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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In Ron Rivera's first two seasons as head coach, the Carolina Panthers were 0-6 in games decided by five points or fewer. Part of these struggles were the result of Rivera's conservative decision making.
By that point, Rivera had cultivated a longtime relationship with Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach John Madden. So, during one of his regular visits with Madden, Rivera asked what he was doing wrong.
"Ron, you've played enough football, you've coached enough football, to know what's right or wrong," Rivera remembers Madden telling him in 2013. "If you go with what you feel is best for your team, you have a good chance. Rely on those things."
Rivera has tried to rely on his "gut instincts" ever since.
"One thing that I've learned is you have to treat everybody fairly, but you're not going to be able to treat everybody the same," Rivera said Thursday.
"Well, it's the same thing with our situations. You treat each situation as it comes along, and that's kind of where we are. So, when I get into those situations, I will go by my gut. I will go by the feel. I'm going to draw on my experience. I've been fortunate enough to be in this league for 35 years. So, as I go through it, I'm going to make decisions based on what I think, first of all, is best for us."
Some think Rivera's messages have been mixed since the start of the season. Against the Cardinals and Browns, Rivera opted not to use timeouts down multiple scores because he did not want to risk injuries. But after the Ravens game in Week 4, with Washington just one game out of first place in the NFC East, Rivera replaced Dwayne Haskins Jr. with Kyle Allen partly because he said Allen gave the team the best chance to win now.
Rivera understands how his decision making could be perceived as inconsistent, but that's because he makes each decision based on a specific set of circumstances. Things are much different now than they were several weeks ago, and they'll continue to develop as the season progresses.
It's Rivera's job to adapt to the current conditions with the focus of doing what's best for the Washington Football Team.
"It happened at all different positions if you look at some of the changes we've made," Rivera said. "It's happened at the quarterback, it's happened at the safety, it's happened at the offensive line. So, these decisions that we're making are what I believe are best going forward. Now, can they change? Absolutely. That's part of my prerogative as a head coach is that I can change my mind because if I'm wrong, I'll admit it. That's one thing I've told you guys is that I'll take the responsibility because I'm the one making the decisions."
-- Rivera pinpoints where Washington needs to improve: With the bye week coming up, Rivera wants to see his team improve in two specific areas against the Cowboys: third-down defense and rushing offense.
Washington is currently allowing opponents to convert on 42.7% of their third downs. That's slightly below the NFL average, but for a defense that has the No. 2 pass defense and the No. 6 total defense, it should be getting off the field more often. It's also coming off a week during which the Giants converted seven of their 11 third downs.
As for the running game, Washington ranks last in the league with 82.2 yards per game. Rivera said he does not see any glaring issues in this area, especially for a team that trailed by two scores more than half of the time through five weeks.
"The only way that can improve is you have to be able to run the ball. We're working on it. We've got a group of young guys that are learning to do it the right way. We've got a good group of running backs that we feel pretty good about."
-- Holcomb, Everett prosper in bigger roles: Linebacker Cole Holcomb and free safety Deshazor Everett tied for the team lead in tackles against the Giants, yet neither played more than 31% of the defensive snaps before that game. That's because for most of the first five weeks, Holcomb was hurt and Everett was backing up Troy Apke.
Both returned to the lineup for different reasons in New York and impressed their coaches in the process.
"I think they brought a little juice; I think they brought a little excitement, a little physicality," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "We're welcoming that and it was good to see. We're going to continue to work at getting the best combination of players out there for each offensive personnel grouping and do the best we can to put a group out there that's going to compete their butts off and give us a lot of production."
-- Young's ultimate motivation: Chase Young is an extremely motivated individual; just ask those around him. But whenever his mom is in the stands, like she will be Sunday against the Cowboys, he is even more determined to perform to the best of his ability.
"I can't go out into a game and get put on my butt, because my mom, she'll say something about that. "So, it definitely gives me more motivation. When I'm tired, I'm like, 'Man, all right, I can't look like no sucker in front of my mom, though.' It's just like a real motivation when she's up there to make me go harder."
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The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Oct. 22, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team & Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)