In their 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the Washington Football Team was plagued by missed opportunities and an inability to convert in the red-zone offensively.
Crossing the Packers' 30-yard line six times, Washington managed just three points on those possessions. Washington finished 0-for-4 in the red zone, stopped on fourth down inside the 5-yard line twice in the second half. Conversely, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense was efficient with touchdowns on two of four possessions inside the 20.
Offensive red-zone efficiency is paramount, particularly when facing off against Rodgers and one of the NFL's premier offenses. Entering Sunday's loss, Washington ranked tied for 14th in the league, scoring touchdowns on 62.5 percent of red zone possessions. Effectively mixing the run and pass, Washington finished with a season-high 430 yards, although they were unable to convert when it mattered most.
Trailing 21-7 midway through the third quarter, Washington faced a third-and-goal from the Packers' 3-yard line looking to draw closer. Unable to find anyone open, Taylor Heinicke scrambled to his right diving for what was initially ruled a touchdown. However, Heinicke initiated his slide at the half-yard line and the touchdown was overturned, setting up a fourth down opportunity.
"When I was going towards the goal-line, I saw a couple defenders coming in starting to pursue me and I didn't know if I was going to take a big hit or not," Heinicke said of the run. "So, I thought, 'hey let's kind of dive and squeeze my way in there.'"
The ensuing play, Heinicke lost the ball on the quarterback sneak, stopped by De'Vondre Campbell. Heinicke alertly regained possession, and it was ruled that he failed to break the plane for a touchdown.
Head coach Ron Rivera challenged the ruling, but the call on the field was upheld, another critical missed opportunity for Washington's offense. After the defense responded by forcing a three-and-out, Washington's offense once again looked to respond and trim the Packers two-touchdown deficit.
On the ensuing possession, Washington moved the ball efficiently downfield, nearly turning the ball over twice with two fumbles one by DeAndre Carter and one from Antonio Gibson. Recovering both fumbles, Washington once again faced a vital third-and-2 opportunity from Green Bay's 3-yard line.
With no one immediately open, Heinicke escaped the pocket and found a diving Terry McLaurin. However, his pass bounced off McLaurin's hands, a rare drop for the standout wide receiver who finished with seven receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets
That drop set up another critical fourth down situation for Washington's offense deep in the red zone. Looking for Ricky Seals-Jones, Heinicke's pass fell incomplete, another example of Washington's red zone struggles.
"I felt like I got in both times and then the other time I just missed Ricky there in the back of the end zone," Heinicke said of the red zone plays. "It was tough, I thought we did well though. We didn't punt the ball once. We moved the ball on them, we just couldn't finish in the red zone."
Those red zone struggles were emblematic of Washington's issues on third and fourth downs throughout. Overall, Washington finished a combined 5-of-15 on such situations, including 1-for-4 on fourth down, with the one conversion coming in the final 30 seconds of the game. That was an area of concern the first six games, as Washington ranked 27th in the league on third down, converting 34.25 percent of the time.
Meanwhile, Green Bay finished 6-of-12 on third down, converting their only fourth down of the game. On that play, Rodgers escaped to his right and threw back across his body to Davante Adams for a 17-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the game.
Moving forward, Washington will look to improve its red zone effectiveness starting with next Sunday's matchup on the road in Denver against the Broncos. Denver is currently 14th in the NFL with opponents scoring touchdowns on 57.1% of their red zone trips. Over the past three weeks, however, its defense has been one of the worst. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Brown scored touchdowns on 75% of their red zone trips, putting Denver at 25th in that span.
It played a heavy role in Denver losing its last four games. As Washington falls to 2-5 heading into Week 8, it has a chance to fix its scoring issues.
"I got a lot of confidence that [Taylor's] going to be able to move us, now we as a football team just have to continue to grow and get better," Rivera said.