easier for Dwayne Haskins.
Good question from @InstantRHIplay - How can second half Haskins show up in the first half? Rivera says he's talked to Scott Turner about that too, needs Haskins to deliver better passes early on— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) September 21, 2020
As with Haskins, Apke, and his offensive line, Rivera has to take the long view with his offensive coordinator too.
For many fans, taking the long view is anathema. Fandom is a “win now” endeavor. Those fans want a trade, or a key free agent pick-up, or to bench an “undeserving” starter, or, essentially, anything to potentially improve the team’s chance to win immediately. That’s not where Ron Rivera is right now. Ron is both evaluating and grooming the talent that will serve as the foundation for his future, successful, teams. The sooner fans understand that, the less frustrated they’ll be. Embrace the zen of Coach Ron.
Rivera on preaching patience: "It's hard because you want success."— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) September 21, 2020
Are you on board with Coach Ron’s plan?
This poll is closed
Yes, I’m in for the long haul.
No, we should be focused on winning now.