In 2020, the Washington Football Team won the lowly NFC East on the back of its dominant defense. Jack Del Rio's unit finished as a top-five defense in practically every major statistical category last fall, propelling the team to its first division crown in five years.
But in order for Washington to truly be a contender in the NFC, Ron Rivera and his staff knew they'd have to drastically improve on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. To do so, Washington signed veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, who at the very least should be an upgrade over the four signal-callers the Burgundy and Gold deployed last fall.
Opinions on how successful Fitzpatrick can be are mixed, as they often have been throughout his career. But according to NBC Sports' Cris Collinsworth, the veteran signal-caller is "absolutely" good enough to lead Washington to consecutive division titles.
"Yes. Oh, absolutely. Because the weapons are so good around him," Collinsworth said on a conference call Wednesday.
Collinsworth makes a good point, as Fitzpatrick was far from the only addition Rivera and his staff made to the offensive side of the ball in the offseason. Washington signed speedy wideout Curtis Samuel and slot specialist Adam Humphries in free agency. Then, Washington used one of its third-round selections on North Carolina's Dyami Brown, who finished his collegiate career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
All that goes without mentioning Terry McLaurin, one of the best young wideouts in the sport, and tight end Logan Thomas, who had a Pro Bowl-caliber season for Washington in 2020 and led the team in receiving touchdowns.
"Terry McLaurin is a guy [Washington] has had all along," Collinsworth said. "But if Samuel comes back and Dyami Brown, their draft pick...they've got big-play, down-the-field kind of threats. Logan Thomas was so good, [too]."
Last year, Washington's offense rarely took shots down the field, regardless of which quarterback was under center. Washington's offense averaged just 6.2 air yards per pass attempt, which was tied for the Saints for the lowest in the NFL.
That won't be the case with Fitzpatrick as the team's QB1 now, according to Collinsworth.
"You're going to have Ryan Fitzpatrick take this offense from a little bit more of a ball-control kind of situation to one where they're just taking their shots," Collinsworth said. "He is a down-the-field, let's throw it around, let's take care of business with these big-play receivers. So I think this offense will look completely different."
Although Washington's offense should take strides forward in 2021, how successful this team will truly be this season is largely based on how its defense performs. The group has extremely high expectations for itself and Collinsworth expects Del Rio's unit to reach them, too.
Overall, Collinsworth believes Washington's defense should come close to replicating its 2020 form, if not better, while the offense should look drastically different with No. 14 under center.
"The defense is going to be what they are. They're going to be dominant up front," Collinsworth said. "But the offense is going to be much more of a vertical style."