After one month, Washington must clean up these three areas originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Ron Rivera was asked on Monday to grade his team through their first four games of the 2020 season. He declined.
The coach said he doesn’t like participating in that exercise. He instead chose to point out that he believes Washington is playing with effort yet also has lots of developing left to do.
While Rivera didn’t want to get into any specifics, now feels like the proper time to do so, considering the franchise is one-quarter of the way through the schedule. So let’s do that, with an eye specifically on what hasn’t worked so far.
If the Burgundy and Gold want the next three quarters of the year to be an improvement over the first, they must make major jumps in these three areas.
Third-down conversion percentage
The Broncos have already used a trio quarterbacks since Week 1. The Bears have to choose between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky. The Jets are the Jets.
Despite those above circumstances, all three of those squads handle third downs at a better rate than Washington. In fact, everyone in the NFL handles third downs at a better rate than Washington.
Rivera and Scott Turner’s offense have posted a conversion percentage of 33.3 percent in their first four contests, which slots them last in the league in that category. Hey, at least that’s a higher mark than the 29 percent they “achieved” in 2019, which was also the sport’s worst number.
According to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, the unit isn’t doing themselves any favors on early downs, and therefore, they’re setting themselves up for some truly difficult situations:
Through Sunday, Washington has the 2nd-worst success rate (=conversion or TD) on 1st & 2nd down (45.8%) ... which is why they've had 32 3rd-&-longs (6+ yds to go) this season, tied for the 4th-most in the NFL.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 5, 2020
They had 8 3rd-&-longs vs. BAL. The conversion? Gibson's 40-yd gain.
That’s clearly the root of their problem. Finding a solution, meanwhile, isn’t as clear.
The continuing emergence of Antonio Gibson should make some difference, but much of it is going to come down to Dwayne Haskins’ accuracy when it’s time to move the chains and the offensive line’s ability to give running backs more room to maneuver before that time comes.
First half performance
That’s the point differential between Washington and their opponents in the first half of their 2020 matchups.
Washington isn’t the one behind the 75, in case you were curious. You probably weren't.
As for the second half, Rivera’s side is actually outscoring their foes, 55-37. That number is buoyed by their 20-0 shutout of the Eagles in the opener following halftime, but still, they’re much steadier late than they are in the two quarters that occur right after kickoff.
If the team is going to take advantage of an NFC East that’s weaker than a cell phone’s signal in the woods, they have to quit allowing themselves to fall into immediate deficits.
Grabbing a lead, or even just staying even, will help their pass rush remain a factor and make life easier on their offense.
Per Pro Football Reference, Washington has missed 30 tackles already. Only five defenses in the NFL have been more unreliable in that aspect.
The back end is where the missed tackles have felt particularly frequent, and PFR’s data supports that. Landon Collins (six) and Troy Apke (four) are responsible for a third of the overall count. Collins is the roster's leader, while Apke is tied with Kevin Pierre-Louis for second.
When a safety can’t bring a ball carrier down, that usually spells doom. Look at both of Kyler Murray’s touchdown runs in Week 2 and Lamar Jackson’s 50-yard score in Week 4 as prime examples of that.
Collins and Apke aren’t alone in needing to be more disciplined and dependable, though. It’s a problem that all three levels of the group are contributing to, and if it isn’t corrected, it’ll keep preventing the defense from delivering on its preseason reputation.