The Washington Football Team is legit…it sure feels good typing that. Feels even better saying it aloud. The way they looked in the second half last Sunday dominating the Philadelphia Eagles, makes it easy for Washington Football fans to walk around with their chests out a little this week. It made the concept of “legitimacy” look like a possible reality for Washington. Their performance midway through the second quarter until the end of the game served as a building block as the team tries to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. Yes, it’s an old cliché, but it more than applies, especially the way the defense played. They were not just dominant, they were fast, and played mistake free football. Offensively, as expected, it took them a little time to get their legs under them after having no preseason games to prepare. Despite that, quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the rest of the offense eventually adjusted to the Eagles’ schematics, and made plays in the second half when they needed to make them on the way to their first opening day home win since 2014.
This Sunday, Washington faces a completely different animal on their road to legitimacy as they travel to Arizona and face dynamic quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. Murray is a dual threat quarterback that has weapons at his disposal in the form of elite wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and veteran Larry Fitzgerald who has been the model of leadership and consistency. The Cardinals defeated the reigning NFC Conference Champions last week, largely because Murray gave the 49ers fits the entire second half. Washington will be looking to neutralize Murray by keeping him from making plays with his feet in the opened field. The problem with Murray is, you fear his feet, but you still have to respect his arm, especially when he keeps plays alive and his eyes downfield. Washington’s defensive backs struggled a large portion of the game last week, namely safety Troy Apke and cornerback Ronald Darby. They will have to improve and not be liabilities on the field this weekend. The Cardinals now have film that they will likely use in an effort to exploit what looks to be a weak link in the Washington defense.
Defensively, Washington will need to get continued pressure on Kyler Murray and bracket him to where he has to stay in the pocket. They will need to use what is called a contained rush in an effort not to create natural running lanes for Murray to run through. The defensive line and linebackers will have to gang tackle and not over-pursue. The Washington defense is fast, but they had some issues tackling in the open field and that will need to be tightened up against a player as elusive as Murray. Murray isn’t the only weapon the Cardinals have, but he is by far the most dangerous, because he will continue to move the sticks if you allow him any type of room to operate whether using his feet or his arm.
The Washington offense started off very sluggish last week and wasn’t able to manufacture any points until Fabian Moreau’s interception late in the second quarter. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins was not exactly sharp Sunday, but he made the throws he needed to make when he needed to make them, and most importantly did not turn the ball over. The offense needs to have some fluidity to it early in the game to establish balance and ensure the defense isn’t on the field a lot. Part of that will be establishing more of a running game, which the offense struggled with last week. Consistency running inside nor outside was established, and that can’t take place this week because you don’t want to be one dimensional against the Cardinal defense. Look for offensive coordinator Scott Turner to use even more motion and some misdirection this week to open up things a little for the running game against this Arizona defensive front. The 49ers had some success running the football last week against the Cardinals, so look for Washington to do the same. Currently, Washington looks to have a “running back by committee” with the bulk of the carries going to rookie Antonio Gibson and that work load will most likely increase as his production does.
Sunday will be Washington’s first away game of this season. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to being on the west coast playing a 4 PM game with no fans. If recent history proves to be true, this will be another close game between the two teams. A win is preferred, but I honestly want to see Washington improve in the areas they were deficient in last week. The key to establishing a great team is not only correcting mistakes, but it’s also not regressing where your strengths are. You continue to build…that’s what I want to see Sunday. Continue to build. Continue to be efficient. Continue to be LEGITIMATE. As you were…
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team