Even after it allowed eight sacks, Coach Ron Rivera wasn’t overly concerned about how the offensive line played. Clearly the blockers di...
Even after it allowed eight sacks, Coach Ron Rivera wasn’t overly concerned about how the offensive line played. Clearly the blockers didn’t play well, but the game situation put them in a difficult position. One example came late in the fourth quarter when Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald beat right guard Wes Schweitzer for a strip sack.
On the play, the Rams blitzed a fifth rusher. This meant each lineman faced a one-on-one, and Schweitzer drew perhaps the NFL’s best player. Donald bulldozed him into quarterback Alex Smith, and because running back J.D. McKissic had motioned out of the backfield, there was no help.
For his part, Smith seemed to balance competing incentives. He knew he needed to get the ball out fast, but on third and 10, he wanted to try for the first down. The line gave him about 2.1 seconds, and it simply wasn’t enough.
This play represents the unit’s struggles for much of the game. Leading big and fearing little, the Rams could be aggressive and create mismatches. Dominance led to a domino effect. The further Washington fell behind, the more the offense threw the ball, and this seemed to highlight certain weaknesses.
For example, ESPN’s block-win rate metrics peg left guard Wes Martin as a decent run blocker but a poor pass blocker. On Sunday, Martin sometimes found himself on an island against Donald.
“Donald has done this to EVERYONE this year,” offensive line guru Duke Manyweather wrote on Twitter. “Even future [Hall of Famers] …”
So, while the line wasn’t great Sunday, it’s unfair to place all of the blame on the unit for the offense’s struggles.
In a rare coverage analysis, Rivera explained what went wrong on Robert Woods’s 56-yard touchdown. This is valuable because, without knowing the coverage call, it’s impossible to know the defenders’ assignments. Rivera said Washington was in a cover-two zone. Cornerback Kendall Fuller was responsible for covering the flat, and strong safety Landon Collins had the deep left half of the field. The coach added that Fuller did his job by jamming and widening Woods.
“It looked like Landon had a bad angle,” Rivera said. “It looked like he did break, but I thought his break was flat. I’d like to see him climb a little bit more on that break.”
This is concerning for Washington for two reasons. First, it’s another tough play for Collins, who has struggled with coverage and tackling this season. Second, this cover-two look was apparently predictable because, after the game, Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff said, “They played exactly what we expected them to play.”
The offense under Kyle Allen looked different. Not just in results, but in scheme, too. Allen’s familiarity with the system showed, and he identified pressure well, allowing him to avoid negative plays by hitting receivers for short gains. These didn’t add up to much — Washington punted on four of his five drives — but the small moments are an example of what offensive coordinator Scott Turner meant when he said he expected the new quarterback to “do his job.”
Perhaps the most notable shift was in play-calling. Mark Bullock, an analyst for the Athletic, previously noted that Haskins limited Turner’s options, but Turner denied that during his news conference after the quarterback change. Bullock found Haskins forced Turner to use similar offensive concepts in his game script, including empty backfields and run-pass options.
On Sunday, though Allen played just 25 snaps, he seemed to broaden Turner’s options. He also flashed a bit of mobility on his seven-yard touchdown run that gave Washington a 7-6 lead. Allen is the starter moving forward, Rivera repeated Monday, so the glass-half-full take is that his limited action showed incremental progress. That is the most hopeful Washington can be after a dreadful stretch on offense.
Help wanted at free safety. Washington acknowledged starter Troy Apke’s struggles Sunday by replacing him, for 20 snaps, with backup Deshazor Everett. When asked how he planned to address the future of the position, Rivera said Monday that he would meet with his defensive coaches to see “the direction they want to go.”
If Apke can’t steady himself, if he can’t validate the trust the coaching staff showed him early in training camp, the best short-term contender seems to be Everett. Rivera praised Everett’s instincts and mentioned that, on a third down late in the first quarter, he made “a terrific break” to knock away a pass even though he ended up committing pass interference. It’s uncertain how Everett, a box safety, would handle the role, but he held his own Sunday and in 2017, when he played 320 snaps at free safety, so Washington might be willing to experiment.
There are two other options on the active roster. One is Kamren Curl, the seventh-round rookie who has played box safety and slot cornerback in sub packages. The other is Fuller, the cornerback who often played free safety for the Kansas City Chiefs last year. This might be an attractive option because Washington could replace Fuller with Fabian Moreau, a capable cornerback getting zero snaps, but it would also force the team’s best cornerback, and its highest-paid acquisition in free agency, to play out of position.
More Washington NFL coverage: