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Heading into this Week 15 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, it doesn’t feel like many people are giving Washington a great chance to come out with another upset victory. It’s a pivotal game for Ron Rivera and his team, one that could ultimately sway their postseason dreams if they are to pull off a win, and it could also be a chance for them to assert their dominance over a potential playoff opponent, and announce their presence to the rest of the NFL world.
However, it’s going to be extremely hard to accomplish. News came out on Friday that it would be QB Dwayne Haskins getting the start, rather than Alex Smith, and the defense in Washington would be without three of their regular starters. On top of that, Seattle is a good team, with a dynamic offense and a much-improved defense from the start of the season. Sitting at 9-4 with a future Hall of Fame quarterback and a second-year WR who can find success in every aspect of the passing game, Washington is going to have to play a near-perfect game in order to come out on top.
Of course, we’ve said that a number of times over the past month and Washington continues to get the job done, so this isn’t to say that they can’t do it. If they are to pull off the upset, though, here are some things they need to take care of.
Limit the big plays
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
If there's one thing that has plagued Washington's defense throughout the season, it's been giving up massive chunk plays that cause a drive to come crashing to the ground. Granted, this was a much bigger problem earlier in the season when the defensive unit was still adapting to and learning Jack Del Rio's scheme, but it's still something that the team has a propensity to do every now and again. Against a team like the Seahawks, who have both Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf on the roster, limiting big plays is going to be your first, second, and third key to victory. It's that important. Metcalf has an average yards-per-reception of 17.1 this season, with an average depth of target of 11. Metcalf is regularly getting downfield and finding a hole in the secondary, and Wilson is the type of quarterback that is going to exploit any weakness he finds. For Washington's defense, life is going to be hard without Deshazor Everett roaming the secondary, but they are going to have to find a way to make due and keep Metcalf in check. If not, it might be a long day at FedEx Field.
Loosen the grip on Haskins' leash a bit
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
I know, I know, this sounds like a bit of a reach considering that this could be a game where Washington needs as safe and sound of a performance from Haskins as they can get in order to win, letting the defense do the heavy lifting and asking the offense to play it safe. We have something else in mind. No matter how passionate of a Washington fan you are, you should be able to look at this matchup against the Seahawks, without Alex Smith, without Antonio Gibson, without Deshazor Everett, Without Cole Holcomb, without Kevin Pierre-Louis, and see that it's quite a bit of a longshot that Washington comes out with a victory. That's not meant to lessen the player's ability on the field, it's just being realistic. Even if Washington was at full-strength, it was going to take a mighty impressive performance to knock off Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. So in a way, without high expectations to win, I want to see Washington cut loose a little bit, primarily when it comes to Dwayne Haskins. No, I'm not asking for him to put the team on his back and do it all himself. That's not going to end well. However, I do want more than a vanilla offensive scheme that follows the age-old formula of run-run-screen-punt every drive. Mix it up a little bit, and let Haskins throw the ball. One of the best things that the young QB has going for him is his arm talent, and if there's any team that he might be able to take advantage of in the secondary, it's the Seahawks. https://twitter.com/WashingtonRealm/status/1340023910876758016 Add to everything that this could reasonably be the last chance that we see Haskins playing in a Washington uniform — should he undercut expectations — then what do we have to lose by seeing what he is capable of? Draw up some pass plays that stretch the field. Let him take a couple of deep shots to Terry out on the edge, or Cam Sims streaking down the seam. Give Haskins a chance to prove that he has both the arm strength to be a successful NFL QB, and the decision making needed to avoid mistakes. We aren't going to win this game by playing it safe. If you give Haskins some room to do it with his arm and see what we have in the process, this could turn out to be a pretty fun day.
Revive Captain Terry
(AP Photo/Justin Berl)
In Washington's Week 14 win over the San Francisco 49ers, there was a sort of celebration among fans that took place in the first half, but it felt a bit strange. Terry McLaurin eclipsed the 1,000 yard-mark for the season, making it the first time in his career he's done so, but he finished the game with just 24 receiving yards on 2 catches. A week prior, McLaurin was held to just 14 yards receiving on 2 catches, which has us slightly concerned with a growing trend. It appears that teams might have been able to find a way to at least limit some of the Captain's production in the offense, and it's something that could be detrimental if left unchecked down the road. Of course, with Haskins back in the lineup we can assume that he will be looking for his old college teammate early and often, but without RB Antonio Gibson on the field, Washington will need all the production they can get on that side of the ball, and McLaurin will be a big piece of it.
Utilize the limited blitzes
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
When you have a defensive line that is as talented as Washington's one of the more underrated aspects of the game is that you don't have to send as many blitzes from players in the linebacking core or secondary in order to get pressure on the quarterback and have an effect on the game. We've seen this time and again this season in Washington, with the front-four able to get in the opposing QB's face without the aid of a blitzer, allowing the linebackers to fall into coverage and help in the passing game. However, when Washington does decide to bring an extra rusher or two, they tend to find success, and it all has to do with how DC Jack Del Rio draws up the blitz. Check out this breakdown from Greg Cosell on how Washington goes about disguising a blitz package and gets home against Matthew Stafford earlier in the season. https://twitter.com/NFLMatchup/status/1335643187499692036 It's plays like these that make Washington so dangerous, simply because they can easily overwhelm an offensive line and simply get to the quarterback too quickly for anything to be done. With some of their top linebackers out this week, like Cole Holcomb and Kevin Pierre-Louis, Del Rio is going to have to be extra creative in how he brings pressure, but a lot of the work will rest on the shoulders of the front four to do what they do best and wreak havoc up front in the trenches.