We talked with Andrew York of Hogs Haven about the Washington Football Team and what is going on, check it out.
1. The Washington Football Team seemed to be able to pull off a win despite less than stellar offensive numbers, yet they have some talent on that side of the ball. Who should Cardinals fans know for Sunday?
In terms of the skill-position players, second year WR Terry McLaurin looks like a budding star. He almost broke 1000 receiving yards last year despite a run-heavy offense and with 3 different QBs throwing to him (none of them very good). He has 4.3 speed, but is also a savvy route runner and physical blocker. He was shadowed by Darius Slay last week, but still managed to get 5 receptions for 61 yards. Rookie RB Antonio Gibson was a 3rd round pick this year for a team already deep at RB, but the coaches liked his film so much they couldn’t pass him up. He was cross trained at WR and RB in college, so he’s a weapon as both a runner and a pass catcher and should give OC Scott Turner (who formerly called plays for Christian McCaffrey in Carolina) some opportunities for creative plays. Gibson is only a rookie though, so they’re working him in slowly. Lastly, Logan Thomas will be lining up at TE. He entered the NFL as a QB and was converted to TE, so he is extremely raw in his technique, but his athletic profile is very close to Rob Gronkowski and allows him to get separation and block more effectively than one might expect given his raw technique. I wouldn’t expect him to have a huge impact, but Haskins showed a bit of a connection with him last week. I’ll save discussion of Haskins for question 4, below.
In terms of “who you should know,” it’s probably also worth mentioning the bad with the good. All of our WRs save journeyman Dontrelle Inman are on rookie contracts, so it is a very young and unproven group. Our OL had issues with blocking in week 1. Some of that is likely due to the shortened offseason, but the left side of the OL in particular is quite unproven. It is LT Geron Christian’s 3rd year in the NFL and 1st year as starter. Next to him, it is LG Wes Martin’s 2nd year in the NFL and 1st year as starter. Both of those players had some very rough play last Sunday and I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear their names called on Sunday, though not in a good way.
2. The WFT has put a lot into their front four on defense, with Chase Young seeming to be the crown jewel, how good could this defense be with Ron Rivera at the helm?
Pretty darn good. The other key ingredient is Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator. Del Rio has a really good track record as a DC, turning around a Panthers defense ranked 32nd in 2001 into the 2nd ranked defense in 2002, and turning around a Broncos defense ranked 20th in 2011 into the 2nd ranked defense in 2012. It looks like a similar turnaround may be happening here. Fans thought we had the talent on defense last year, we just needed better defensive coaching (a perennial problem until now). The talent level on the defense is (in order) DL->DB->LB. Our defensive line is stacked with five 1st round picks (DE Ryan Kerrigan, DT Jonathan Allen, DT Daron Payne, DE Montez Sweat, and DE Chase Young) as well as the criminally underrated DT Matt Ioannidis, who had 8.5 sacks, 11 TFL, and 64 combined tackles last year. The DB group doesn’t have the draft pedigree of the DL, but they do have speed and a mix of young and veteran players (including former All Pro Landon Collins) and seem to have gelled pretty well as a unit. The LB group is the weakest part of the defense, particularly in coverage, and is mostly composed of late round picks and journeyman veterans. Still, the group has speed and played reasonably well on Sunday, though they surely benefited from the big men in front of them.
3. Speaking of Rivera, how has the culture changed since he took over?
It’s a complete culture change from how things were done under former Team President Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jay Gruden. Bruce Allen had an unearned “smartest man in the room” attitude and disingenuous approach to dealing with players that resulted in festering disputes and inaction with players (Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams) and had him voted the NFL’s least trusted GM by league agents and executives. Jay Gruden was a talented offensive mind and good OC, but had a blindspot when it came to defensive coaching, had a lackadaisical approach to practice, and seemed like someone the players saw as more of a buddy than a leader.
Ron Rivera is the complete opposite of both those examples. Ron has a reputation for integrity and accountability and has been instilling those values since his arrival, flushing out quite a few people associated with the old regime (and the scandals that have since been revealed) and quickly making decisions to trade away some of the disgruntled players left over from last year (Trent Williams and Quinton Dunbar). He’s also unquestionably a leader to his players, not a buddy, and they have responded by following his example and pushing themselves harder. Ron is also a good defensive coach, though I would say he has more of a CEO approach to coaching and sets the strategy, but leaves a lot of the details to his coordinators. Ron also runs much harder practices and focuses hard on conditioning, and I think this played a role in the comeback win on Sunday, where the Eagles started to look gassed in the 2nd half, but our players were picking up steam.
4. Where is Dwayne Haskins in his development and how confident are you that he is the quarterback of the future?
Dwayne is still rather early in his development, but has been making great progress since being drafted. He was unusually raw as a rookie, having only started one season in college (far less than most NFL QBs), but he flashed a lot of raw talent. The team intended for him to ride the bench to develop for a year, but poor play and injuries above him on the depth chart forced him to start. He was very raw when he first saw NFL action and had some brutal games early on. His poor footwork caused the occasional errant throw, problems with cadence caused false starts by the OL, calling poor protections led to unblocked rushers, and slowness going through progressions caused him to hold onto the ball too long and take hits. He improved in all of those areas as the season wore on and left fans hopeful in our final few games about what he could look like this year. In last week’s matchup, he seemed to go through that full development cycle over the course of the game. He was brutal in the first half and seemed to have regressed at first, but started to get into a better rhythm and was much more consistent in the 2nd half. We’re hoping the first half was just shaking off the rust of a shortened offseason, but we’re eager to see what he looks like in week 2.
In terms of how he looks, I’d say he’s a weird mix of a young Ben Roethlisberger’s physical ability (really big arm, able to make touch passes all over the field, able to cover more ground with his legs than people expect from a big guy) combined with Alex Smith’s playstyle (pocket passer, prefers safe short passes to risky big plays, places the ball where only his receiver can catch it, is very careful with the ball, goes through progressions quickly and reads defenses well, though this last bit is a recent development). He clearly worked hard in the offseason and improved many of the areas he was raw. In the 2nd half of the week 1 game, he did a competent job using cadence, calling protections, reading the defense, and going through progressions. His main lingering issue is poor footwork, which results in the occasional very errant pass. He still has a ways to go in all of these areas, but the footwork is the biggest remaining issue and I think it stems from having such a strong arm that he’s used to throwing the football with arm strength alone.
In terms of how confident I am he’s the QBOTF? I’d say maybe a 6 out of 10. He’s got tremendous talent, but still has to improve his technique and right now I’d describe him more as a “game manager” than an engine of the offense. His ceiling is very high, but his floor is very low if he doesn’t continue to progress.
5. Prediction for Sunday?
It’s really tough to get a handle on this Washington team after such a weird week 1 game with two very different halves and against a very injured Eagles opponent. Our DL will undoubtedly cause pressure, but the Eagles were down 3 starters on their OL, so I doubt we get another 8 sack performance. I predict our DL will overmatch the Cardinals OL, but not to the extent we did against the Eagles. I have no idea how good of a job we’ll do containing Kyler Murray’s scrambles, but Del Rio is a savvy DC who will likely make that a priority after Murray ran all over the 49ers. I’m worried about how well our LBs will cover the middle of the field in the passing game, and I suspect that is where the Cardinals will get a lot of their yards.
On the other side of the ball, I’m not especially confident about our offense in general. The left side of our OL is a big liability and I don’t like the prospect of Chandler Jones lining up there. I expect Haskins to be under constant pressure and have to get the ball out quickly, as he did against the Eagles. I think we’ll have better success in the run game than we did week 1 (the Eagles always have a great run D), so I wouldn’t be surprised if we leaned heavily on the run game to both protect Haskins and wear down the defense. I also expect our offense will benefit from a lot of short fields gifted to them by the defense, which will allow them to score more points than the offensive statistics suggest (also as happened in week 1).
All in all, it’s a tough game to predict, as I feel like we’re both still learning a lot about our teams. I think both offenses might struggle, but I could see the game being something like 24 - 21 in favor of the Cardinals. I have to give the edge to the team that just beat last year’s NFC Champs, though it could go either way.