The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera.
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Head coach Ron Rivera knows plenty about dynamic rushing attacks.
In his eight full seasons with Carolina, the Panthers' rushing offense never finished worse than 11th in the NFL. And during his first four years, Rivera was fortunate to have the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who combined to rush for an average of 1,180 yards per year.
On Sunday, the Washington Football Team will go up against perhaps the best two-headed rushing attack in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Rivera called them "a heck of a one-two punch" and a representation of what he believes Washington's ground game can develop into.
"We saw a little bit of it last week. We saw a little bit of it the week before. There are guys that bring something a little bit different to the table and they'll play their roles for you," Rivera said.
"Sometimes one guy will get hot; well, you want to see that hot hand as much as possible. That's something that I think we're working toward. We feel good about our stable of backs, we really do. We think we've got a great group of young backs.
Circumstances largely dictated Washington's rush plan against Philadelphia. Rookie Antonio Gibson actually fared well in the first half with six carries for 33 yards, but the team turned to veteran Peyton Barber later on because it faced more short-yardage and red zone situations. Barber only gained 29 yards on 17 carries, but he rewarded Washington with two touchdowns and helped the offense run out the clock of a season-opening win.
While Week 1 showcased Barber's value, Week 2 seemed to be a better indication of how offensive coordinator Scott Turner plans to use his running backs moving forward. Both Gibson and J.D. McKissic ran for at least 50 yard while displaying their unique skillsets. Turner liked Gibson's decisiveness, but he also displayed his power and vision on an 11-yard touchdown run, the first of his career. McKissic, meanwhile, played just as Turner expected, exploding through the hole and then juking defenders at the second level. By game's end, the duo combined for 108 yards on 21 carries, good for an average of more than five yards per rush.
"I think that the first game was perfect for him playing those 15 plays, and then I think he was able to play something like 40 on Sunday," Turner said of Gibson. "You saw him just get more comfortable. Hopefully next week will be even another step as he gets comfortable playing."
Each defense presents a "different set of challenges," Turner said, so it's hard to envision what the running game will look like at its full potential. However, expect Washington's running backs to be more involved in the passing game going forward; in two games, they've combined to catch four passes for six yards on nine targets.
"The backs, we'd like them to be more in the passing game," Turner said. "These last couple weeks the teams are playing a lot of man coverage. So, you get guys where -- as far as you're saying screens -- that can be a hindrance at times. It's just kind of the way it goes."
-- Smith continues to progress: Rivera provided an update on veteran quarterback Alex Smith on Thursday. Rivera said Smith and Kyle Allen have been splitting reps with the scout team and that Smith "has done very well." Smith has been inactive the first two games, but Rivera said before the Eagles' game that if a scenario arose where Smith had to play, he would be comfortable putting Smith in.
"The thing that's been really neat to watch is you start to see the arm strength come back. You start to see all of a sudden a fast twitch in decision making. The rust is really starting to come off the guy. It's been really exciting, it really has."
-- Rivera weary of the Browns' play-action attack: One of the biggest keys for Washington during Sunday's game will be limiting Cleveland's rushing attack, which ranks second in the NFL with 176.5 yards per game. Nick Chubb is fourth in the league in rushing, while Kareem Hunt is tied for ninth. Both running backs average at least 5.8 yards per carry.
If the Browns are running the ball effectively, Rivera knows that opens up everything else offensively.
"I can tell you right now, if we don't stop the run, their play-action game becomes very dangerous," Rivera said. "[Cleveland QB] Baker [Mayfield]'s very slight-of-hand. He fakes the ball really well. He tucks it, he arches out really nicely on those rollouts and gives himself an opportunity to square those shoulders and throw the ball down the field. There's a lot of things that play into what they do. A big part of it is off of their running game, there's a lot of complementary play-action passes. We have to be really good about that."
-- Turner pleased with offensive tempo: Turner knows the offense must perform better, but the speed at which it has been playing has not been the problem. Turner said this week that Washington is eighth in first-half pace -- running a play every 24 seconds -- and that the difference between second and eighth is only about one second. Turner hopes the results will follow soon.
"We look to explore all options. Anything we can do to be successful. I think it comes down to just making plays or me putting guys into the right situation. It's never just one thing."
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