Washington football notes: Run-stop struggles, and the future at quarterback

The defense’s inability to stop the run Sunday illustrated a broader concern. If there were a rushing attack Washington should’ve limite...

The defense’s inability to stop the run Sunday illustrated a broader concern. If there were a rushing attack Washington should’ve limited without much trouble, it would be this one. Two days before the game, Coach Ron Rivera said the Giants’ ground game was “struggling” and that quarterback Daniel Jones was its biggest threat. Then the Giants, led by third- and fourth-string running backs Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris, rushed for a season-high 166 yards.

The problem, Rivera said, was “gap integrity.” Defensive linemen and linebackers who stepped up to meet the run were either late to their gaps or knocked out of them. This was evident often Sunday, including on a two-yard, walk-in touchdown for Gallman.

This indicates a bigger problem. Defensive players have often talked this season about the difficulty of the transition from the 3-4, two-gapping scheme under former coordinator Greg Manusky to the 4-3, attacking scheme of current coordinator Jack Del Rio. This system requires players to defend the run on the way to the quarterback, and the unit’s inability to get in sync has showed. Washington is, by traditional stats and advanced metrics, worse against the run than the pass, and its 128.1 yards per game allowed on the ground ranks 10th-worst in the league.

“This defense has been very, very successful over the years,” Rivera said. “What it really takes is for guys to buy in and understand this is how you play the defense. You get into your crease and you hold your crease.”

Rivera also said the coaches need to improve. He pointed out the in-game adjustments “didn’t stick as well as we would’ve liked to, and that’s a little bit of an issue.” Linebacker Jon Bostic acknowledged the disappointment because Washington had seen those style of runs before.

“Some of it was just guys were trying to do a little bit too much,” he said. “You have to get in your gap and do your job. That’s what it really comes down to.”

Washington doesn’t know its quarterback of the future. So what are the options? The pressure on the team to identify one is immense because, by Year 2 of a rebuild, there should be a plan in place.

Option 1 is Dwayne Haskins. Rivera said he still believes Haskins has the talent to be the long-term solution, but he challenged the 23-year-old to prove, as the new backup, that he learned from being benched and will work harder to prepare every week.

If Haskins isn’t the answer, things get trickier. This free agent class is thin, and the only starter-quality options under 30 are Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston, each of whom has significant question marks. Prescott is returning from a gruesome ankle injury (and could be retained by Dallas), and Winston, the New Orleans backup, hasn’t started since he led the league with 30 interceptions in 2019. Cam Newton, Rivera’s former starter with Carolina, is 31 and has struggled since a hot start with New England.

Washington could look to the draft. But if the team continues to prioritize winning now — the “short-term glory,” as Rivera once said — it would potentially pick out of range for the consensus top two quarterbacks, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. This would leave Washington to choose between second-tier options, such as North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, BYU’s Zach Wilson and Florida’s Kyle Trask.

Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham installed the play that beat Washington at Saturday’s walk-through. Coach Joe Judge praised Graham for adding the tricky look to the two-minute defense to feature safety Logan Ryan. On Monday, ESPN pointed out it wasn’t the first time the Giants had run this play. That came just before halftime.

The scheme is cover-two. The play is designed to drop the box safety and a cornerback back to defend the two deep halves of the field, which lets Ryan, who starts deep, step up and play center field. This is meant to confuse the quarterback, but on the first play, Ryan wasn’t in the right spot and it led to a 32-yard completion to Cam Sims. The second time, though, Ryan was in the right place and secured the game-winning interception.

In the second quarter Sunday, right tackle Morgan Moses lit into his teammates after a bad offensive series. Washington trailed the Giants 13-3 mostly because of its own mistakes, and Fox cameras showed Moses yelling “Have some [expletive] heart!” at a group of players, including tight end Logan Thomas, running back Antonio Gibson, tight end Temarrick Hemingway and wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.

“It’s awesome,” Rivera said. “I think it’s awesome to have a guy step up and challenge his teammates, especially in a certain situation with a guy like Morgan who practices hard and plays hard and does things the right way. That’s why he’s the captain right now. I’ve got no issue with a guy that challenges his teammates.”

Rookie defensive back Kam Curl had an uneven debut at strong safety in place of Landon Collins. The seventh-round draft pick flashed his potential with a team-high 11 tackles and a huge fourth-quarter sack of Jones, but his inexperience also hurt. The most glaring example was a lapse in coverage against tight end Evan Engram that allowed the Giants to take a 20-3 lead.

In the long term, Rivera remained positive about Curl. He thinks that, when Collins returns, Curl could return to being a versatile chess piece, as he was as the big nickel cornerback earlier this season. Curl thinks he’s a true defensive back capable of playing anywhere, and it’s possible he could develop into the answer at free safety.

If nothing else, Curl is a fit for Washington because his father, Greg, hates the Cowboys. Greg grew up in small-town Oklahoma and quickly tired of the rabid fan base, cheering instead for the Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m a die-hard Cowboy hater,” Greg said last week. “Even though there was speculation Dallas might call [Kam] during the draft, I just said, ‘If that’s where he gotta go …’”

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Newsrust: Washington football notes: Run-stop struggles, and the future at quarterback
Washington football notes: Run-stop struggles, and the future at quarterback
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