Take a look at Sunday’s boxscore for Washington. Then go back two years and pull up a random Washington win from the 2018 season, when Alex Smith did just enough and the defense often stopped the best opposing player to get off to a 6-3 start.
You’ll find a lot of similarities.
In Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Dwayne Haskins threw for 178 yards. The defense forced three turnovers and had eight sacks. The offensive stats were ugly. The defensive ones less so. But together, they told the story of a grind-it-out victory, just like the kind Washington would pull out with Smith.
After an impressive comeback, one of the biggest questions for Washington in the weeks ahead is if that if that’s the style the team will use to try and win games. And if it is, is replicating that game plan sustainable?
Coach Ron Rivera, however, said he thinks his team is capable of winning in different ways. In 2018, Washington relied on Smith to be a game manager out of necessity — and it all came crashing down when the quarterback broke his leg. But Rivera, in his first year with Washington, said that he’s still figuring out what his offense can handle.
“We may have to win that way for a while,” Rivera said of grinding out games, “But, don’t count out the possibility of our offense catching fire and learning and understanding and growing into who we can become.”
For the offense to take a step forward, Haskins will have to improve. During Sunday’s win, the 23-year-old got off to a rough start as he completed just three of his first 12 passes. When Rivera watched the tape of the game on Monday, he said Haskins looked like he was “a little bit anxious” at the beginning.
But there were promising signs. Haskins settled in, getting into a speedy rhythm and quickly going through his progressions. His best work came after Washington’s defense forced timely turnovers and gave the offense great field position.
Haskins, for instance, capitalized on cornerback Fabian Moreau’s interception just before halftime. Taking over at Philadelphia’s 45-yard line, Haskins fired off a 21-yard completion to Terry McLaurin, then immediately found wideout Dontrelle Inman for another 11 yards. Haskins worked his way through the drive, capping it off by finding tight end Logan Thomas in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.
Haskins said it was crucial to find ways to extend drives.
“Once we did that, we wore them down,” he said.
“This is a second-year quarterback who’s done a great job, who’s learning, who’s made good decisions yesterday,” Rivera said. “He really did.”
Washington also ran the ball 36 times, but the offense isn’t necessarily designed to be a run-it-down-your-throat-type team. After all, Washington released Adrian Peterson and will rely on a committee of backs — Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson — instead. Those three were involved in the passing game, lining up all over the field.
If Washington does try to grind out further games, its defense will need to keep performing at a high level. While the defensive line is stacked with five first-rounders — including Chase Young, the second overall pick — there was some skepticism around the league that Washington’s defense is as good as it appeared to be.
Former Eagles executive Joe Banner tweeted the eight-sack performance gives “people a false sense of Washington being better than they are.” He noted the Eagles‘ offensive line, down three starters, was “decimated.”
“We expected to come out and make plays,” defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said. “I don’t know if you ever go into a game knowing you are going to make eight sacks, but that is a good way to start the season.”
But Washington’s defense won’t need to be extraordinary if the offense can hold its own weight. As Rivera noted, the offense is a unit that’s very young: Of Washington’s 11 starters, six were 25 or younger. There are also other inexperienced positions like tight end, where Logan Thomas (29) is still developing after making the switch from quarterback.
Rivera sees room for growth.
“We have a chance to develop,” Rivera said. “Who knows? Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but it is a process as I remind the players that we’re going through.”
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