And yet Coach Ron Rivera is optimistic. With quarterback Kyle Allen at the helm, he sees a young if depleted team that still has enough talent to win the NFC East — especially after its upcoming opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, lost in a blowout to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday.
Though Allen may be regarded as a Band-Aid at the quarterback position, Rivera said he believes his play has led to incremental improvements for Washington’s offense.
“I thought he did some really good things,” Rivera said of Allen’s performance in Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants. “I thought he made some really good decisions, moved the ball when we had to. Obviously the two things you want back are the two takeaways. But other than that, he did the things that we’re expecting of him … and he put us in position to win the football game, and that much I think is promising.”
Washington has lost both games Allen has started, but Rivera has found key areas he hopes will serve as building blocks for the future, both short and long term. The most notable has been Washington’s ability to sustain long drives, which has allowed it to control the clock. In Week 6, Washington had a league-high five drives that spanned 10 or more plays. Four of those drives resulted in points. In the first four games of the season, the team totaled six drives of 10 or more plays.
“Well, we converted on third downs,” Rivera said. “I think we were right around 50 percent if not a little over 50 percent last week on third downs. That’s big. Our first and second downs, we had success where we put ourselves in second and short, and then we put ourselves in third and short. When you’re converting that way, that’s huge. It gives you an opportunity to maintain the ball.”
In the first quarter of the season, Washington converted a league-worst 33.3 percent of its third-down attempts. But with Allen at quarterback, the team converted 50 percent of its attempts. Week 6 also was the first game this season in which Washington outgained its opponent by at least 10 yards (97), and the first time it made more big plays (rushes of 10-plus yards and catches of at least 20 yards) than it allowed.
Yet for the small steps forward Washington has taken on offense, it continues to take giant leaps backward. At times those mistakes have come from Allen and the offense. Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner — who both coached Allen with Carolina for two seasons — have stressed the need for him to play within himself and the system because forcing plays often got him into trouble last season, when he averaged nearly two giveaways a game.
On Sunday, he had two turnovers — an interception and fumble — that led to 14 Giants points.
“A lot of that has to do with decision-making,” Turner said. “... The first thing you have to do is protect the ball. He’d be the first person to tell you that. Trust in the rest of your team that we’re going to get a punt off, we’ll pin them, it’s a tie game. So, we talk a lot about: ‘Play the game, don’t play plays.’ I think just understanding situations is big and know when to say when.”
But the mistakes have been shared all around. Washington’s defense has had continued communication issues and coverage breakdowns that have led to chunk plays and scores for the opposition.
“Last week was their ninth play of 40-plus yards [allowed],” said former Washington guard and current Fox Sports analyst Mark Schlereth, who was part of the broadcast crew for Washington’s game against the Giants. “They’ve given up four plays of 50-plus yards. ... They don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome the explosive plays they give up on the defensive side of the ball.”
That includes the quarterback position, Schlereth said.
“This is not a knock on Kyle Allen, but I don’t think he’s going to play above the X’s and O’s," Schlereth said. “It’s not like Kyler Murray. Kyler Murray was awful throwing the ball on Monday night. ... He made the one deep pass to Christian Kirk and it looked great, but for the most part, he was not on time and he was inaccurate. And they still blew out the Cowboys ... because he could play above the X’s and O’s. When s--- breaks down, he just goes and makes ridiculous plays with his feet.”
Rivera’s biggest reason for switching to Allen five games into the season was his experience in Turner’s offense.
“It’s a very high-volume offense, so the more time you spend in it, the more you get the nuance with all the plays and the more you feel good about it,” Allen said. “... I think I can feel myself out there on game day compared to last year getting through my reads quicker, understanding where the ball needs to go quicker and understanding when there’s not a play to be made, when to get out of the pocket and make a play.”
But many of the same roadblocks that Dwayne Haskins hit in his four starts are the same ones Allen will have to overcome. Washington lacks depth at nearly every position on offense, and injuries have piled up. Rookie wide receivers Antonio Gandy-Golden (hamstring) and Isaiah Wright (shoulder) and veteran tight end Logan Thomas (neck) are dealing with injuries that kept them from practicing Wednesday.
Defensive end Chase Young, who missed time earlier in the season with a groin injury, did practice but on a limited basis because of the same injury. His status is another potential challenge facing Washington and its young quarterback.
“I think [Allen’s] a really solid quarterback that needs a really good football team around him," Schlereth said. “I don’t think they have a good enough football team around him both offensively and defensively.”
More Washington Football Team coverage: