It’s amazing what winning two games in the span of five days can do for a team and its fan base. The Washington Football Team capped off the Thanksgiving holiday with a 41-16 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys. Next up, Washington has the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, and then the Seattle Seahawks. These three games will tell Washington exactly who they are currently. The recipe they used against the Dallas Cowboys was precisely what it should have been: a heavy dose of the running game and a defense that made plays when it needed to.
Alex Smith has won his last two games as Washington’s starting quarterback and looks to be in vintage “game managing” mode after throwing for just 166 yards on Sunday against the Bengals, and 147 yards on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys. He did throw a touchdown in both games, but he also threw an interception as well. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner opened up the playbook and showed some creativity by running a reverse-pass thrown by Logan Thomas that was completed to Terry McLaurin. He then ran the “annexation of Puerto Rico” (also known as the Fumblerooski) to JD McKissic, a play ran in the movie “The Little Giants” that resulted in a first down and goal. Running plays like these not only keep defenses on their heels, it also adds an element of fun and excitement for the players and the fans watching. It’s an indication they are willing to do whatever they have to do to win and it shows they aren’t above trying something different when what they have been doing hasn’t been effective.
The NFC East by the numbers is bad, but somebody has to win it. So why not Washington? There were so many fans and prognosticators throughout the course of this season claiming Ron Rivera was “tanking” in order to acquire better draft position. I always felt like that concept was ridiculous considering he has to find out what type of team he has by doing everything he can to win football games. The team is young and they have to learn how to win in the NFL. Coming off of a 3-13 season, clearly the majority of the teams’ nucleus has never won anything at the NFL level excluding Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby. The main thing that Washington cannot afford to do is self-destruct by unnecessary penalties and turnovers. In the games they have not done that, they have put themselves in position to have a chance to win.
The evolution of the offense has been interesting to see from game 1 up to now. With Alex Smith starting the last 3 games, the team is 2-1 and has established a solid running game. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson is blossoming into a star right before our eyes, while Peyton Barber and JD McKissic are proving to be valuable in their own right. This is exactly what Washington’s offensive identity should be going forward:
Run the ball effectively.
Don’t turn the ball over.
Make 3rd down conversions when necessary.
The more touches Gibson gets, the stronger he becomes, so why not continue to feed the kid? The offensive line, despite all the shuffling and injuries, have not been a liability to the extent that was expected. Morgan Moses had to move from right tackle to left. Moses is truly showing his versatility and he is reminding Washington fans of his value.
Washington has a heck of a test in front of them in the Pittsburgh Steelers. Washington will have a week and a half to prepare for the Steelers, and they will need every second of it as the Steelers are currently undefeated. The game could serve as a pivotal moment for Washington. A win could ignite the team's confidence and serve as a motivator going forward for the remainder of the season. With back to back wins, they appear to be trending upward, but they haven't had that STATEMENT win that makes you say "this team is dangerous".
Sunday is that opportunity.
We will see if they can rise to the occasion by defeating a team that is riding high and appears to be at the top of the AFC class. Washington will also look to get healthier with some additional days off and the opportunity to come into the game fairly fresh. Hopefully they don't have a slow start out the gate like they did against the Giants after the bye week. Regardless of what happens Sunday, there is reason for optimism in Washington as you can see the culture change is in motion, and this team is taking on the personality of its coach. Yeah, I know it's a cliché, but it's an appropriate one.
If this team is going to play as tough as Ron Rivera is, then every week they will be a tough out going forward. Stay tuned. As you were...
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team