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.
There were plenty of naysayers with a long list of questions when the Washington Football Team signed Ronald Darby in March. He had a strong rookie season, but injuries and turbulent play over the next four years prompted many to wonder if he was still a starting-caliber player.
But head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of Washington's coaches liked Darby's skillset and believed he could create positive matchups for them. After five tackles, a fumble recovery and four pass breakups in a 20-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, it's starting to look like taking a chance on the sixth-year veteran was worth the gamble.
"I thought he put himself in the position to make plays more so than anything else," Rivera said Monday. "That's the most important thing is just being where you need to be when the ball arrives. He was there, and I think that led to the big plays that he made in terms of batting balls away."
Darby was in rare form as a cover corner against the Bengals; he's only recorded four pass breakups in a game two other times in his career, the last of which came in 2018. Not only did he lead the team with a Pro Football Focus cover grade of 88.6, but he also became the third player in Washington history to compile four pass breakups and a fumble recovery in a game.
Two of Darby's pass breakups saved Washington from allowing pivotal touchdowns. The first came with eight seconds left in the first quarter when he broke up a deep shot to the end zone from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins. The next came on the same drive; this time, he broke in front of Burrow's pass to A.J. Green and nearly grabbed his first interception. One play later, Darby was there to scoop up the ball after Chase Young forced a fumble at the one-yard line.
"I was going out there and making a play," Darby said after the game. "Staying calm with the deep balls, locating it and just making a play on it."
Darby's immensely productive day might have been a surprise to some, but according to PFF, he has been one of the most productive cornerbacks all season. Darby is currently sixth with an overall grade of 78.6 and a coverage grade of 77.7. His cover grade against the Bengals was also fourth among all cornerbacks in Week 11.
Darby said after he was signed that he had something to prove in Washington. It was his second one-year deal, and he wanted to show he could still be the player he was as a rookie when he broke up 21 passes, recorded 68 tackles and had two interceptions. He still has some work to do before he accomplishes that, but so far Darby is proving his worth as a part of Washington's secondary.
"I like his explosiveness in terms of trying to make plays. He's got good quickness, good speed," Rivera said of Darby during training camp. "I think he has the chance to be a solid football player and be the guy that can help us."
-- Chase Young will "find a way" to stay in shape despite intensive COVID protocols: Rivera has been around Young for about three months now and has been impressed with the rookie defensive end's "unbelievable" intangibles. He does extra work in the weight room, listens to the training staff's instructions on how to take care of his body and is a good student in the classroom. The NFL's intensive COVID-19 protocols have forced many of the players to study and work out away from the facility, but Rivera is not worried about Young being ready.
"Unfortunately, now with the protocols the way they are, guys are going to have to tempo back a little bit. They can't spend as much time here. He'll find a way. That's the thing that I'm really pleased with. He seems to always have an answer for how to do things. He's a bright young man. He's sharp. He gets it. I'm excited about who he's going to become for us. I'm excited about who he is right now."
-- Scott Turner is opening up the playbook: Over the past four games, Washington's offense has averaged 397.0 yards per game, outperforming its 324.0 average for the season. To Rivera, that means offensive coordinator Scott Turner is opening up the playbook, but it also has a lot to do with being able to game plan for a specific quarterback in the starting lineup. The uptick in production also means that Washington's skill players are starting to improve, and that is an encouraging sign to Rivera.
"I mean, if you look at the way the receiving corps is getting better and better and stronger and stronger, you see the way the running game is coming together, it's pretty exciting. The next few weeks are going to be challenging based on who we play. We have Dallas and then Pittsburgh. Those are going to be tough games. Dallas is going to be home, it's Thanksgiving, where they traditionally play big. They're coming off of a good win. Then you have obviously the undefeated Steelers. We're going to them in a couple weeks. It's going to be an interesting...two weeks."
-- Do more and do it better: It's one thing for players to do their jobs, Rivera said, but it's another thing to do their jobs with a little extra effort. That's the message Rivera gave to his team after Sunday's win over the Bengals. It's not just about running through a crease or holding a block, but holding onto the ball, making a play and creating a bigger hole for a running back. Those are things Rivera wants his young players to understand as they learn how to win together.
"Take ownership. If you're not doing it well, do it better. If you see somebody else not doing it the right way, help. Correct them. Point it out. Get them to understand. That's what I'm trying to get across to our guys. It's not just about doing your job. It's about the whole thing...all 11 guys doing what they need to do. That's what the important thing is."
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