Analytics or balance, Washington throws way more on first down in 2020

JP Finlay
·2 min read

Washington throws way more on first down in 2020 originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In Washington's Week 7 win over the Cowboys, the Burgundy and Gold offense threw the ball 12 times on first down, more than 45 percent of their first-down plays. 

That's by design, and for offensive coordinator Scott Turner, it's about keeping defenses guessing, not just on first down, but on second and third downs as well. 

"I think it’s important as an offense to stay balanced. Again, different games and the ways teams play you, what the situation is in the game, that can lead to how often you’re going to throw the ball on first-and-10," Turner said this week.

The shift to throwing more on first down is markedly different than the 2019 season, especially when Bill Callahan took over as head coach. Often Washington's offense last season was quite predictable, running on first and second downs and then passing out of third-and-long. It wasn't successful, though it improved late in the year when Kevin O'Connell was allowed to implement his playbook more. 

Regardless, this year it's different. Washington ranks in the Top 10 in the NFL in passes thrown on first downs. 

"Without really trying to give away what our mindset and philosophy is, our thing is just we don’t want to be predictable. We want to keep defenses off-balance," Turner said. 

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Against Dallas, it worked.

Washington's offense piled up more than 250 total yards in the first half and the second half of the game was never close. 

One problem with throwing the ball more on first down, however, comes from sacks. Washington also ranks in the Top 10 for first-down sacks.

A negative play on first down almost always dooms an offensive possession, and Turner is aware of that too. 

"You always look back, especially when you’re in the situation that we are in, we’re 2-5 and we had games that didn’t go as well. You always look back to see what you could’ve done differently in hindsight. It’s tough," he said. "There might’ve been some situations where we could’ve run the ball more or vice versa, we stuck with the run a little bit longer than we should’ve when teams were loading the box. But for the most part, we’ve been pretty balanced."

Balance is key, especially for a young offense lacking dynamic playmakers. 

One way to create that balance is to keep defenses on their toes. Some of that comes by throwing on first down, good or bad.