By Adam Aniba
Washington's horrendous 2-6 start has raised more questions than provided answers about the short term and long term ceiling for Ron Rivera's team. The defense was projected by many experts to be at top 5 unit, but has fallen flat thus far.
Rivera's offense hasn't fared well either, with Taylor Heinicke as their starter. However the former Old Dominion quarterback performed well the last time he faced Tampa Bay, after being signed off the street. The 31-23 loss to the Bucs in lasts years playoffs, marked one of the better postseason performances by a Washington quarterback under Snyder's regime.
Heinicke finished the game 26/44 306 yp with 1 td 1 int. He also flashed his ability to scramble by leading the team 46 yds rushing on 6 runs. Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner ran rookie running back, Antonio Gibson 14 times, but only resulted in 31 yards. Heinicke was clearly the wildcard in the matchup for Tampa Bay, with little game film available on on the former XFL quarterback.
Although Heinicke showed a ton of moxy after hurting his shoulder on the infamous touchdown dive, his heroics were simply not enough. In the end, All Pro quarterback Tom Brady did what he does, throwing for 381 yds and 2 tds. Running back Leonard Fournette inflicted a lot of damage as well, particularly late, running for 93 yds and a touchdown.
What Can Washington Do?
Playing sound football without mental mistakes would be a good start for Rivera's underachieving defense. The offense is a work in progress, with Heinicke looking to find the glimmer of magic he displayed in 2020. Jack Del Rio's unit will be missing, arguably, their top pass rusher, with Montez Sweat out for the next month + after breaking his jaw against Denver.
Rookie Shaka Toney and Casey Toohill will split the reps in Sweats absence, but pressuring Brady will be no easy task. Another rookie, in MLB Jamin Davis will be a key part of JDR's attack in attempt to limit Tom Brady and the Bucs offensive attack. The defensive backs will have their hands full without corner Benjamin St-Juste already ruled out. Even with Antonio Brown and Ron Gronkowski, the Bucs offense still features Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Washington's defensive backs will have to be extremely physical at the line, limiting splash plays. Chase Young has dramatically underachieved this season and will need to have the best game of his career. Maintaining his gaps and avoiding silly mistakes should lead to a productive day for Young. He'll need John Allen to continue to anchor the line with Davis and another unheralded defender to step up, otherwise the game could get out of hand quickly.
On offense Heinicke will need to just play his game and get out of the pocket as often as possible. OC Scott Turner needs to commit to a tempo game plan, which accentuates Heinicke ability as a run in RPO/Zone Read. Asking Heinicke to be a drop back signal caller, just won't lead to long term success.
Commiting to the run, as long as the game is manageable, will be another key. How well Gibson holds up will be something to keep an eye on. In the end, Tampa Bay could be too much for Washington, but youngsters like Toney will have an opportunity to make a name for himself on the biggest stage imaginable.