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.
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The Washington Football team recorded eight sacks in its season-opening win against the Eagles -- the fifth-most in a single game in franchise history. It also forced three turnovers, which resulted in 14 points, and gave up just 57 yards on 17 carries.
But in its past four losses, Washington has taken down opposing quarterbacks seven times, turned four turnovers into 13 points and allowed nearly 150 yards per game on the ground.
Excelling in these three areas will be crucial as Washington looks for its second win of the season Sunday against the New York Giants. And it just so happens that Washington's keys to success coincide with some of the Giants' biggest weaknesses.
"The first game, we all saw how effective [pressuring the quarterback] was -- sacks turned into turnovers, which were fumbles, interceptions," linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said. "The D-line has been playing good, the [defensive] tackles had an amazing game last week, and in the back end, we're just going to help out the D-line and make sure they can get after the passer, and then we'll reap the benefits from that."
While Washington (1-4) has allowed 4.2 sacks per game this season -- the second-highest total in the NFL -- the Giants (0-5) have not been much better protecting second-year signal-caller Daniel Jones. He's been taken down 16 times and pressured on a league-worst 46.2% of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. His passer rating falls to 50 under duress, which is 22nd among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks.
That bodes well for a defensive front that should be motivated after recording just three sacks the past three games.
"Definitely a lot of opportunities," defensive end Chase Young said. "Daniel Jones, he's a first-round pick. They say the numbers aren't there for him, but the talent is there. He still makes a lot of real, real good plays on film, so it's just a guy that you can't sleep on."
Jones' Achilles heel early in his career has been turnovers, as he has thrown 17 interceptions and fumbled 22 times (14 lost). In 17 starts, the only game in which he did not turn the ball over was against Washington in Week 16 of last season. Jones is susceptible to giving the ball away if the defense can put constant pressure on him, which will surely help a Washington offense that is still trying to find its offensive rhythm.
Part of Washington's issues has been its running game, which ranks 31st in the NFL with 81.4 yards per game. The only team that is worse is New York with an average of 79 yards. Granted, the Giants lost Saquon Barkley, one of the best running backs in the league, to a season-ending injury, and Devonta Freeman is entering just his fourth game after signing with the team Sept. 23. But they still only average 3.5 yards per attempt with Jones as their leading rusher.
If Washington can stymie the run on early downs, pressure Jones on later downs and produce a few takeaways, it'll put itself in great position to start 2-0 in the division for the first time since 2018.
-- The anatomy of the big play: Sharp Football defines an "explosive rush" as a run of at least 10 yards and an "explosive pass" as a completion of at least 15 yards. Washington is at the bottom or close to the bottom of the NFL in both metrics.
The team's eight explosive rush plays ranks last, while its explosive run rate is tied for last at 7%. Through the air, it has 10 explosive plays (T-27th) out of 196, which is good enough for an explosive pass rate of 5% (31st). That leaves Washington with an overall explosive play rate of 6%, making it the least explosive team aside from the Cincinnati Bengals.
Quarterback Kyle Allen and offensive coordinator Scott Turner both addressed this issue earlier this week. They agreed big plays are comprised of a bunch of moving parts that need to come together more often for Washington's offense.
"It's a group effort," Turner said. "We've got to protect up front. The receivers have to get the separation down the field and then the [quarterbacks] got to stand in there and make the throw. I've got to do a good job of making those calls at the right time. It starts, obviously, with me making the play call, and the guys have to execute on the field."
"I think it's a combination of things," Allen added, "and I think it's things we're looking at. We need more big plays if we want to be successful. I think of the really good offenses around the league that are successful, they have those chunk plays. But they also take what's there for them. I think there's a happy medium. I know it's been an emphasis every week. We've just got to start hitting those."
-- Rivera believes Gibson can handle a bigger workload: In two seasons at Memphis, Antonio Gibson scored 14 touchdowns on 77 touches.
He already has 70 touches in five games with Washington, and Rivera believes he's capable of even more.
"When you watched their tape and you watch how explosive [Gibson] was, you thought, 'Wow, this team could be using this guy a little bit more,'" Rivera said. "And that's what we want to do. We believe he can, and we're going to see if he can handle it or not. He's done some good things for us. [Seventy] touches in five games is really not a lot if you really think about it -- that's only 15 a game -- so this is a guy we think can handle a little bit more of a load, and we're going to continue to work him and have him develop and grow as a football player."
-- Punt return has been good, but kick return can be better: Nate Kaczor spoke to the media Friday for the first time since the regular season began and shed light on how the punt and kick return units have fared so far.
"We've had a longer [punt return] this year that we had any time last year," Kaczor said. "That was the [19-yarder] Steven Sims Jr. had at Cleveland, and then Isaiah [Wright] had a decent return this last week against the Rams. So, the punt returns, the ones we've gotten have been a bit better than the ones last year.
"The kickoff return phase is a function of penalties," he added. "It's not like there's been 100 kickoff returns yet, but basically improving our angles and our drop urgency on the kickoff return, which has caused a couple penalties. ...If we get those things cleaned up, when we get those things cleaned up, we'll be better."
Check out the injury report for Washington's game against the Giants, HERE.
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