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Enemy Confidential: Surging Washington Football Team Presents Stiff Test For Seahawks

Up until two weeks ago, Washington looked dead in the water in its pursuit of a second straight playoff berth. But with two straight victories over quality teams, Ron Rivera's squad has climbed back into the race heading towards a home prime time battle against the desperate Seahawks.

For most of the 2021 season, the Seahawks and Washington Football Team's paths have mirrored one another in nearly every aspect.

Entering a new season as defending division champions, both teams started with 2-5 records respectively, losing their starting quarterbacks due to injuries in the process. Defensively, each team struggled to slow down opponents, with Seattle allowing 23 points and a whopping 414 yards per game and Washington surrendering 30 points and 405 yards per game during that span.

But while the Seahawks haven't been able to get untracked since Russell Wilson returned from finger surgery two weeks ago, Washington finds itself trending in the opposite direction at the perfect time. Following losses in six of their first eight games, coach Ron Rivera's club has picked up back-to-back impressive victories over the defending champion Buccaneers and Panthers, clawing back into the wild card picture with seven games remaining on the schedule.

During the team's current win streak, quarterback Taylor Heinicke has played the best football of his young NFL career. Against Tampa Bay, the former Old Dominion star completed 81 percent of his passes to out-duel Tom Brady in a shocking 29-19 victory. Then, he followed up with an even better outing, tossing three touchdowns in a 27-21 road win against a tough Carolina defense.

Aiding Washington's cause, even after losing former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young to a torn ACL, Rivera's defense has come to life in the past few weeks. Slowing down offenses led by Brady and Cam Newton, even while losing for No. 2 overall pick Chase Young to a season-ending injury, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's squad limited the Buccaneers and Panthers to 20 points and 285 total yards per game.

"I’m sure they’re feeling really excited about where they’re going," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Wednesday. "They looked really solid, a really well-balanced team, very much like we’ve seen Ron’s [Rivera] teams over the years. They’re good on teams, they’re good on defense, and they move it on offense. They have a real nice system going. We’re up against a good club. Unfortunately, we catch them when they’re hot and going and all that. We have got to do a really nice job this week and learn."

With both teams on the outside looking in in regard to the wild card race in the NFC, Monday's game will feel like a playoff game. The Seahawks can't afford another loss, as dropping to 3-8 would most certainly put the ax in their already near-impossible playoff hopes, while Washington has a prime chance to make up ground on a struggling first-place Cowboys team in the NFC East.

Heading into Monday's clash near the nation's capital, here’s a closer look at the Seahawks' Week 12 opponent, including series history, additions/departures, schematic insight, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the Washington Football Team.

Series History

19th regular season meeting. Washington leads the all-time series 12-9, while Seattle has won all three playoff matchups.

After the Seahawks entered the NFL in 1976, Washington won five of the first six games, including capturing four consecutive victories from 1983 to 1992. Seattle's longest win streak in the series came from 1994 to 1998 with three straight victories, including a pair of wins on the road. Since Carroll arrived in 2010, the Seahawks have won three of the past five games, including a playoff road win in Washington in 2012 and a road win in 2020.

What's New

Departures: Washington didn't have too many high-profile departures in free agency, but veteran cornerback Ronald Darby bolted for Denver on a three-year contract. Long-time starting tackle Morgan Moses was released, opening up a starting job eventually taken by former Chicago starter Charles Leno. Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan also exited after 10 seasons with the organization to jump to the division rival Eagles.

Additions: Sticking to their usual aggressiveness in free agency under owner Dan Snyder, Washington upgraded its secondary by signing former Bengals first-round cornerback William Jackson III to a three-year, $40.5 million deal. The team also made some thrifty additions on offense, signing dynamic playmaker Curtis Samuel away from the Panthers and promptly plucking Leno off the market when Chicago mystifyingly released him after the draft in May. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also joined the team on a one-year deal as the expected starter, only to be sidelined by a significant hip injury in the season opener. In the draft, Rivera beefed up his defense using a first-round pick on Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis and also found potential long-term starters in versatile lineman Samuel Cosmi and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste in the second and third rounds respectively.

Injury Report

Washington enters Monday's contest fairly healthy, but Heinicke may be without two of his top receivers behind Terry McLaurin with Samuel and fellow veteran Adam Humphries listed as questionable with groin and hip injuries respectively. Cosmi, who has earned six starts so far as a rookie, will also miss the game with a hip injury and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones is doubtful with his own hip-related issue.

Inside The Scheme

Under coordinator Scott Turner, Washington has used 11 personnel with three receivers, one running back, and one tight end on 77 percent of its offensive snaps, second behind only the Los Angeles Rams. The majority of the rest of their plays (16 percent) came out of 12 personnel with one receiver subbing out for a second tight end on the field.

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Per Pro Football Focus, Washington utilized a balanced rushing attack schematically in 2020, running zone on 49.5 percent of runs. This year, Turner has leaned more heavily on inside and outside zone at a 62.5 percent clip. Play action has also been a big part of the team's offense, with Heinicke dropping back to pass 127 times off play fakes, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. He's been highly effective in those situations, completing 75 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

Schematically, Washington has remained a zone coverage-heavy team under experienced coordinator Jack Del Rio, running Cover 3, Cover 1, and quarters as their primary coverages. The unit has also been one of the most aggressive, blitzing 32.2 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the league. This hasn't led to high sack or quarterback hit totals, but blitzing has helped offset injuries to Young and Montez Sweat, the team's top two edge rushers.

By The Numbers

46.8: Red zone touchdown percentage by Washington's offense, ranked 31st in the NFL

123: Rushing yards per game, 10th-best in the NFL

9: Interceptions thrown by Heinicke, tied for fourth-most among qualified passers

67: Percent Pass Block Win Rate per ESPN, fourth-best in the league

5: Fumbles by Antonio Gibson, most among NFL running backs per Pro Football Focus

24: Passing touchdowns allowed, second-most behind only the Colts

7.7: Yards per attempt allowed to opposing quarterbacks, tied for sixth-worst in the league

985: Rushing yards allowed, fourth-fewest among 32 NFL teams

52.9: Third down conversion rate against, ranked dead-last in the league

20.7: Win percentage by Jonathan Allen as a pass rusher, 10th best per PFF

Carroll's Thoughts

--On Heinicke's growth in coordinator Scott Turner's offense: “Taylor Heinicke is playing good. He’s playing good football for them. He’s been real resourceful. He’s obviously in charge of their offense and can throw all of the stuff they’re asking him to throw. He’s run the ball 40 something times, he’s got a good average there. Not just escaping on scrambles, but reading option opportunities and stuff like that, he does a good job. He’s truly a double threat for us in that regard."

--On the star turn by McLaurin catching passes from Heinicke: “He’s really fast, so he’s always got the edge on the opportunities. He’s a really good athlete, really powerful, explosive athlete. Gets off the ground really well. You can see and feel the strength of him. He doesn’t get knocked around when he’s going to play the ball. They know how to put the ball up to him and utilize him. He’s just been legitimately what people thought he would be coming out of the draft. He’s a big time player.”