Football Team

Hailey's Notebook: What stood out after WFT vs. Dallas re-watch

Football Team

Pete Hailey is not a current or former NFL player, nor is he a current or former NFL coach. He is a reporter. Therefore, this space won't be used to closely analyze schemes or assign blame on coverage breakdowns or anything like that related to the Washington Football Team, because those things are hard to discern without knowing the design of and plan for a given play.

That said, he does cover Washington on a day-to-day basis, meaning he can (hopefully) pass along helpful observations after re-watching each of the franchise's games. So, here's what stood out to him from the Week 14 loss to Dallas:

 
  • Of all the things Washington relies on most to win in 2021, avoiding an early, multi-score deficit is probably the most necessary. Against the Cowboys, Ron Rivera's team was down 11-0 rather quickly and 18-0 before the first quarter concluded. That meant the running game had to take a backseat, which meant more Taylor Heinicke throws, which meant more poor decisions from Heinicke, which eventually meant a loss to the franchise's rival. The quarterback began the afternoon tentatively and finished it by being overaggressive before getting hurt and replaced by Kyle Allen. It was easily his worst effort of the campaign.
  • Out of Heinicke's many bad choices in the matchup, this one was probably his worst (and potentially most costly, too). On a third-and-5 early in the third quarter, Curtis Samuel came across in motion and broke into the flat once the ball was snapped, but Heinicke (correctly, because a DB initially kept his eyes on the wideout) turned him down to look elsewhere. But then, when Heinicke rolled out, he seemingly forgot that Samuel was still there and wide open as his outlet, and instead tried to hit Terry McLaurin deep. The sequence ended with an incomplete pass, an injured McLaurin and a frustrated Samuel. This is precisely the kind of heroic behavior that Rivera doesn't want Heinicke to fall into: 
  • By the way, McLaurin's numbers for Week 14 were: 0 catches, 0 yards, 1 early exit. 
  • For those who don't want to give Landon Collins much credit for the basic interception he made on Dak Prescott, please reference the dropped picks by Kendall Fuller and Jamin Davis that occurred on Sunday. Fuller couldn't corral a pass that Prescott zipped right at him, while Davis perfectly read a screen but saw Prescott's attempt plunk right off his hands. Collins was the only one of the three to actually pull off the simple play. (Unrelated: Collins' two "sacks" of Prescott will look awesome for him on his final stat line come the end of the year; both happened when the quarterback gave himself up right in front of No. 26, but No. 26 isn't going to complain).
  • On the Amari Cooper touchdown in the first quarter — which followed a killer and annoying Jonathan Allen penalty — Collins and Cole Holcomb were the victims of a well-designed call. On the right side of the field, the Cowboys sent two targets out toward the sideline that distracted Collins and Holcomb and allowed Cooper to sneak in behind them. Their eyes were in the wrong place and by the time they realized it, Cooper was celebrating.
  • For those wondering how the already-mentioned Heinicke error can be graded worse than the sack-fumble-touchdown that made it 18-0, here's why: It wasn't just the signal caller's fault. Brandon Scherff got worked by Micah Parsons and Heinicke really had no shot. As for Heinicke's earlier interception, it also was because of an offensive lineman's mistake; Charles Leno Jr.'s failure to get Randy Gregory on the ground with a cut block is why Gregory could deflect the throw and ultimately grab it himself. Again, Heinicke was not sharp — and probably should've been yanked sooner in favor of Allen — but the line overall was subpar as well. 
  • Cam Sims' score over Trevon Diggs won't get a lot of shine because it only made the contest 24-8, but DAMN CAM. Sims told JP Finlay afterward that he saw on film how Diggs likes to bite on double moves, which is the route Sims ran on the play, and Heinicke gave his tall receiver a chance by chucking it up for him. Sims doesn't get many opportunities, but on the few he does see, he tends to cash in — with Sunday's touchdown representing his biggest jackpot yet.
  • Antonio Gibson's latest fumble sure appeared avoidable. On a second-and-12 in the third after Sims' highlight, Gibson caught a checkdown, turned upfield and encountered two Dallas defenders. Gibson, who was nowhere close to the sticks, pretty much gave himself up by diving forward but failed to properly secure the ball, which is how it got punched out. Whatever momentum the hosts had? Immediately gone. As evidenced by what he did on the four-game winning streak, Gibson can be invaluable for Washington, so Rivera can't afford to just bench him for the repetitive fumbling. That said, these errors are so maddening.
  • Kam Curl always — always, always, always — seems to be in the correct spot. He may not be generating the same sort of super-impactful plays in 2021 that he was responsible for as a rookie, but still, he's so reliable and so smart and so versatile and so good. He's saved a lot of third-and-7s or so from being converted this year thanks to sure-handed tackling and excellent reads.
  • Last thing: The Cowboys got CeeDee Lamb involved as a running back on one toss that he took for 10 yards. Maybe Washington should aim to do the same with Samuel down the stretch? Since returning from his groin issue, Samuel hasn't produced a single chunk play, so deploying him as a running back might be prudent for coordinator Scott Turner. That isn't to say Samuel should get eight attempts next week in Philly, but a handoff or two could help him find a rhythm, give Gibson a break and spark the offense as a whole.