Football Team

Washington's record isn't shocking, but the way it's playing is

Football Team

Before the Washington Football Team began its season 16 days ago, many predicted that they would get off to the 1-2 start that has come to fruition. Their debut against the Los Angeles Chargers felt like a toss-up the moment the franchise's schedule came out, and even optimists viewed the trip to Buffalo as a massive undertaking.

So, the fact that Ron Rivera's squad is a game under .500 through three outings isn't all that surprising.

What has been surprising, though — as well as other words like "upsetting" and "disturbing" and "(let's not print that on this website)" — is how the Burgundy and Gold has performed up to this point.

One issue that almost immediately impacted things, as well as one that was basically out of Washington's control, was Ryan Fitzpatrick's injury. The free agent quarterback whom Rivera and the front office acquired and installed as the starter all spring and summer got to run the offense for six throws before exiting Week 1's matchup with the Chargers and landing on I.R.

There's an argument to be made that Fitzpatrick's loss was a major one, as well as a counterargument that Taylor Heinicke has and can continue to do the job as effectively as the veteran. What can't be debated, though, is that going with one signal caller for the entirety of the offseason and then watching that signal caller limp off before his first halftime in his new uniform will wreak some havoc on an organization.

 

But as troubling as it was to watch Fitzpatrick's stint as the top QB end in such rapid fashion, there's been something much, much worse unfolding since the Sep. 12 opener, and that's the production on the other side of the ball.

Washington's defense — a group that's had investments chucked at it via the draft and open market, a group that's in its second campaign under its coordinator and a group that's set seriously lofty goals for itself — currently finds itself at the bottom of the categories it excelled in a year ago.

Not at the top. Not in the middle. Not in the middle-ish.

The bottom.

And that's why it's so hard to remain calm about the club's outlook, even with a record that suggests there's still so much time to bounce back. 

Not everything about Washington's defense is going to remain as porous as it's been during the first month. It's inevitable that their atrocious third-down percentage will at least return to a place where it's merely bad, for example, and they ought to be able to force more turnovers than the rate at which they're presently doing so.

Their other flaws, however, like the mediocre linebacking, or the inability by the D-line to get home in one-on-one situations, or the gaps in coverage that are routinely getting exposed, or the undisciplined penalties, or the refusal to execute assignments that Rivera brings up nearly every time he speaks to the media?

Those aren't problems that a larger sample size will magically erase. Instead, they're problems that Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr and Dak Prescott will feast on. Hell, Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston and Sam Darnold could very possibly do so, too. Justin Herbert, Daniel Jones and Josh Allen have definitely enjoyed themselves already. 

And those problems, by the way, will in turn increase the stress on the Heinicke-led offense, an operation that was supposed to be led by Fitzpatrick and wasn't supposed to be put in a position where it had to thrive each weekend. 

So, yes, while it's tempting — and perhaps a tad useful — to remember that Rivera's last bunch tumbled to 1-5 in 2020 before winning six of their final 10 to clinch the NFC East, it'd be disingenuous to pretend like a little resolve and patience will be enough to rescue Washington from this slump. 

What will actually change the mood and the ceiling is the defensive players truly correcting their shortcomings and the staff truly dumping what's not working, as opposed to the players promising that they will and the staff sticking to its original plan.

Heinicke and his huddle aren't free of guilt — Heinicke's turnovers versus the Bills weren't tenable and the second-tier guys aren't stepping up  — but it's Jack Del Rio's crew that has to lead the way.

If that doesn't happen, then the idea of standing at a frustrating 1-2 is going to sound awfully nice, because the reality will be much worse — and much more frustrating.