What if I told you there was a team that has only scored on its opening drive one time in the last 20 games? That might make for the worst fictitious promo for a 30 for 30 documentary, but it is, in fact, the reality for the Washington Football Team.
Since Ron Rivera took over as head coach in 2020, there was definitely a culture change that could be seen. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the team’s ineptitude to open up games.
The last time Washington scored on an opening drive was Week 17 of the 2020 season against the Eagles. That prevented Washington from becoming the first team in this century to go scoreless on its first offensive drive of the game.
Washington’s early game woes have continued into the 2021 season.
Here we are, one season later, with the team returning its top weapons in Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, Logan Thomas, and J.D. McKissic, and adding Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, and Adam Humphries. Yet, not much has changed.
In its last two games, Washington has managed a grand total of zero yards on its opening offensive possession. ZERO! Nope, that’s not a typo.
Zero yards. Zero points. Zero momentum. That’s a whole lot of zeroes.
Unfortunately for Washington, what was supposed to be the team’s biggest strength, the defense, has continued to come up short. That combined with little early-game momentum being generated by the offense has been a recipe for disaster so far.
With Washington going three-and-out on its first offensive possession of each game this season, it has quickly given the ball to its opponents. Over its first three games, Washington’s first offensive possession has lasted less than two minutes. This has been one of the contributing factors to opponents controlling the overall time of possession throughout games.
In the team’s two losses, there was a large gap in the time of possession, with the Chargers holding the ball for 12 minutes and 6 seconds longer than Washington, and the Bills holding the ball for 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer, respectively.
So what’s causing the issue? Tight end Logan Thomas believes it comes down to areas the team can improve on.
"“It’s ourselves, man. Just one person here or there. Whether it’s a penalty, whether it’s a missed assignment, turning the ball over. It’s small things, stuff that’s completely changeable, stuff that we can get done better. But it’s really just that.”"
That sentiment is shared by J.D. McKissic who talked about mistakes stalling drives.
"“We have our moments in the drives, but we just have one mistake, something goes wrong on every drive, and we can’t do that. We’ve got to have 11 guys on the same page to play NFL football. We know what we’ve got to do.”"
The crazy part however is the fact that Thomas and McKissic point to the same issues, but McKissic’s quote is from December 2020. I don’t listen to Olivia Rodrigo, but this sounds like déjà vu.
What makes matters worse is that Washington’s defense has allowed opponents to score on each of their first drives.
Justin Herbert, Daniel Jones, and Josh Allen combined to go 15-for-16 for 161 yards on opening drives against Washington, with each possession ending in a touchdown.
Washington hasn’t fared much better on its second offensive drive, either, scoring a total of three points across the three games, with a field goal against the Chargers. The team went three-and-out on the second drive against the Giants and fumbled away the ball against the Bills.
The early struggles have led to a snowball of mistakes for Washington, with the frustration leading to costly penalties, the team turning away from the running game, and additional pressure being placed on a fairly inexperienced quarterback in Taylor Heinicke.
If Washington wants to change the trajectory of its season, it’s going to have to start with the offense. Playing with the lead not only can impact the offense’s play calling, but also puts additional pressure on the opponent’s offense to keep up.
"“I feel like we just need to come out stronger. I don’t think there’s been a game yet to where we had the lead starting off,” said Antonio Gibson.“So, I feel like [if] we come out stronger, that changes up their play calling and how they play if we come out [and] we’re on top. And it also changes up our play calling if they’re on top, you know, we get away from the script. You know we got to do certain things a different way. So, if we start off strong, I feel like we can do way better than what we’re doing right now.”"
After a blowout loss to the Bills, the team should come out hungry against the Falcons on Sunday. Let’s see if they are able to put up some early points and carry that momentum throughout the rest of the season.