Let’s face it, fans of the Burgundy and Gold have been through a lot this off-season.

From the hiring of a new head coach, to the sudden re-branding of a once iconic franchise, the organization has been through the ringer and then some. My hope is that this article can be a cup half-full perspective on why the Washington offense will bounce back in a big way from 2019.

My reason for optimism is not due to work out videos, coach speak, mascot movements (with abrupt animal activism), or even a cliché stroll down narrative street. The reality is that the anemic state of the offense left by the previous regime will self-correct in 2020.

This chart will be broken down into more details below but here is a quick synopsis of where the team ranked in 2019 in key offensive categories.

Sophomore Jump?

In the modern NFL, young signal callers are immediately expected to take their lumps and hit the ground running. Fortunately the next line of gunslingers have answered the call. Since 2015, rookie passers have seen significant improvement in year two, averaging a +.4 Yards Per Attempt, +.75 Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, +3% Completion Percentage, +1.8% Touchdown Rate, and a whopping 3.5% Success Rate increase. When talking about transformations obviously MVP’s like Lamar Jackson and Pat Mahomes stand out, but QBs of all talent levels generally appear to take a step forward.

Mitch Trubisky increased his completion percentage by 7% in year two. Carson Wentz’s touchdown rate skyrocketed by 4.9% during a MVP caliber second season. As a sophomore, much maligned Jared Goff (aka Sean McVay) turned his career around, improving his yards per attempt from 5.3 to 7.9. The reasons for progression are nuanced, from improved play calling, to insulating the offense with talent, but the fact remains that sophomore slumps are over-hyped.

Few QBs have been put in a worse situation than Dwayne Haskins as a rookie. After the team had a miserable start to the season, the former Buckeye standout was reluctantly handed the proverbial keys to the castle in DC. Only Jay Gruden changed the locks and the castle is made by Fisher Price. Despite an antiquated offense, archaic play calling, and being surrounded by fellow rookie pass catchers, Haskins showed resilience. His box score stats were nothing to write home about, but when you pop open the hood and add context, DH made a strong case for deserving more opportunities in 2020. In fact on a per drop back basis, Haskins compiled a slightly higher PFF grade (67.6) than division rival Daniel Jones (65.7) and Rookie of the Year, Kyler Murray (64.2).

Dwayne Haskins’ 2020 Projection

Based on the Sophomore Jump noted earlier, Haskins is likely due for some major improvements as highlighted in green. My projections also hint at a significant jump in scoring and play volume, more on that below.

Projection tool is courtesy of RotoViz

The DC Scoring Famine

In a passing era full of innovating play-calling, NFL offenses continue to push the envelope of efficiency and scoring output. Unfortunately the 2019 Washington Football team did not get the memo, instead opting for a road less traveled. Despite seeing the league average in drives per game, Jay Gruden’s squad appeared to be allergic to the end-zone, piecing together a 37.54% scoring percentage per drive (28th).

The light at the end of the tunnel is that 61.5% teams that were below the league average in scoring rate per drive, came back to score 10 additional touchdowns the following season (per Rich Ribar). In fact, Ribar points out that over the previous decade, there are a 142-teams that scored a touchdown on fewer than 20% of their possessions. 71.8% of those teams had an increase in touchdown rate per drive the following season with an average increase of nine offensive touchdowns.

To improve their chances of an uptick in scoring, Washington will have to improve their 3rd down offense which ranked 32nd overall. In 2019, the team finished 23rd in yards to go on 3rd down and dead last in average yards completed.

One crucial point is to stop throwing the ball short of the sticks. From Nate Weller’s study on FBO, we know that a throw beyond the 3rd down marker has a much higher conversion rate (50% compared to only 25% from behind LOS) while the threat of a turnover remains relatively the same. In other words, NFL play-callers are too risk adverse on 3rd and long. To take advantage, new offensive coordinator Scott Turner can call more dig routes on obvious 3rd down passing situations. A dig route has a 43% successful conversion rate, which is more than the combined routes of a flat, screen, or check down.

Throwing to the intermediate part of the field is where the rookie’s skills are on full display. The dig/pivot also happens to be one of Dwayne Haskins strengths, as he averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and a 55% success rate compared to measly 5.3 YPA and 26% SR on 3rd down.

The Dead Zone

Yardage totals in the NFL are an archaic means of calculating the top offenses and defenses. Only the most surface level analysis relies primarily on total yards without context. That being said, compiling yards is obviously a critical component to scoring, with efficiency being the rising tide that lifts all boats. For example, the Baltimore Ravens offense was a juggernaut, scoring one touchdown for every 112.4 yards which equates to 58 total touchdowns (1st). On the other end of the spectrum, the Washington Football Teams anemic offense pieced together a touchdown per every 162.8 yards trudging along for a meager 30 scores (31st).

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Cheat Codes Inside the 20

Based on the league average for yards per touchdown, the Burgundy And Gold were expected to score 30 times despite only reaching the end-zone on 27 occasions (-3 TD under expectation). Per Rich Ribar, last season, there were 16 teams below touchdown expectation the year prior and 13 of those teams came back and averaged 9 more touchdowns in 2019.

When scoring opportunities are scarce to come by, play-callers must take advantage once inside their opponent’s 20 yards line. You wouldn’t be wrong to say that the 2019 team was a stranger to crossing the goal line. The offense ranked 27th in red zone scoring and 30th in red zone appearances. The question is how can the 2020 version of this offense improve their ability to punch it in inside the red zone?

There is no one right answer to solving the puzzle that is red zone scoring. The good news is what goes down must come up. Since 2010, teams that converted less than 50% of their red zone trips into touchdowns improved their touchdown rate by 11.4% (.7 more RZ TDs per game). To take advantage, OC Scott Turner can combine several concepts that have acted as cheat codes to unlocking touchdowns in bunches. Specifically, utilizing Power Run Pass Options out of the no huddle is the skeleton key for success in 2020.

No huddle plays in the red zone out produce regular plays significantly across the board, averaging a higher success rate(+6%), YPA(+.7), completion %(+1.61), Yards Per Carry(+.9), and a whopping 36:3 TD/INT ratio. Another wrinkle offenses can take advantage of is pulling a guard on a run aka power. Per Josh Hermsmeyer, a normal run averages a meager -.05 Expected Points Added, while a rush with a pulling linemen inside the opponents 10 nets a .03 EPA which is a staggering boost. The Air Yards godfather notes that, “What’s curious is that despite the greater success, NFL teams run non-pull plays five and a half times more often than plays with a pull in the low red zone.”

Carolina RPOs

This is an excellent Power RPO breakdown from QB School. Out of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE/3 WRs) and in shotgun, Cam Newton has multiple options pre/post snap. Upon the snap the Panthers pull their Right Guard to the play side of the formation. The defense is already playing the run with seven in the box but the pulling guard is even more indicative of a rush. With the front seven sucked into plugging the run lanes, Newton has three viable reads that would have resulted in reaching pay-dirt prior to the hand off. Cam could have taken it himself or handed off to Christian McCaffrey but he decides to go with option C, finding an easily isolated Devin Funchess on a short slant.

Dwyane Haskins is certainly no Cam Newton when it comes to his athletic prowess as a runner, however he does possess the ability to excel at the RPO on occasion.

Watch: Dwayne Haskins using Read-Option

RPOS mesh perfectly with the no huddle and power. In 2019 the NFL yards per play average was 5.5, whereas the lethal run-pass option netted 6.5 yards per play. Scott Turner utilized RPOs the 7th most of any play caller in the league. Ultimately the trifecta of no huddle, power, and RPOS unlock substantial efficiency for offenses.

A Snails Pace

The 2019 Washington Football Team had a pace of play crisis on their hands. Seemingly devoid of a sense of urgency (30th in seconds per snap while trailing), no team ran fewer plays per game and played with a lead less than Jay Gruden’s punch-less offense. In fact, during Gruden’s entire tenure in DC (2014-2019), his team averaged 27th in plays per game each season.Inexplicably the team only managed a measly 529 total pass attempts (27th) and 356 (31st) rush attempts in 2019.  As Rich Ribar points out, over the last decade, “Washington is only the second team to run fewer than 900 offensive plays in a season, ahead of only the 2018 Dolphins.

Last season, Miami came back to run 139 more offensive plays than they did the year prior, which was a 2.5 game increase over their 2018 pace. Using the same time-frame we have been, there have 24 teams to average fewer than 60 offensive snaps per game. Of those 24, all but one increased their play total the next season with an average increase of 61.2 offensive plays per team.” Likewise teams that rarely played with a lead (WSH ranked 32nd), tend to turn it around the following season by averaging a 13.5% jump in offensive snaps while leading.

In addition, offenses improved their rushing plays per season by average mark of 53 more total carries. What does the apparent pace of play boom mean for 2020? In small samples we have to be somewhat weary of accepting extrapolation as the gospel truth. However 61 extra plays at the league average of 5.5 yards per play equates to 335 additional yards (+2.4 TDs) in a season. For context, the 2019 offense only average 324 yards per game.
When it comes to pace, there are two ideal buckets that high-octane scoring attacks want to fall under; high volume or elite efficiency. The best teams can often do either and on the flip-side teams that are slow and inefficient tend to perennially reside in the basement of the standings. To climb out of their self-made grave, the Burgundy and Gold will again have to benefit from regression to the mean.

Strength of Schedule per Sharp Football

Essentially Scott Turner will inherit another full games worth of offensive production just due to regression. In summary the Washington offense can expect a historic boost in scoring, red zone touchdowns, and plays per game. That’s also not taking into account a boost in efficiency that is very well possible with a new play caller, sophomore QB, and an easier schedule (12th easiest).

Keep in mind, during Turners short stint as play caller with the Panthers he ranked 7th in plays per game, 1st in passing rate, and near the bottom of the league in early down runs. If Turner can optimize play calling, along with Dwayne Haskins taking a natural Year two jump, there is no reason why the Washington Football Team can’t at least be near the league average, which is a far cry from 2019.

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