Washington’s exciting win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday has provided a strong boost to fan confidence, which had fallen as low as 16% a few weeks ago. With the team at 3-6 but still in a position to compete for an NFC wildcard spot in the postseason, fan confidence has jumped to 49%, with the fan base split almost equally between those who believe in the direction of the franchise and those who don’t.
The Sean Taylor number retirement debacle is fading in the rearview mirror, and Dan Snyder has managed to stay out of the news for over a fortnight; with a big win at home over the defending super bowl champs, Football Team fans are feeling much better than they were in mid-to-late October.
The manner of the win against Tampa Bay had a lot to do with it as well. The defense led the way with two interceptions of Tom Brady in the first quarter, and then the offense applied more pressure by scoring on the team’s first four possessions. Washington led the game from pillar to post, and the Buccaneers never got closer than 3 points, eventually losing to the Football Team 29-19 in a game where they were favored by 9.5 points.
For fans looking for reasons to believe that the win against Tampa Bay wasn’t just a fluke victory, I suggest looking at what the Washington defense has accomplished since Week 7.
I have noticed the national pundits talking about the #WashingtonFootball defense like it's the same unit from a month ago. They have given up 283 ypg over the last 3 games and that is playing against Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater and Tom Brady— Mark Phillips (@FballTeamReview) November 18, 2021
It's not that defense anymore
Washington’s defense has really turned around it’s early season problems. Over the past three games, Washington ranks 6th in the NFL in yard allowed per game (283.3) and 13th in points per game (20.0).
With Washington’s offense improving to 8th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage (45.45%) and 8th in rushing offense (133.7 ypg) over the same three-game stretch, there are reasons to believe that the team is headed in the right direction.
An almost hidden stat that impacts the outcome of games is penalties and penalty yardage. The Football Team ranks 6th in penalties per game for the 2021 season, and has the 2nd lowest number of penalties over the past three games. When it comes to penalty yards, WFT ranks 9th best on the season, and 4th best over the past three weeks.
Kickoff & punt returns
Special teams returners have been adding to the positive picture as well. According to ESPN, Washington has had the 4th best starting field position following kickoffs in 2021 (the 25.4 yard line), and DeAndre Carter’s 101 yard kickoff return for a TD is the second longest of the season. When it comes to punt returns, Washington ranks 9th, at 10 yards per return. That number isn’t the result of a single big return or a small sample size due to excessive fair catches; instead, it is the product of consistently good decision-making and consistent positive yardage on returns.
Tress Way, of course, continues to boot the ball well. He is 3rd in the league in average punt distance, and 9th in net distance (after the return). As is usual for him, Tress has only had one touchback on the season,
The combination of good starting field position, few penalties and penalty yards, strong punting from Tress Way and consistently good returns by our punt returner create “hidden” yards that don’t need to be gained by the offense. The strong turnaround by the Washington defense to move to the top part of the defensive rankings in games against the Packers, Broncos and Buccaneers is an even stronger reason to feel positive about the team’s on-field direction.
Of course, only winning will keep the needle pointed north. The road trip to Carolina this week is critical to any playoff aspirations and will likely set the direction for fan confidence again next week.
As the win-loss records for Washington, Philadelphia and the Giants converge, so does the level of confidence among fans of each team.
The only real surprise to me is that Dallas fan confidence remains as low as it does in a season where they have control of the division and lead the league in points scored per game.
In a division where the schedule is backloaded with NFC East games in the final 4 or 5 weeks of the season, literally anything is still possible, but Dallas has positioned itself as the overwhelming favorite, though the Eagles have put together several impressive games of late.
For Washington to finish the season strong, the team that shows up will need to be the same one that played the Buccaneers this past Sunday, and not the ragtag group of misfits that played the first 6 games of the season.
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