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WFT Daily: A Winning Formula

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The Washington Football Team offense celebrates a touchdown during its game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 22, 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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Alex Smith entered Sunday with back-to-back 300-yard passing games, but that is not how the 16-year quarterback has compiled a 95-67-1 record as a starter. Smith operates best as a game manager, not putting up gaudy statistics but not making many mistakes, either. Entering this season, Smith had only eclipsed 300 passing yards 12 times.

Smith threw for a 166 yards against the Bengals, but that was more than enough to help the Washington Football Team secure a 20-9 win. He still completed 68% of his passes (17-for-25) and had success going downfield, connecting twice with Terry McLaurin for gains of at least 25 yards. He also hit Steven Sims Jr. for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and his only miscue was a batted pass that resulted in an interception.

Playing with the lead, Smith did not have to force anything. A solid running game and smothering defense kept Washington ahead.

"Especially once we got the lead, it was about first downs and grinding it out and not having a mistake," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That's the big thing that we have to do is understand how to win a football game. You've got to lead, you've got to be methodical, you can't make mistakes, and just grind it out. That's probably the most important thing that happened in the second half was we grinded it out. We ran the ball effectively. We took what was given to us, we got the first downs. ...At the end of the day, moving the way we did, getting ourselves into position the way we did and then putting the points on the board I think was important."

Check out photos of the Washington Football Team during its Week 11 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photos courtesy of Alexander Jonesi/NFL, Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team and Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

If Washington (3-7) is to make a serious push for the woeful NFC East, it will likely need to follow a similar blueprint to the one it used during the final two quarters against the Bengals.

Its defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs against Joe Burrow, who then left with an injury, and sacked backup Ryan Finley four times. Its running backs gobbled up 117 yards on 21 carries, which helped set up a touchdown and three field goal tries (two makes). Smith only attempted 13 passes and completed nine of them for 86 yards. When Washington needed him to throw, he was effective.

"It feels amazing, especially once we started chunking off some of the runs to have the 15, 16, 20-yard runs," Smith said. "It's hard to always grind it down the field, to always have to convert third downs. That's tough in this league, everybody's good. So to be running the ball at the clip we were there a little bit in the second half obviously makes things really easy."

Smith's previous performances were impressive -- he completed 62 of his 87 passing for 715 yards -- but they transpired out of necessity. Washington trailed by at least 17 points in those games, and while Smith spearheaded valiant comebacks, both ended in defeats.

Washington's three wins this season have several commonalities, but relying on the passing game is not one of them. It registered at least four sacks in each contest and ran the ball at least 30 times. It also forced multiple turnovers. In those victories, the quarterbacks averaged just 27 passing attempts for 179.3 yards.

While not always pretty, this formula has been effective when executed. It could also be what propels Washington to an improbable playoff birth.

"Sometimes you may not be playing your best football, you may not have a lot of plays," Rivera said. "But, if you systematically run the ball and grind the clock and control it, you can control the tempo. Definitely if you're shutting down the run and you get pressure on the quarterback, you're allowing the [defensive backs] to make plays. Yeah, there are different ways to win."

QUICK HITS:

-- Rivera details schedule for short week: With only three days to prepare for a Thanksgiving showdown with the Cowboys, Washington is trying to make the most of the time it does have. On Monday, players had the opportunity to lift, run and "get as much treatment as they can." After Zoom meetings, they returned to the team facility for a quick walkthrough.

Tuesday will be a traditional practice session, Rivera said, except they will not be in pads. Then it's off to Dallas on Wednesday before fighting for first place the following afternoon.

"Well, basically you try to have as much carryover from the last couple weeks as possible. You limit all the new stuff you want to put in. Then you go out and prepare."

-- Settle-ing in: Midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, Tim Settle fended off the left guard and pulled down Finley for an 11-yard loss. It marked his third sack in the past four games.

In the absence of Matt Ioannidis (torn bicep), Settle is quietly having a career year. The third-year pro currently ranks third on the team in sacks (4.0), tied for third in tackles for loss (four) and fourth in quarterback hits (five).

"You see a lot of growth," Rivera said of Settle on Friday. "Here's a young man who had a good college career, played some last year, played a little bit more for us this year. A big part of it, too, is don't forget we're missing Matt Ioannidis, who's been a big part of the front around here for a while. We hope for big things once we get him back."

-- Linebacker roulette: Aside from his Week 7 ejection, linebacker Jon Bostic played every defensive snap entering Sunday's game.

But for Washington's first defensive drive against the Bengals, Cole Holcomb and Kevin Pierre-Louis were the starters. Bostic subbed in on the next drive along with Thomas Davis Sr., who was a healthy scratch the past several weeks.

For the game, Holcomb, Pierre-Louis and Bostic all played between 36 and 43 snaps with Thomas out there for 19.

"I was very pleased with the direction our linebacking corps is headed, and I liked all that rotational stuff we were doing," Rivera said. "It keeps everybody involved, it keeps everybody on their toes and it keeps everybody anxious to get in the game."

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