The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Ron Rivera described the Washington Football Team's three-game stretch that started with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers as a measuring stick for its progress. So far, the defense has lived up to its high expectations.
It started by handing the Steelers their first loss of the season and holding Ben Roethlisberger's offense to less than 20 points for just the second time all season. It followed that up by holding the San Francisco 49ers -- last year's NFC Conference champions -- to just 15 points. That contributed to the unit ranking ninth or better in the four major statistical categories (total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense), which has not happened since 2008.
Washington's defense will face another benchmark against the Seattle Seahawks this weekend, and it will likely be its most difficult challenge of the season.
"This is going to be a hell of a game. I really believe that," Rivera said. "I tell the guys each game has been a test. This one will be a big test."
Seattle has been one of the NFL's best offenses all season and currently averages a sixth-best 387.5 yards per game. Only the Arizona Cardinals (Week 2) and Los Angeles Rams (Week 5) rank higher among the team's previous opponents.
The difference is that Seattle scores an average of 30.2 points pre game, which ranks third behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (31.0) and Green Bay Packers (31.5), and that is largely because of quarterback Russell Wilson. The MVP candidate is second in touchdowns (36) and tied for fourth in yards (3,685).
The priority will be for Washington's pass rush, which is tied for fourth with 40.0 sacks this season, to pressure Wilson the same way the New York Giants, who sacked Wilson five times in a 17-12 victory, managed to do in Week 13. That will not be easy, even with Washington's bevy of first-round defensive linemen, since Wilson is known for his mobility in the pocket.
"Now we're going against...probably in my opinion one of the premier escape artists in this league who has his eyes downfield, whose receivers understand that when he breaks the pocket, this is the area I have to get to, and these are the areas we have to cover," Rivera said.
Fortunately, Wilson will be facing one of the stingiest secondaries in the NFL. Washington allows 206.3 yards per game, which is the third fewest in the NFL. Cornerback Ronald Darby's Pro Football Focus overall grade is tied for 10th, rookie safety Kamren Curl is second on the team with 69 tackles, and Kendall Fuller is tied for fourth with four interceptions.
The last time Wilson faced a top 3 secondary was against the Los Angeles Rams, who forced two interceptions in a 23-16 win. The secondary will try to do the same thing to Seattle's seventh-ranked passing offense, but it will also have to fare with wide receiver DK Metcalf, who ranks second with 1,180 yards and is the fifth-most efficient wide receiver, according to Football Outsiders. Metcalf's ability, said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, makes him "a monster in this league."
"He's one of the premier guys out there. Russell knows how to get him the ball. It's one of the tough matchups that we have this week."
Del Rio and Washington's defense will want to play aggressive against Seattle, but that will be a challenge since Wilson's mobility is so pivotal to its offense. Mobile quarterbacks create another dimension and extend plays, Del Rio said, so it is imperative to be disciplined when those breakdowns happen. That means both the pass rush and coverage will need to play well off each other.
"How well we do at getting him trapped and down and rushed will help us in the back end. We've got to be good at it," Del Rio said. "In the back end, we've got to be able to take away throws and have some tight coverage so that the quarterback doesn't have what he wants and he has to hold it. All those things work hand in hand. Rush and coverage work hand in hand. We're playing a quarterback that has great mobility. It's a challenge."
The defense has risen to similar challenges before, especially in the past month. Few units have performed better in terms of points allowed than Washington over the past three games. Rivera feels like the group is ascending with three games left; he'll see how far it has risen against the Seahawks.
"We're gearing up for a big battle," Del Rio said.
-- A game plan tailored for Dwayne Haskins: With Alex Smith ruled out with a calf injury against the Seahawks, that means Dwayne Haskins Jr. will get his first start since being replaced by Kyle Allen in Week 5. Haskins has been working during practice, and even outside of the facility, to be ready for another opportunity. That time has now come for the second-year quarterback, and Rivera wants to put Haskins in the best position to succeed.
"We're seeing him work hard at what he needs to work at. He's done a nice job with it. This is a game plan tailored to his skillset, what he does really well and [what] we're gonna try to take advantage of. It's been a good work week for everybody. We'll see how it all translates to Sunday."
-- Kicking out of a slump: Anyone who watched Dustin Hopkins for most of the season could tell the veteran kicker was in a bit of a slump. He missed a field goal attempt in five the first 11 games; two of those misses -- one against the Giants and one against the Detroit Lions -- had severe consequences, as the team lost both matchups. But over the past three weeks, Hopkins has been nearly perfect with his only miss in nine attempts coming against the 49ers. Special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor is proud of Hopkins for kicking his way out of a slump and the way he stayed consistent throughout that stretch.
"What I've noticed about Hop is his grit and determination without pressing too hard through the period of time [where he missed kicks]. I believe he just kept going and kept going until eventually, he emerged on the other side of it. The thing that I was proud of with Dustin was that even though he missed kicks, he kept it manageable, meaning there hadn't been multiple misses in games. That's not what we're after. That's not what he's after, and he had the dogged determination to keep going."
-- "A chance is a chance": Haskins admitted after the 49ers game that the past two months have been difficult for him. He's had to get acclimated to being the backup and even third after being Washington's starting quarterback for 11 games dating back to the 2019 season. But he has learned a lot since he was benched and is grateful to receive another opportunity, no matter what happens after Sunday's game.
"A chance is a chance, and you have to be ready for your opportunity, whether it's last week...or any other week. Coming here and the things that have happened, it's unfortunate, but life is hard. …[it's putting your] best foot forward. That's what I'm doing."
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