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WFT Daily: Rivera's Reasons For Optimism 

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Head coach Ron Rivera before the Washington Football Team's game against the New York Giants on Nov. 9, 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)

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. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

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It would be easy for head coach Ron Rivera to be discouraged eight games into his Washington Football Team tenure.

His group has just two wins, lost defensive standouts Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis for the season and shuffled through quarterbacks -- the latest switch coming after Kyle Allen, who replaced Dwayne Haskins Jr. after Week 4, went down with a serious ankle injury in Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

Yet in speaking to the media Monday, Rivera expressed optimism entering the second half of the 2020 campaign. Here are three reasons why:

1. The State Of The NFC East

Despite dropping six of its past seven games, Washington has the same number of wins as the Giants and Dallas Cowboys (both 2-7). And while Philadelphia Eagles are atop the NFC East with a record of 3-4-1, they still have to play the Seattle Seahawks (6-2), Green Bay Packers (6-2), New Orleans Saints (6-2), Arizona Cardinals (5-3) and Cleveland Browns (5-3).

Washington's upcoming schedule is much easier, as its next three opponents are a combined 7-17-1. If Rivera's team can win at two of those games, it'll still be in position to contend for the division crown.

"We're still in it," Rivera said. "I mean let's be realistic -- what's the best record in our division? ...See my point? Keep your fingers crossed. You just never know. But, at some point, you have to win football games, and that's the truth of the matter."

2. Younger Players Showing Growth

Nearly half of Washington's 53 players have three years of experience or fewer, and nine were either offensive or defensive starters Sunday against the Giants.

Some of them have already established themselves as core players, such as Terry McLaurin, Chase Young, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat, but others are beginning to emerge. On Monday, Rivera highlighted wide receiver Cam Sims (three receptions for 110 yards), linebacker Cole Holcomb (seven tackles) and safety Kamren Curl (11 tackles and a sack).

As they continue to develop and mesh with one another, Rivera believes improved results will follow.

"I can sit there and go down the list of the guys and tell you there's a reason for optimism," Rivera said. "At least I am. Maybe I'm overly-optimistic, but that's just how I feel. When I sit here and look at these names I go, 'Wow, these are some young guys that are playing. These are guys that don't have a lot of NFL experience going out there right now and gaining that NFL experience that's going to help us.' I really believe that."

3. Alex Smith's Second Half Vs. Giants

Rivera turned to Allen because he knew Scott Turner's offense, and that familiarity paid off with Allen completing 69.0% of his passes for 610 passing yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. With Allen under center, Washington was finally moving the ball consistently.

It appeared Washington's offense would take a major hit when Allen suffered an ankle injury at the end of the first quarter, but that was not the case. In fact, after a slow start, Smith spearheaded one of the team's best offensive halves of the year. Washington exploded for 253 passing yards -- about 40 more than it averages per game this season -- and scored 17 points before back-to-back interceptions sealed its defeat.

The turnovers were costly, Rivera said, but the statistics were promising; Smith finished 24-of-32 passing and threw for more yards (325) than he had in any game since coming to Washington.

"It's hard to fault a guy who's trying to make something happen when you're in desperation mode," Rivera said of Smith's late-game interceptions. "He's probably still a little bit rusty. We'll see how he is this next coming week because he'll be the primary quarterback getting primary reps. So, we'll see. We'll get an opportunity to judge him then."

QUICK HITS

-- Smith starting is "very good" for Dwayne Haskins: Smith will start his 162nd-career game against the Detroit Lions next weekend and look to improve on his all-time record of 94-66-1. These two statistics show that Smith has plenty of experience as an NFL quarterback and is a proven winner, and Rivera believes backup Dwayne Haskins Jr. can learn a lot from him.

"The thing about Alex right now is you have a guy that's a very veteran quarterback who has helped and nurtured some very young quarterbacks. He kind of showed these guys how to study and prepare for a game, how to handle it," Rivera said Monday. "I think this is going to be very good for Dwayne. I think Dwayne's going to get an opportunity to see truly how to prepare for a game as a starter. I think -- and hopefully Dwayne will take it this way -- this is an opportunity to learn and grow. Then, who knows? He may get his opportunity again shortly. He's just got to be ready and prepare as if he's one play away."

-- McKissic has been one of the NFL's best receiving RBs: Lost in Washington's disappointing defeat was an excellent performance from McKissic, who set career highs in targets (14), receptions (nine) and yards (65). With Washington abandoning the run in the second half, McKissic served as a reliable and productive outlet for Smith. He almost had a touchdown, too, but stepped out of bounds before streaking into the end zone.

Through nine weeks, McKissic ranks third among running backs with 248 receiving yards and fourth with 34 receptions.

"The biggest thing with J.D. is you see his versatility," Rivera said before the Giants' game. "You see it as a receiver, you see it as a runner. He's a quality back. I think the thing that he's showing is he can be a first-, second- and third-down guy. Do you want him touching the ball 30 times a game? Probably not if you don't want him to take that type of pounding. But you want the ball in his hands as much as possible. I do think he is a quality football player."

-- Cornelius Lucas is thriving at left tackle: Offseason signee Cornelius Lucas is making the most of Geron Christian Sr.'s injury absence. Over his past two starts, he has not allowed a sack, pressure, hurry or quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus. He also has not committed a penalty.

"For him, it's being in that playbook and being prepared," assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton said about Lucas before the Giants' game. "He's been preparing. He takes great notes. He was ready for the opportunity whenever it happened. Unfortunately, it happened to Geron, but for him to step in and do a great job is a testament to him of working hard and being patient."

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