Late to the party
I realize that a lot of fans gave up on this season a month ago, and that, in that sense, I’m late to the party. I also know that, for a lot of fans, the consistent lack of on-field success combined with the off-the-field drama has led them to suspend their WFT fandom or abandon it altogether. I’m nowhere near there.
From the end of last season until around 7pm on Sunday, I had been bullish on Washington and the 2021 season. I always expected a rocky start (I projected 3-4 for the first 7 games) followed by a very strong finish. I thought the team would take some time to reach its potential, but I had always believed its potential was very high.
I saw early losses to the Chargers and Bills as an unpleasant part of the process, but I felt pretty secure that the Football Team would rise to the same level as those teams by late in the season. I was frustrated by losses to the Saints, Chiefs and Packers because I saw Washington doing the things they needed to do to win, but then also doing the things that led to losses. I felt like they’d allowed three winnable games to get away because they were in the process of figuring things out.
Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos broke me. My optimism has evaporated.
I was confident about the Week 8 win
Prior to Sunday, I had never once, from the time that NFL schedules were announced, through the first 3 quarters of the football game at Mile High Stadium, doubted that Washington was the better team and that it would get the win and kickstart the successful second half to their season. I realize that I was fairly much alone in that belief; nevertheless, that’s where my head was at.
You should understand that it wasn’t some kind of blind homerism where I predict a winning season for the burgundy & gold every year and just believe the Win Fairy will show up and grant my wishes. Last year, I spent the offseason predicting a 4-win season before, at the last minute, upgrading my season projection to 5-11.
This year, I truly believed that the group of players assembled for the 2021 season represented a talented roster that was capable of winning a lot of games in the regular season and then winning games in the playoffs.
I still think the Washington Football Team has a strong roster.
Somehow, though, they aren’t playing like a good team.
This is a team that is less than the sum of its parts.
There are a couple of loose wires somewhere; maybe the starter is bad or the spark plugs need to be re-gapped or the timing chain needs to be adjusted (yes, I know that spark plugs will soon be obsolete and that timing chains don’t exist anymore, but old guys like me should get the point; the rest of you can substitute a metaphor about iPads or solar panels, I guess).
What’s wrong with the team?
Some things are easy to explain. For example, Chris Blewitt will — rightfully — get a lot of blame for the failure in Denver, but the fact that he was on the field hitting linemen between the shoulder blades with his kicks while Dustin Hopkins was making a 48-yard field goal and hitting 3/3 on PATs is the responsibility, not of young Blewitt, but of Ron Rivera, who said that the decision to cut Hopkins and sign Blewitt was his as the head coach. It was a stupid decision when he made it, and it looks even stupider now that Blewitt has had three field goals blocked in his first two games as an NFL kicker.
I’m no Chris Blewitt fan, but it’s not his fault that he was on the field at Mile High Stadium booting bump & run 3-point attempts. If an NFL team offered me a contract to kick for them, I’d take it too. No, the responsibility lies with the head coach who cut the team’s kicker, Dustin Hopkins, who, prior to being cut, had hit 90% of his field goal attempt (26/29) over the previous 14 games, in favor of Blewitt, who hadn’t kicked in a competitive game since his senior year of college in 2016, when he went 10/17 (or 59%) on FG attempts, because Rivera wanted to make some sort of point.
But the issues with this team are a lot harder to pin down than just that stupid decision.
For instance, Sunday’s loss in Denver was, in many ways, a replay of the Football Team’s loss in Green Bay. Against the Packers, Washington put up 430 yards of offense and possessed the ball for 32:54 but scored only ten points. They put together multiple impressive offensive drives that ended up with no result on the scoreboard.
Against Denver, Washington had nearly 70 more offensive yards than the Broncos did, and the Football Team possessed the ball for 31:50, but, again, they only scored 10 points.
- Washington had 20 first downs (Denver - 16).
- Washington had 10 offensive drives (Denver - 9)
- Washington rushed for 112 yards (Denver - 83)
- Washington averaged 4.7 yards per rush (Denver - 4.0)
For the second week in a row, Washington’s box score looks like what you expect from the team that won the game — except they didn’t. And for the second week in a row, Washington left points — a lot of points — on the field.
Washington has had the ball at the Denver 19, 27, 34 and 46. It has 3 points. Man, that was tough to watch.— John Keim (@john_keim) October 31, 2021
This isn’t lack of talent. This is something else. Lack of execution; lack of understanding; lack of coaching; lack of heart...lack of something.
Back in the glory days of Joe Gibbs in the 80s & early 90s, the head coach would often say that good teams find a way to win. He never apologized for “winning ugly”. Joe Gibbs would say that all that matters is getting the win.
Jon Allen says this was Washington’s best game but week after week “it’s so frustrating” to let little things slip through cracks. “Losing teams find ways to lose games.”— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) October 24, 2021
The 2021 Washington Football team doesn’t have that — it doesn’t “find a way to win”. In fact, the team seems to be the opposite these days.
Watching the Washington Football Team is painful but I also can't look away because I'm intrigued by their ability to find new ways to fail— Ryan Homler (@RHomler) October 31, 2021
There is some basic disconnect between what winning teams do and what Washington is doing. Undoubtedly, a huge part of the issue is that Taylor Heinicke is too limited as a quarterback, but the issues seem broader than just that. The team seems to lack direction, and the head coach doesn’t seem to be providing any answers.
Ron Rivera’s lack of answers to Washington’s problems
Asked in yesterday’s post-game press conference about the level of frustration, Ron Rivera answered, “We still have 9 (games) left to play. We’ll see what happens.”
If you think that sounds familiar, you’re right. Here’s what Ron had to say following the loss to the Packers a week earlier.
It was the week before, in the wake of the loss to Kansas City, that Ron Rivera had proclaimed that maybe he was the problem. I think he may have been onto something.
Ron Rivera says he may need to change his coaching approach this week. #WashingtonFootball— Darren M. Haynes (@DarrenMHaynes) October 18, 2021
His big move that week was to cut Dustin Hopkins and sign Chris Blewitt. Since the coach’s “change in approach”, the Football Team has lost two more winnable games, and his big message-sending move of replacing the kicker has backfired badly.
So, what now?
It’s now the bye week. The team can rest up and heal up over the next 13 days, but, at this point, I’ve got to wonder if it really matters. Denver is one of the worst teams in the NFL, and Washington just managed to lose to them in a game in which Washington had drives of 9 plays - 56 yards, 11 plays - 56 yards, 10 plays - 41 yards, 10 plays - 94 yards, and 11 plays - 55 yards but only scored 10 points.
What’s gonna happen when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in two weeks? Is there any reason to expect a better outcome?
Until Sunday night, my answer to that question had been “yes”. I believed that the team was in the process of putting things together, but watching them find a way to lose against this fairly inept Denver team that didn’t have Von Miller on the field ended that.
Washington is now positioned for the 5th overall pick in the 2022 draft behind (in order) the Lions, Texans, Dolphins and Jaguars. The almost-certain loss to Tampa Bay that’s upcoming will drop the Football Team to 2-7 will help cement the top-five spot in the 2022 draft.
I have never believed that tanking for draft picks has any benefit for a sports team, and I’m not about to start promoting it as a good idea now.
I actually like NFL football.
I like watching on Sundays. I like rooting for my favorite team to win, and for division rivals to lose. I like watching jaw dropping plays — boy Red Zone has made that a lot easier than it was when I was a kid — and I enjoy celebrating great efforts by underdogs (looking at you Cooper Rush and Mike White).
I’d be really disappointed if I ever reached the point where I rooted for my team to lose each week so that I could trade off the enjoyment of this season for a single day in late April in hopes of picking 10 spots higher in the draft so that maybe my team will be better next year. Just shoot me and put me out of my misery if I ever start promoting the wisdom of playing to lose in order to get a higher draft pick.
Nope. That’s not for me. That will never be for me because if I ever get to that point, I’ll stop watching football. That’s the antithesis of sports to me. I’m all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but both of those things depend on striving unreservedly for victory all the time.
That said, I don’t think this team needs to “tank” this season. I think that the 2021 Washington Football Team has figured out how to lose when it’s trying desperately to win.
And, for me, that’s a signal that something needs to change — and I mean more than just cutting our placekicker to make a point.
Adjusting to the reality of a lost season
I’m mentally throwing in the towel on this season following the loss to the Broncos. I’m not going to suggest tanking, but I do believe it’s time to start prioritizing the long term over the short term. When a team gets ahead by 5 touchdowns late in the 4th quarter of a game, it’s time to sit the starting QB; after all, you don’t want him lost to injury on meaningless play in a game that’s already won. It works the other way too. A smart coach knows that it can make sense to play someone other than the starters in the fourth quarter of a game in which his team is getting blown out.
So, there are two or three things that I think should happen — and, trust me, none of this is particularly original or out-of-the-box thinking.
Washington is not going to win the division. With a win against the Broncos, a wildcard berth remained a possibility, but with Sunday’s loss, the math combined with the remaining schedule makes it really tough to project a playoff berth for this team. With 7 NFC playoff spots available, six teams are in a position where they would have to collapse in the second half of the season to miss the playoffs.
That leaves everybody else scrambling for the last remaining seed in the NFC. With a win in Denver, I felt Washington would have been in with a chance; with the loss, as I’ve already stated, I don’t see a realistic path to the playoffs this postseason.
If the team isn’t going to the playoffs, then one step it can take is to explore trades before the looming Tuesday deadline.
Trades and the salary cap
At this point, salary cap isn’t a concern when it comes to trading away veteran players on the roster. If a player already has a guaranteed salary for the season, and if the team has to eat some (even most) of the 2021 salary to move him, then I’d do it anyway. The goal would be to get some draft picks. It’s time to shift from short-term focus to the longer term.
Nobody will pay his current salary for the remaining half a season, but I’d eat 90% of his remaining salary if I could get a 3rd or 4th round 2022 draft pick right now. Wes Schweitzer is fine.
I have no idea if he’ll be healthy enough to play again this season, but if any team wanted to take a chance on him as a potential backup for a playoff run, I’d pay 90% of his remaining salary in return for a 6th round pick. The money is guaranteed by WFT no mater what. That offer might not be enough to move him, but if there’s any chance he’ll be healthy enough to play again this season, I’d put the “for sale” sign on him anyway.
I’d ship him anywhere for a 7th rounder.
If he isn’t planning on re-signing with Washington after his contract expires, I’d try to get a mid-round pick for him (say 4th-6th rounder) now.
There are other players I’d consider trading, but these guys are all on expiring contracts.
I like Taylor Heinicke; I really do.
At this point, we know exactly who he is. We’ve seen his strengths and his weaknesses.
The time might be coming soon when we need to make a choice between him and Kyle Allen (or it might involve a choice about both of them either staying or going). This past summer, I went back and watched Kyle Allen’s 2020 games and came away convinced that Allen was/is a better quarterback than Heinicke.
Given that Allen isn’t likely to represent a huge upgrade, I’ve been reluctant to suggest a change, but at this point, there seems to be nothing to lose, and the upside is that the organization can get a half-season look at Allen in order to inform whatever decisions they make about the QB position in the 2022 offseason. I’m now ready to call for the QB change during the bye week. I want to see Kyle Allen starting games from Week 10 onwards.
Planning for the re-brand
Going into this season, whenever I thought about the franchise rebrand slated for early 2022, I thought about it in the context of a successful team coming off of a successful season led by a successful coaching staff.
Now, that vision is, at best, blurry and out-of focus. It actually feels like I’m looking at it through a cracked lens.
Even two weeks ago, I’d’ve never thought I could feel this way, but I now think the coaching staff has lost the plot. It leaves me at a complete loss for what to do.
If the owners were to fire Ron Rivera now, I can’t imagine how they could hope to attract a quality candidate. Further, the entire organization on the football side of things, has been put in place by Rivera or gotten his stamp of approval in the past 20 months or so. Dumping Ron leaves the organization full of his recent appointees and hires.
I’m tempted to say that Mayhew, Hurney, Rivera and the coaching staff need to go, and that the rebranding should take place with a new, young, dynamic coaching staff, but, honestly, I have no idea how the Snyders could hope to attract that person (a young, dynamic head coach) to Washington. There are worse places to be (Houston), but not many. The ownership problem that has been apparent for fifteen years or more can’t be solved, and that prevents the organization from being able to solve other problems.
That probably makes Ron Rivera untouchable for another season or two, at least. Probably all we can look forward to at the end of this season is the ritual sacrifice of a coordinator or two as the coaching staff ‘refresh’ that will accompany the rebrand, and we may not even get that. Even if it takes place, it’s unlikely to lead to any meaningful change.
It’s frustrating as hell to know that we’re about to undertake a once-in-a-century rebrand of the franchise, and to realize that because we’re cursed with a horrid owner, it will turn out to be an opportunity wasted.
I had been extremely stoked for what this rebranding opportunity would mean for Washington when I believed in Jason Wright and Ron Rivera enough to believe that they could make it all work in spite of the Snyders.
However, having seen the dog’s breakfast that Jason Wright’s team made of the Sean Taylor number retirement, and the absolute wasteland that seems to be Ron Rivera’s plan for turning this talented roster into a talented football team, I’ve lost all the belief that I had been filled with until a month ago.
The game in Denver was the final straw for me.
I’ve given up on the 2021 season; I no longer believe that the current executives and coaches can manage the massive opportunity before us with the rebrand. We are in the Snyder purgatory, and there is no way out.