- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Before the season started, everyone thought Washington’s playmakers were going to be Terry McLaurin and … hmm. Well, if you’re drawing a blank, you’re not alone. The 25-year-old wideout was already a star on the rise, but the question was whether anyone else on the roster could jolt the offense.

After six games, it might be time to put some names alongside McLaurin’s on that list. Just take a look at LeBron James’ Twitter feed.

“I see you throw the chalk up!” James tweeted at Antonio Gibson on Sunday. “Salute and great game!!”

James’ shoutout to the Washington rookie running back was in response to Gibson mimicking the Los Angles Laker’s signature pregame ritual as he celebrated a touchdown in Sunday’s 25-3 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys. Gibson had the best rushing game of his young career, pounding the rock for 128 yards on 20 carries.

The third-rounder’s emergence is a welcome sight for an offense that ranked statistically among the worst in the NFL. In fact, Washington has started to get more production from its offense as a whole over the past few weeks. Logan Thomas, a quarterback turned tight end, is coming off the two best games of his career in terms of production. The offensive line, reshuffled with a change at left guard and the return of Brandon Scherff, has held up well.

No one should confuse the unit for an elite group, but they’ve shown signs of being a competent offense. And that might be enough to grind out some wins, given Washington has a top-five defense in terms of yards allowed (second) and defensive DVOA (fifth), a stat that measures efficiency.

“We’re growing and getting better,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “It’s starting to look more and more what we envisioned it looking like.”

The uptick coincides with Washington’s change at quarterback.

After the benching of Dwayne Haskins three weeks ago, Kyle Allen has been able to extend drives when under center. On 23 possessions with Allen at quarterback, including the series in which he got hurt against the Los Angeles Rams, Washington has scored nine times (six touchdowns) — good for a 39.1% scoring rate. Haskins, by comparison, led a scoring drive just 28.5% of the time (14 of 49 with 10 touchdowns in four games.)

Allen’s numbers have been better than Haskins’ across the board. He has a higher quarterback rating (99.4 to 80.3), has gained more yards per attempt (6.9 to 6.4) and is the more accurate passer (68.8% completion percentage to 61%). The two have thrown for the same amount of touchdowns (4), even though Allen has played in one fewer game.

Quality of competition, of course, could be a factor. The Cowboys’ defense has allowed an NFL worst 243 points during their 2-5 start and the New York Giants – who beat Washington — aren’t much better.

Still, at times during the past two games, Washington’s offense has been unrecognizable when compared to last year — and it’s not just because of the change in scheme or the competition. In 2019, Washington converted just 29% of its third downs, the worst in the league.

But against the Giants and the Cowboys, Washington has converted 56.% of its third downs. The team has gotten into manageable situations — with slightly more than half (16) coming on third-and-5 or less. Right tackle Morgan Moses said the difference was a credit to the yards Washington is now picking up on first and second down.

“It leaves the playbook open,” he said.

On Sunday, with a lead in hand, Washington could steadily run the ball and take shots down the field. With those elements mixed in, Washington got strong outings from McLaurin, Gibson and Thomas.

Thomas, in particular, is becoming a steady target in the offense. Against Dallas, he had a career-high 60 yards on four catches and a touchdown. His 6-foot-6 frame is an advantage over smaller defenders and can create mismatches for an offense. His 40 targets are the second-most on Washington, trailing only McLaurin. “People are sleeping on Logan,” Rivera said after Sunday’s game.

Over the second half of the season, it will be important for Washington’s playmakers to take another step forward. Despite their growth in the last two games, Washington’s offense still statistically ranks in the bottom five of the league. It has struggled when falling behind and has turned the ball over to a frustrating degree. They’ll need better performances if they want to win the NFC East.

Turner said he sees a group willing to put in the work.

“They’re hungry and they want to be better,” Turner said. “They want to play well, but they want to have careers in this league. .. They really bust their butt to get better.”


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