Column: Week 2 was a necessary tempering of expectation for Washington Football fans
Observations from the first two weeks of play for the Washington Football Team
Washington’s Week 1 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was an exciting start for the franchise in its first season under head coach Ron Rivera. In the dog days of Jay Gruden’s head coaching tenure, Washington’s players probably would have given up with a 17-point first-half deficit, resigning themselves to the fact that they were up against a superior team.
But something different happened that Sunday, Sept. 13. Washington fought back. Inspired by second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ halftime speech, they scored 27 points unanswered, picking apart a Philadelphia defense that looked gassed for most of the game. The defensive line was as impressive as expected, dominating the Eagles depleted offensive line en route to eight sacks on Carson Wentz. The secondary also bounced back from their underwhelming first half, shutting down Philly’s passing game in the second half.
But despite the excitement that Week 1’s performance brought out of Washington fans, Week 2 reminded everyone that this team still has plenty of work to do.
Washington’s defense got off to another slow start, this time down 20 at halftime. The offensive issues that analysts expected before the season came to light in this game, with Haskins struggling and Terry McLaurin proving to be the only offensive weapon that could provide consistent playmaking.
“We’re going to go through this; these are growing pains,” Rivera said in The Athletic. “We won a game last week, and everybody’s excited – I was excited. I’m enthusiastic because I think I have a good football team; we’ve just got a lot to learn. We’re a young football team.”
Many of the inconsistencies that plagued Haskins during his rookie campaign have reappeared throughout these first two games. Haskins deserves some of the blame, but a lot of that is on the team providing him with few quality options. Too many times there were few places where Haskins could go with the ball, with his receivers failing to create separation and get open. Through no fault of his own, his teammates also had multiple bad drops against Arizona.
Haskins also struggled with inconsistent accuracy throughout the game, missing the few receivers who did manage to get open. He had an open receiver in the red zone in the third quarter when Washington was trying to stage another comeback, but threw the ball too hard, causing an incompletion. They settled for a field goal, which effectively killed the momentum they built on that drive. For an offense that is expected to struggle, if they want to outplay their expectations, they can’t let opportunities go to waste. Washington has to minimize drops and missed throws.
While the offense is going through the same growing pains that many expected, the defense has had mixed results. The defensive line is stellar, with rookie Chase Young playing up to expectations through his first two games. But the rebuilt secondary has suffered way too many breakdowns, which have been the main reason Washington has found themselves in these double-digit deficits.
Like the receiving core on offense, there aren’t many high-quality options Washington can turn to in its secondary outside of safety Landon Collins. So the lumps they have taken are to be expected. But, for this team to grow, they have to stop giving up points early. While the secondary stepped up in the second half against the Eagles, their teammates on the offensive side of the ball are not equipped to overcome big leads, as seen in the Arizona game.
The defense has been stellar in late-game situations thus far, allowing just 10 points in the second half in Week 1 and 2. But if this team wants to have any chance to compete in an NFC East division that looks even worse than usual, the defense is going to have to grind out games. They have to show up for the full 60 minutes, and not just the final 30.
The type of competitive spirit that Washington fans were hoping Rivera would instill in this team has shown itself through the first two games, and that is something this team can build on. And while this is a rebuilding year, with their division rivals struggling, there’s a slight chance Washington can make some noise in the NFC East. But if the defense continues to leave this young offense in holes they can’t get out of, any playoff hopes will be slim to none. And with this team still in need of talent and high draft picks to fill out their weaknesses, that’s probably for the better.