During Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Ron Rivera had sideline conversations with Wes Martin and Geron Christian, a couple of struggling Washington offensive linemen.
Rivera reminded Christian, the starting left tackle, to keep moving his feet.
“Drop your anchor,” the Washington coach told Martin. Let go, he told the left guard, of whatever was preventing him from performing at the highest level on the field. “åYou can play this game,” he said.
Sunday’s game was a rough start for the left side of the Washington offensive line.
According to Pro Football Focus, Washington’s line allowed 17 pressures on 36 dropbacks — the fourth-most pressures allowed league wide. And of those 17, the analytics website viewed Christian and Martin as responsible for nine of them (Five for Martin, four for Christian).
“They got smacked in the face early,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he liked the way Martin and Christian responded, but as Washington prepares for the Arizona Cardinals this week, the left side of the line remains a cause for concern. On Sunday, the line will be tasked with stopping Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones, whose 61 sacks since 2016 leads the league.
Before the season, left tackle and guard figured to be question marks. The team traded seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams to the San Francisco 49ers and watched guard Ereck Flowers sign a three-year, $30 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Both had been reliable starters in the past — albeit in different years as Williams missed all of last season — and Rivera said those spots would be determined by competition in training camp.
Christian and Martin emerged as the clearcut winners this summer. Christian, entering his third year, beat out veteran Cornelius Lucas and fourth-rounder Saahdiq Charles, though the latter missed practically all of camp with a calf injury. Martin’s spot seemed more up for grabs as coaches experimented with different combinations at the position before eventually settling on the 24-year-old.
Sunday’s game showed both still have plenty of work ahead. On one play, Philadelphia’s Malik Jackson completely bulldozed Martin, getting a straight line on quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Christian, too, was overpowered at times.
Against the Eagles, according to Next Gen Stats, Haskins released the ball every 2.25 seconds per dropback. That was the fastest rate in the NFL.
Not all of that is on the offensive line. Rivera said Haskins’ quick trigger was partially because the 23-year-old was “a little bit anxious” to begin the game. But it does speak to how quickly the pocket collapsed on occasion.
According to ESPN, Washington’s line ranked the worst Sunday in pass block win rate, a metric that measures which linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer.
Sometimes advanced stats like Pro Football Focus and ESPN’s metrics can be subjective. Haskins, for instance, was sacked three times on Sunday, but Pro Football Focus judged that the quarterback held the ball too long for one of them. To observers, it can be hard to know which player is responsible for what play. Players often take issue with those numbers, arguing that they don’t tell the whole story.
That being said, Pro Football Focus graded Christian as the league’s worst left tackle in Week 1. And of the league’s guards, Martin ranked as the second-worst.
If Rivera is concerned, he didn’t let it known to reporters.
“I think both Wes and Geron epitomized guys that started slow but all of a sudden realized: ‘Shoot, I belong here. I can play,’” Rivera said. “That was pleasing to watch.”
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