As I went to bed last night, I struggled to think about the last time I was that torn over a Washington victory. Against the Chargers, the team was outclassed, and ended up narrowly losing, but that was tolerable because Justin Herbert looks to be an ascendant talent and the Chargers appear to have what it’s going to take to be a playoff competitive team.
The Giants, on the other hand, have been miserable for years now, and are the near consensus last team in the NFC East, one of the weaker divisions in the league. I expected the defense to bounce back and throttle New York, creating a springboard to elevate spirits going into a murderer’s row portion of the schedule.
Instead, what we got was the narrowest of victories over one of the worst teams in the league, aided heavily by favorable penalty calls and one of the most egregious wide receiver drops you’ll ever see in NFL play.
Suffice it to say, my takeaways from the game are a mixed bag, set forth below:
Taylor Heinicke Can Win in the NFL
I said it before yesterday’s game: My concern with Taylor Heinicke was not whether he had the capacity to play well in the NFL, it’s whether he has the capacity to stay healthy over most of an NFL season. Mercifully, Heinicke didn’t put himself in harm’s way, and the offensive line didn’t get him placed in traction.
He showed us exactly what he showed Old Dominion fans in college and what he showed us late last year: He’s a gamer. He’s exciting. He leaves every bit of himself on the field to try to win the game. He also showed that, once he settled down a bit, he’s quite capable of harnessing the talents of his offensive weapons and giving them the opportunity to make their own plays.
Terry McLaurin had a great game as Heinicke’s security blanket, but JD McKissic, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Adam Humphries were all threaded effectively into the team’s offensive game plan.
Even if Washington had lost the game, Heinicke did enough to win it. When he threw an ill-advised pass for an interception late in the 4th quarter, he quickly got the ball back, and - unfazed - drove the team down for the game winning field goal in the closing seconds.
Dustin Hopkins is Good Enough, if He’s Used Properly
I’ve been as critical as anyone of Dustin Hopkins’ kicking over the course of this offseason. I still think the team should bring in competition for him next year. All that having been said, Hopkins appears to be back to his normal routine, which is to say, he’s pretty accurate as long as he’s not kicking more than 45 yards.
Yes, Hopkins was bailed out of his initial miss of a 48 yarder at the end of the game by Dexter Lawrence jumping offsides, but he ultimately hit all three field goals and all three extra points he was called upon to take in this game. We pretty clearly know what Hopkins is and what he isn’t at this point. He’s no Graham Gano, but if he’s used properly, and he’s healthy, he’ll get the job done most of the time.
Ron Rivera Continues to be Too Conservative in the Opponent’s Territory
Last week, I wrote about how Rivera ignored the analytics when he decided to punt on a late 4th and 7. This week, he did the same thing, and ended up forcing an over-reliance on Hopkins’ leg.
Down 23-17 with 8:46 left in the 4th quarter, Washington had the ball on the Giants’ 19 yard line with a 4th and 3. Rather than go for it, which the analytics backed, he decided to take the 3 points, rely on his defense to make a stop AND force a situation where his offense was going to be called upon to score another touchdown, at least, in order to win the game.
While he was bailed out by Darius Slayton’s stone hands on the following drive, had Slayton scored there - and probably 95% of the time he would have - the game would have been over. Rivera’s poor game management will go largely unacknowledged by most since Washington won the game, but had the team scored a touchdown on the prior drive, even a blown coverage touchdown there wouldn’t have been a backbreaker.
Something needs to change, and I’d argue Rivera seriously needs to amp up his offensive aggressiveness in enemy territory.
The Defensive Scheming Stinks
I’ve saved the most dire takeaway for last. Before the season, people were predicting this was going to be a top 5 defense. Montez Sweat and Chase Young were hypothesizing about breaking sack records - between filming for commercial engagements - and most everyone thought the defense had made critical additions in the offseason.
It turns out, most of those additions are - indeed - very solid. William Jackson III looks like the real deal, a lanky cover corner who can drive opposing receivers nuts all season. The rookie, Benjamin St-Juste, looks like a more raw, but similarly talented version of Jackson, and has performed really nicely too. Bobby McCain has shown flashes at safety.
The front seven, however, with all of the talent in the world, and an investment of draft capital to match, have made, first the Chargers, and now the Giants MASH unit of an offensive line, look like impenetrable walls. Yes, Jon Allen had a solid game against the Giants, but “underwhelming” is the best adjective I can think of to describe this group of players who were expected to menace opposing QBs this season.
And, I certainly don’t think it’s because of a dearth of talent. Montez Sweat and Chase Young are athletic freaks, but they’re being enlisted to bull rush opposing offensive lines play after play. Where are the stunts? Where are the creative looks to confuse opposing offensive lines to into opening up holes for a blitzing safety? I’m not a film junkie, but the defensive approach looks archaic, boring, and like an extremely poor use of our highly refined defensive tools.
As has been said elsewhere, if one guy is out of position, that’s on him. If half the defense is out of position, that’s on the coordinator. Something needs to change, and fast, or Josh Allen is going to break several records against us next week.
I look forward to reading about your takeaways from the game in the comments.
How do you feel about last night’s win?
This poll is closed
A win is a win. I feel good.
I couldn’t feel worse about a win.
I’m uneasy about the rest of the season.