Football Team

One area Washington MUST improve in this year? First-half scoring

Football Team

Picking an area where the Washington Football Team's 2020 offense struggled is, uh, not challenging. The unit, led by what many metrics concluded was the worst quarterback situation in the sport, had issues galore.

One of the group's seriously weak spots, though, was first-half scoring. The Burgundy and Gold finished the season 30th in that stat with just 8.4 points on average in the first and second quarter, which is the same place they ended in first-half scoring differential (their collective deficit was -103). 

Somehow, Washington was able to overcome its consistently lackluster starts on the way to a 7-9 record and NFC East title. However, there's no way coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Scott Turner have even a semblance of interest in taking out their shovels to routinely dig out of holes again in 2021.

And with new personnel on that side of the ball, Rivera believes they won't have to. So what gives him the faith that last year's flaw won't carry over into this year?

"I think because of the players we have," he said Wednesday. "I like our guys. I think we have guys that are capable and we'll find out on Sunday."

When Rivera brings up those "capable" contributors, he's certainly thinking of legit go-to options like Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson, intriguing additions like Curtis Samuel (who must get healthy), Dyami Brown and Adam Humphries and critical holdovers like JD McKissic and Cam Sims. Together, that core represents a much better supporting cast for the quarterback.

 

But that quarterback might be the person Rivera's subconsciously referencing the most when he speaks with optimism about improved scoring in his second go-round as Washington's boss.

Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick comes with his deficiencies — doubters will throw a "many" in front of deficiencies there — but there's also legitimate hope among coaches and those in uniform that he'll be a much more competent passer than 2020's crew was.

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McLaurin, for one, expects to see Turner's scheme expand and be more diverse thanks to Fitzpatrick's presence. 

"I think his arsenal of plays that he has definitely grown more and more," McLaurin said about Turner. "The more confidence you get in your personnel — obviously, Fitz being a veteran quarterback, he can handle a lot of that stuff, that helps as well. So, I think the playbook has opened up for us this year and it's very exciting."

The Dolphins — whom Fitzpatrick played for a season ago — owned the NFL's 12th-best scoring offense in the first half (on average, they totaled 13.4 points to begin their contests, and in the veteran's seven starts, the number actually jumped to 15.3). That 12th place spot was 18 better than how Washington fared.

When the topic of starting fast was brought up during his Wednesday press conference, Fitzpatrick identified a couple of key ingredients for doing so.

"Just get first downs," he said. "Just continue to get first downs and go out there and execute. And it's silly and it's a boring answer that probably everybody will give, but that's it. There's not really a special formula, it's going out there and just piecing those first downs."

"And for us and for young teams, confidence is always a big thing," Fitzpatrick added. "So going out there confident, having a good week of practice and knowing that you're going to be able to carry that over to the game."

There are a bounty of reasons why it'd be advantageous for Washington to generate more success in each contest's first 30 minutes.

Consider the schedule of opponents. Think Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen and Russell Wilson will be patient as Fitzpatrick and the gang try to make a dent on the scoreboard? That's a rhetorical one, folks.

 

As for Washington's defense, Chase Young, Montez Sweat and the rest of the defensive line barely knew what it was like to play with a lead last year and still posted the third-most sacks in the league. Imagine the kind of damage they'd be able to do if they were trailing less.

In September, everything is always centered around where this franchise will be by the culmination of the campaign. Where will they end up in the NFC East standings? Where will they finish in various rankings? Will they wind up in the playoffs?

The answers to those questions are complicated and, truthfully, impossible to predict as of now.

But if Washington's offense — which is featuring a new QB, a more comfortable play-caller and a bolstered bunch of talent — can merely jump out to better starts, then all of those endings should be more positive, too.   

Kickoff is set to take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Coverage begins with Washington Football Kickoff Live on NBC Sports Washington and the MyTeams app at 12 p.m. and Washington Football Postgame Live immediately following the game.