Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.
The Washington Football Team is set to host the Los Angeles Chargers at FedExField for Week 1 of the 2021 season on Sunday, Sept. 12. Here are three keys to the matchup, presented by Van Metre.
1. Offensive vs. Defensive Rookies of the Year
Chase Young and Justin Herbert enraptured the NFL with their exemplary rookie performances in 2020. On Sunday, the two will play each other for the first time in their professional careers.
Ron Rivera, Young and the rest of Washington's defense has been quick to give Herbert props, because the former sixth overall pick deserves it. He smashed Baker Mayfield's rookie passing touchdown record (31) and nearly did the same to Andrew Luck's passing yards record. Defenses found little success blitzing Herbert, as he had the best passer rating (99.4) under duress.
However, there was no rookie better than Young when it came to rushing passers. He had 39 pressures last season, and it resulted in 7.5 sacks to go with 12 quarterback hits. And then there are the other aspects of Young's game to consider; he had four pass deflections, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
It's a great chance for Young to show off all the improvements he's made this offseason.
2. An opportunity to step up for Washington's wideouts
Rivera announced Friday that Curtis Samuel will be placed on short-term Injured Reserve, giving him time to heal his groin. Normally, that might worry someone who's going against last year's ninth-ranked passing defense, but the amount of options at receiver gives him confidence his team can handle it.
Situations like this give credence to Washington upgrading its wideouts during the offseason. In addition to signing Samuel, it added Adam Humphries, one of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite targets with the Buccaneers, as its primary slot option. The team then took two receivers in the NFL Draft: Dyami Brown -- one of the best deep threats in college football since 2018 -- and Dax Milne, who was a standout at BYU.
And of course Washington still has Terry McLaurin set firmly as its No. 1 target. There's no doubt the two-time captain will be ready to play, but he'll still need help against Derwin James and Asante Samuel Jr. Sunday's game will be an early chance for the new additions to prove themselves.
3. Contain Keenan Allen
Herbert has no shortage of options on the Chargers' sixth-ranked passing offense. Eight-year wideout Keenan Allen might be the best.
Allen has had a late resurgence in his career, grabbing 403 catches for 4,780 yards and 26 touchdowns since 2017. It's earned him four straight Pro Bowls votes, and his catches have resulted in 264 first downs in that span. He's one of just two receivers with 100-plus catches in each of the last two seasons. The only other player is DeAndre Hopkins.
Fortunately, Washington happens to have one of the league's best secondaries, which allowed the second-lowest passing yards in 2020. Players like Allen are exactly why Rivera wanted to sign William Jackson III, who has been one of the better man-to-man corners in the NFL with 41 pass deflections.
If Washington wants a better size matchup on Allen, it can turn to Benjamin St-Juste, who comes into the season at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. Jack Del Rio has praised St-Juste's physicality at the line of scrimmage, and if the rookie can hold Allen up for even a second longer, it'll give Young and the rest of Washington's pass-rush more time to get to Herbert.
Herbert has other weapons at his disposal, but limiting Allen's targets would go a long way towards curtailing the Chargers' offense.