Head coach Ron Rivera believes that it takes a player 5,000 reps before they can truly gain an understanding of a play or concept. After 136 snaps for the offense and 145 for the defense, the players on the Washington Football Team are not quite there yet.
Rivera's vision for building a sustainable, winning culture in Washington has been in effect for about eight months now. The team has seen the highs -- overcoming a 17-0 deficit to beat last year’s NFC East division champions -- as well as the lows -- a 30-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.
Ideally, Rivera would like to see more consistency, but he knows that will take time, especially for a team that has 37 players under 27 years old. So, for the time being, Rivera is preaching patience as it goes through the "growing pains" of learning how to win.
"I'm enthusiastic because I think we have a good football team," Rivera said. "We just have a lot to learn. We're a young team, and that's the way it is, that's the truth of the matter."
Even in a loss to the Cardinals, there were moments that validated Rivera's excitement for Washington's young roster. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin notched his fourth 100-yard performance, quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. put together two scoring drives in the fourth quarter and rookie defensive end Chase Young recorded a sack on Arizona signal-caller Kyler Murray.
Positive plays were followed by negative ones, though. The offense could not convert on 6 of its 7 third downs in the first half, and Haskins fumbled the ball on first-and-goal. On defense, Washington gave up five plays resulting in at least 10 yards, including a 54-yard pass to Andy Isabella and a 49-yard completion to Christian Kirk.
"We can't do these things," Rivera said. "We're not experienced enough to do it. We're a good football team, but we're not experienced enough to overcome helping the other team beat you. I told the players today, 'At the end of the day, it's tough enough to try to beat somebody. But when you help them, that's even tougher.'"
Washington's foundation for sustained success began when Rivera hired his coaching staff in January. He has an offensive coordinator in Scott Turner who believes in catering his system to the strengths of his players, and a defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio, who has a track record of success.
But Rivera says the offense is a year away from being ready. The defense is further along, but there is still room for improvement. Still, the goal is to win every week, so Washington has to balance rebuilding the team while still putting the players in the best position to succeed during a given game. The challenge is not to ask too much of them too soon.
"Are we getting too complicated? Are we asking too much of our guys already?" Rivera said Monday. "That's what we have to be careful of."
That is true for the coaches as well. Rivera wants to have the confidence to say, "Oh we can do this. We have the ability to do this," instead of practicing caution. It's a gradual touch-and-go between installing each unit's respective systems and giving the player a chance to win now.
"You want to have success and you want to go out there and put them in a position to win," Rivera said, "but you don't want to get ahead of yourself."
It helps that Rivera already has experience rebuilding a team over time. He took over the 2-14 Carolina Panthers in 2011 and helped them win six games. That was followed by a 7-9 season and a second place finish in 2012. Finally, in 2013, the Panthers won 12 games and earned a postseason appearance for the first time in five seasons.
By then, Carolina was the powerhouse in the NFC South, finishing first in the division three straight years and appearing in Super Bowl 50. The hope is that Rivera can do the same thing in Washington, but he knows that kind of success takes time.
"We need everybody to come in and understand what the vision is and they've got to buy into what the vision's going to be," Rivera said in April. "Once they've done that, it gives us an opportunity to be successful."
So what does a successful season look like for a team that is learning consistency and building towards a sustainable future? For Rivera, it's making sure Washington plays the right way. It involves playing hard, physical and downhill. Washington has already shown it can do that by mounting its largest comeback against the Eagles in franchise history and still fighting after going down 20-0 against the Cardinals.
"First, its got to be good, quality football," Rivera said Sept. 10. "Then, it's got to be about winning. That's what I want to see. I want to see us winning football games, but first and foremost we've got to see good football."
Rivera is happy with the players he has on the roster. Now, he is focused on getting the right group on the field and teaching them to play the right way.
"What they need to know is they have to go out and play hard and fast and physical. [If] they do their job...the right way, believe me, winning will take care of itself."
No one wants to lose in the NFL, but Sunday's loss offered a learning experience for Washington's young roster. The mistakes were the biggest disappointment to Rivera because the team had opportunities to change the game early. When the offense got the ball back at Arizona's 19-yard line, it gave it away three plays later. And when the defense immediately forced a three-and-out, Steven Sims Jr. fumbled away the punt return.
"We played two teams today," Rivera said. "We played them and ourselves. That's the truth of it. We hurt ourselves in the first half if you go back and look at it. … We've got some stuff to look at, but that's the beauty of it."
Rivera's plan for rebuilding Washington's culture is not a one-year fix; he wants the franchise to have success for years to come. There will be moments similar to Sunday's game as the team tries to create long-term success. And when they happen, Rivera wants to use it as an opportunity to get better in the future.
"If we don't learn from this then we just wasted an opportunity," he said. "We've got to start getting ready for Cleveland. In the meantime, this is history. We're going to learn from history, we're going to learn to correct things, get better and continue to grow. This is one football game and we've got 14 left to play."