For the Washington Football Team, the playoffs have already started.
Granted, they are up a game in a somewhat surprising NFC East, but due to their two losses to the New York Giants earlier this season, there is very little room for error. In the NFL, the first factor in determining a playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head matchups, and Washington has now relinquished that advantage to New York.
Meaning, Washington needs to be up a game over the G-Men when the clock hits zero week 17. Personally, I think Washington needs to win two out of the next three to ensure this happens. Therefore this game against Seattle holds some significance.
So tomorrow’s matchup, although difficult, is huge in terms of the team’s push for the playoffs. A win would also increase their credibility on the national scale. With a five game winning streak, including wins against the Steelers and the Seahawks, it would be undeniable that “The Team” would be a force to reckon with.
With Seattle struggling as of late, Washington has an opportunity to upset the ‘Hawks tomorrow at FedEx Field. And here is how I think they can do it.
Maintain Gap Integrity on the Defensive Line
It’s been a while since Washington has faced a quarterback as dynamic as Russell Wilson. The last time they have done so is when they played Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens week four. Reports came out after the game claiming that the team was somewhat hesitant to attack and commit to Jackson due to their fear of him exploiting a gap with his legs. This hesitancy led to some big plays, and a touchdown that looked like this:
— Monkey Knife Fight 🐵🔪👊💰 (@mkf) October 4, 2020
Washington can’t hesitate against a player of Wilson’s caliber. He’s a much more refined passer than Jackson and has been a potential MVP candidate for much of the season. In fact, Wilson is completing 70% of his passes and has thrown for 36 touchdowns so far. You know what else is nuts? Nineteen of those touchdowns came in the first three games.
Wilson needs to be attacked and rattled for Washington to win this week, and that starts with the defensive line. Washington runs a one-gap system, meaning the defensive line is responsible for only one hole directly in front of them. The rationale is that if they penetrate this gap, they a) can be disruptive in the pass game and b) can rely on their linebackers to make a play behind them.
Washington needs to maintain discipline and trust the scheme. If they attack with reckless abandon and everyone does their job, Wilson will be limited on where he can scramble. Because in theory everyone is in the right place and he can’t shoot the gap on a missed run-fit.
Maintaining gap integrity will trickle into defending the short-passing game as well. If Washington can generate enough pressure with their front-four, their linebackers can drop back into soft coverage and take away the quick slants that Seattle relies on. The Seahawks feast on Run-Pass Options (RPOs) and look for defenses to be caught out of position. Therefore being in position is paramount and will slow Wilson’s processing just a second, and in the NFL that may be all that you need.
With gap discipline, Washington can generate pressure, limit Wilson’s ability to run, and take away the short passing game. Three big keys to a defensive win.
The other key to the game is for Washington to maintain long drives. Seattle has the third-ranked offense in terms of points scored (393) and ranks sixth in terms of yards (5038). Therefore, the best way for Washington to win is to make the Seahawks’ offense spectators– and keep them on the bench.
The Burgundy and Gold need to approach a third-down conversation rate of about 50% to ensure they are sustaining long drives. This method of slowly matriculating down the field, and dominating time of possession, may not be sexy, but it’s tried and true. It’s actually a major reason Washington has won it’s last four games.
I anticipate Washington struggling to establish the run this week, especially without star running-back Antonio Gibson. Seattle has the fourth-ranked rushed defense (1241 yards allowed) and has true stars in linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Jamal Adams who thrive in run support. Meaning, Washington will look to Dwayne Haskins to convert in clutch situations. And he may have the opportunity to do so.
If Seattle does have a weakness, it would be their pass defense, which ranks dead-last in the league. Haskins needs to exploit their deficiencies and display the arm-talent that made him a first-round draft pick. He likely won’t have J.D. Mckissic as a big play threat this game due to the aforementioned Wagner and Adams, so who will step up? Ideally it’s a break-out game for Terry Mclaurin or a surprise candidate.
Altogether, if Washington is to win tomorrow, Haskins needs to convert on the four to five plays that “change a game.” And he will likely have to do it with his arm.
Can he do it? I think all of Washington is waiting to see.