Off the heels of an embarrassing 56-14 defeat against the Dallas Cowboys, featuring a sideline fight between two defensive leaders and a surrender of 42 points in the first half, the Washington Football Team aims to rebound in week 17 and stay in the NFC Wild Card race at FedEx Field when they host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
In primetime, Dak Prescott lit up the Washington secondary as he completed 28 out of 39 passes for 330 yards with four touchdowns in Week 16. Cooper Rush continued this blowout as he completed two passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. On offense, Taylor Heinicke struggled yet again versus the daunted Dallas defensive line. He completed seven out of 22 passes, while throwing two interceptions before being replaced by Kyle Allen. After the defeat, Ron Rivera quickly combated any questions as to whether this defeat symbolized the direction of the franchise as a whole. This makes Sunday’s Week 17 affair against the Eagles even more important as the Washington Football Team aims to halt this three-game division skid.
Ron Rivera says he's not worried about the direction of Washington. "This is a bad game. This isn't as direction."
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) December 27, 2021
Washington faced the Eagles just two weeks ago, where they were ravaged by Covid-19 protocols as Garrett Gilbert started at quarterback. While the offense struggled to gain traction in the 27-17 loss, the biggest storyline of the game was the inability of the recently improved defense to stop the Jalen Hurts-led Eagles offense. Here are three keys for the Washington Football Team in week 17 to keep their relatively slim playoff hopes alive.
Three Keys for the Washington Football Team in Week 17
Putting Defensive Line Tensions Behind and Stopping the Run
Perhaps the biggest storyline out of the 56-14 loss to the Cowboys last week was the sideline fight between Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. The Alabama teammates fought during a sideline spat in the first half, resulting in a punch thrown by captain Jonathan Allen. While Allen’s remarks this week seem to suggest that this issue is of the past, there are social media posts that suggest that this may have a lingering effect moving forward. Despite this, the Washington Football Team defensive line must play to its potential against the Eagles in Week 17.
Jon Allen on the situation/aftermath with Payne: "We're professionals; we get paid to play so regardless of personal feelings we have a job to do. … We moved on and looking forward to this game." Says he'll keep their conversations private.
— John Keim (@john_keim) December 30, 2021
In the Week 15 loss, Washington surrendered 238 yards on 41 carries as Miles Sanders, who will not play in this Sunday’s game, had 131 yards on just 18 carries, while Jordan Howard added 69 yards on 15 carries. Jalen Hurts also had two touchdowns on the ground. The Eagles, who led the NFL in rushing with 163.2 yards per game, are 6-2 when they rush for more than 170 yards and are 4-0 when they rush for more than 200, as they did against Washington in Week 15. Similarly, Washington is 2-5 when they surrender more than 100 yards on the ground. Thus, Washington must try to make Jalen Hurts beat them with his arm, rather than with his legs. Hurts’ running ability is the leading factor in the Eagles success on the ground.
Despite the Week 15 anomaly, Washington still ranks eighth in the NFL in rush defense, allowing just 104.6 yards per game. This must continue if Washington wants to improve to 7-9 on the season.
Establish Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson Early and Often
After the injuries to Logan Thomas, J.D. McKissic, and Curtis Samuel, who has not been at full strength all season, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson are the only reliable contributors for the Washington Football Team. Dyami Brown had a massive 48-yard reception against Dallas last week, but he has had a slow rookie year with just 11 receptions all season. This means that Gibson and McLaurin must be featured early and often.
After gaining 735 yards in the first ten games, McLaurin has just 164 yards in the past five games. There are many reasons for this downslide. First, the quarterback play has been subpar for Washington as Taylor Heinicke has struggled mightily, missing McLaurin a few times, including this interception for Trevon Diggs. Also, given Washington’s lack of reliable receiving options, McLaurin has been consistently bracketed in coverage. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has also stressed the importance of getting the ball in McLaurin’s hands.
Scott Turner: "I have to do a better job of finding ways to get Terry the ball"
Adds that McLaurin never complains and there are plenty of snaps where Terry is the first look but the defense just takes him away pic.twitter.com/tylQsrUyCR
— Pete Hailey (@PeteHaileyNBCS) December 30, 2021
Finally, the same must occur for Antonio Gibson. With the struggling quarterback play and early deficits, Gibson had just 91 rushing yards over the past three games, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Washington is 6-3 when Gibson rushes for over 50 yards, stressing the importance of the run game.
Get Taylor Heinicke into a Rhythm Early
Maybe the most important key for Washington is to get Taylor Heinicke into a rhythm early. In his last two starts, Washington has had to come from behind early in both games. He also completed a lowly 38.3% of his passes and turned the ball over four times. For a team that already lacks offensive firepower, a low completion percentage has turned into third and longs. The turnovers have led to numerous points, including two defensive touchdowns. On the flip side, Washington has not lost a game when Taylor Heinicke does not turn the ball over. However, the issue with this is that it has only happened three times. First, Heinicke must get into a rhythm in the quick passing game. Thereafter, Scott Turner can begin to stretch the field to McLaurin and Brown.
This responsibility of getting into a rhythm does not solely fall on Heinicke. The offensive line must also put a rough few games behind them and gain their early-season rhythm. With Samuel Cosmi on the Covid-19 list, Cornelius Lucas will step into the right tackle position. However, Washington does get Brandon Scherff back this week.