The Washington Football Team will look to get back into the win column when it hosts the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. (A comprehensive preview of the game can be found, HERE.)
Here are three keys for Washington entering the Week 5 matchup:
1. Establish The Run
This matchup pits one of the best pass-rushing units in terms of sacks against one of the worst. While Kyle Allen is more mobile than Dwayne Haskins Jr., he was still one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL last season in just 13 appearances.
To avoid the crippling pressure of the Rams' defensive line, which features perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald, Washington will have to be able to run the ball efficiently -- something it has not done a quarter of the way through the season. Washington is currently the third-worst rushing offense at 92.3 yards per game and is averaging just 3.6 yards per rush.
However, there are reasons to believe Washington's ground game will find its footing Sunday. Of its four opponents, only the Arizona Cardinals ranked outside of the 12 top in rushing defense, and Washington ran for a season-high 117 yards in that game. The Rams are currently allowing 123.5 yards per contest.
Third-round rookie Antonio Gibson has also shown continual improvement as an all-around back. His best game as a pro came last week against the Ravens, when he totaled 128 yards on 17 touches.
"He's a heck of an athlete. He's a heck of a football player with the ball in his hands, which we've seen," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It's just a matter of learning and understanding when he's got the ball behind the line of scrimmage, how to press a hole, how to hit a hole in a certain direction, how to plant off that and how to anticipate certain things opening up. Those are the things that Randy's trying to teach him and trying to get him to have a feel for."
2. Third-Down Efficiency
When asked where Washington's defense can improve moving forward, Rivera's response was simple: third downs.
"We've been very average on third down. We can improve and be better. You've got to be better at first and second down, too, but our third down really isn't as good as I think [defensive coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] would like it to be."
Washington has actually been a top 10 third-down defense (60.7% stop rate), but opponents have converted five of their seven fourth-down tries this season, which has contributed to the unit's overall struggles. Getting off the field will be crucial against a Rams' offense that ranks fourth in third-down efficiency with a 51.9% conversion rate.
Offensively, Washington has only moved the chains on about one-third of its third downs, which is tied for the league's worst conversion rate. Improving in this category comes down to gaining positive yards on first and second down so third downs are more manageable. When faced with 3rd-and-4 or longer this season, Haskins completed just 17 of his 33 passes, took four sacks and threw two interceptions. Let's see if Allen can fare better in those situations Sunday.
3. Pressure QB Jared Goff
Washington has gone up against two of the NFL's most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield, while not at that level of playmaking ability, has quality mobility as well.
The most traditional quarterback Washington has faced is the Eagles' Carson Wentz, who the defense sacked eight times in a 27-17 victory to open the season. Washington will play another pocket passer when Jared Goff comes to FedExField on Sunday.
The Rams' offensive line has only allowed five sacks on Goff, and the fifth-year veteran has responded by completing a career-high 72% of his passes for 1,063 yards and six touchdowns compared to two interceptions. But if Goff does not have enough time to throw, he will not be able to connect with his bevy of talented pass-catchers like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. And through four games, Washington is fourth in the league with 14 sacks.
There is also a chance Washington will welcome back pass-rushing phenom Chase Young. After missing last week with a groin injury, Young was a limited participant during Friday's practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday's contest. He leads the team with 2.5 sacks in three games.
"When we play good football, this defense can shut down any offense," defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. "When we play bad football, we're not a good defense. So it really just depends on how consistent we are."