5 Keys to Washington Football Foiling the Flock of Ravens
This was always going to be a season of learning and growth. Even with the expanded playoff format, being a wild card team was a long shot with where the roster currently sits.
Washington showed some life Sunday against the Cleveland Browns who have hopes of their own to take that next step forward in a tough division. The play calling was on point and the defense did their best to keep Washington in the game. Unfortunately, quarterback Dwayne Haskins had his worst performance of his young career which led to the loss. Again, learning and growth.
HOT READ: Dwayne Haskins Goal is the Hall of Fame
Washington heads into Week 4 still in first place of the NFC East at 1-2. They are facing a Baltimore Ravens team that was just humiliated on Monday Night Football by the Kansas City Chiefs.
This will be one of the biggest tests for the burgundy and gold in the 2020 season. Facing a team that will be contending for a Super Bowl and looking at this week as a “get right game” for all involved on that sideline.
The defense will see some similarities in quarterback Lamar Jackson as they saw in Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Jackson is elusive from pressure and can rip off a 25+ yard run at will. It will be up to the defense to be disciplined to contain the young star.
Haskins and the offense will again be challenged by an above average pass rush led by former all-pro defensive end Calais Campbell. The Ravens front seven can easily be matched by their secondary led by 2019 all-pro cornerback Marcus Peters.
A couple of stats to keep an eye as the game progresses:
· Neither team has allowed a score against them in the third quarter
· Terry McLaurin could move into first place in receptions in franchise history through 18 career games with 10 catches
With that, here are my 5 keys to a Washington victory:
NASCAR Fast: Washington will need to find their need, their need for speed to win on Sunday.
(Yes, I am aware I say “NASCAR fast” while using a quote from Top Gun).
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner put together his best game plan of the early season last week against Cleveland. Washington will need to see more of that if they want to keep up with Baltimore’s ability to put points on the board. Haskins was an efficient 6-for-9 for 71 yards passing and a touchdown in the first quarter.
They also had four different players record a carry forcing Cleveland to guess where the ball was going. Being able to mix it up and play to Haskins strength could put Washington out to a 10+ point lead. Which leads to the other way Washington needs to be fast.
The defensive line has done a great job creating pressure on the quarterback this year. Washington has the second highest sack per pass attempt in the NFL at 12.62% only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. Additionally, they have held opponents to a 37.78% third-down conversion percentage which is eighth-best in the NFL. Finally, Washington has allowed the third fewest yards per pass in the NFL behind the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. Adding that the Ravens are now 0-4 with Lamar Jackson as the starting quarterback when they get behind by 10 points is a recipe for success.
Getting out to a high scoring, fast start and getting to the quarterback quickly will be key to a victory.
The Wright Stuff: Coming into the season it seemed like a long-shot to a lot of people that undrafted rookie Isaiah Wright would make the 53-man roster.
Wright saw limited playing time and target share while playing at the University of Temple. He was a kick return and punt return specialist that could eventually develop into a low-end depth wide receiver. Well, he has started to prove those folks wrong.
Wright saw 6 targets in his first game action, and start, of the 2020 season. He ran crisp routes and showed sure hands when given the opportunity. Isaiah also broke up a potential interception by Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward early in the game.
He has a high football IQ that will be needed against a Baltimore Ravens team that Washington will need to convert short yardage situations to keep Lamar Jackson on the sideline.
Getting Wright involved will free up other opportunities for McLaurin, tight end Logan Thomas, and others.
Time is on Their Side: Not once this season has Washington led in time of possession this season. They closest they came to that was in their win against Philadelphia where they were a -1:18 difference. Against Arizona they were a -7:30 and against Cleveland a -7:14. Defensive coordinator Jack del Rio can rotate his defensive line all he wants, but you can’t maximize their ability if they are on the field for that long.
If you want to keep the score low, Washington will need to keep the time of possession in their favor. Against Kansas City, Baltimore had a time of possession of -7:52. And that includes the explosive plays they had that led to touchdowns.
This one is plain and simple. Extending drives and keeping Lamar Jackson on the sideline will go a long way to a victory on Sunday. The defense just needs to make sure they don’t give up big scoring plays.
Which leads us to…
Corner Communication and Assignments…Again: I honestly feel like I am starting to sound like my mother, always repeating myself, when we get to this portion of the “5 Key…” article.
There were multiple plays where defensive backs were out of position and letting receivers running free that shouldn’t have been.
First, Landon Collins rotated way too far down on the fourth play of the game that allowed wide receiver JoJo Natson to run free down the right sideline. If Mayfield had been looking that way even for a second, that would have been an easy touchdown.
The play before that, cornerback Jimmy Moreland didn’t pick up wide receiver Jarvis Landry allowing him to get a 12-yard reception and a first down. They weren’t in zone coverage and Moreland was freelancing thinking he could jump a route that wasn’t a route that was run.
There were additional handoffs from cornerback to safety or linebacker that resulted in busted coverages or potential back breaking plays that were luckily not realized.
If Washington is going to want to keep Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, or Willie Snead IV from hanging 100 yards receiving each on them, they need to keep cleaning this up. Troy Apke is going to need to have his best game while Collins will need to do his job and not freelance for his own sake.
Bostic The Boss: Middle linebacker Jon Bostic might be the most underrated and unheralded defensive player on Washington.
The defensive line gets a majority of the spotlight for a variety of reasons. But Bostic comes in every snap and has a command of the defense. There were multiple run plays where you could see him adjusting the front seven to better prepare for certain gap being hit. Or, calling out a potential bootleg for a defensive end to get a better opportunity to slip underneath and put pressure on Mayfield.
One thing we know about Baltimore is that they are crafty in hiding which gap they are going to attempt to run through. Additionally, having to deal with Lamar Jackson as a duel threat quarterback can give any middle linebacker a headache. Even against the rough and tumble Kansas City Chiefs defense, Lamar had 83 yards on 9 carries. Lamar lines up more like Cam Newton in his early years then any other quarterback. Big, runs fast, and loves to be out in space.
Bostic will need to continue to be on his A+ game as the quarterback of the defense to corral Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens running game.
Game Prediction: Washington was the better team on Sunday against Cleveland and ran into some bad luck with Dwayne’s performance. He’ll grow and so will this roster from that experience.
Washington will be without defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis for the rest of the year due to a torn bicep while defensive end Chase Young is currently questionable with a groin injury. This means we will likely see more of Nate Orchard—who was called up from the practice squad this week—and rookie James Smith-Williams filling in.
Washington’s offensive line is still a massive work in progress with left tackle Geron Christian, Sr. unable to keep defensive ends from using their speed to beat him to his outside. The Ravens will be looking to exploit this and other matchups with exotic blitz packages and mixing up which linebackers head in for the quarterback.
While I want to be the ever most optimist, I just cannot. Washington still has a long way to go to be on the same level as Baltimore. But this is a good benchmark test.
Dwayne will be forced to make decisions quick, Gibson’s cutback and vision will be tested, and McLaurin will have what will be his hardest one-on-one test of the season let alone his career. The defense could keep them in the game, but that would rely on Apke and Collins taking a big step forward in their individual game plan discipline. And that dog don’t hunt yet.
Baltimore gets off to a fast start and doesn’t look back in what could be Washington’s ugliest loss of the year. The burgundy and gold will fall to 1-3 and second place in the NFC East.
Baltimore 34 Washington 17
Game Info: Time: 1:00 PM EST – FedEx Field; Landover, MD
TV: FOX – Andrew Clayton, James Lofton, A.J. Ross
Radio: Team 980 AM, ESPN 630 AM, 105.7 FM WMAL – Julie Donaldson, Bram Weinstein, DeAngelo Hall
Line: BAL -13; O/U: 47
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Alan Lepore joins "Washington Football" on SI.com, while still doing outstanding work as an editor/writer at FullPressCoverage.com or @FPC_Redskins. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanLepore or on instagram @leporealan. Alan is a Villanova University MPA Nonprofit Management candidate and is a fundraising/development professional.