Top takeaways from the Battle of the Beltway: Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team dropped to 1-3 and are now tied with the Dallas Cowboys for second place in the much-maligned NFC East division after falling to the Baltimore Ravens at home 31-17 in the Battle of the Beltway. They currently sit half a game behind the 1-2-1 Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the standings.
Despite entering this interconference matchup with their interstate rivals as heavy underdogs, Washington was able to hand around with the highly touted Ravens at times during this game before it ultimately got away from them in the end.
While there were some positive signs of growth, Washington still showed that they aren’t in the same class as Baltimore and that there is still a lot more work to be done in order for them to bounce back from their current three-game skid.
Here are some of the top takeaways that I observed from the Battle of the Beltway from a Washington perspective:
Antonio Gibson continues to be dynamic
Even Washington wants to go with a running back by committee approach this season, it appears they have found themselves quite the dynamic feature back in the making with the third-round rookie out of Memphis.
He played both wide receiver and running back in college and during the pre-draft process analysts were torn on which he would best succeed at in the pros but on Sunday he showed that he can excel as both a rusher and a pass catcher.
Gibson was Washington’s most effective runner and led the team with 46 yards on 13 carries and recorded his third straight game with a rushing touchdown. He also finished second in receiving yards on the team with 82 yards on just four catches.
He displayed elusiveness and an ability to find cutback lanes and break tackles. Gibson also showed great burst in the open field and once he got to the second level on handoffs as well as good acceleration when getting around to the edge and upfield on passing routes. He was deadly in the screen game and showed strong hands as a pass-catcher
Terry McLaurin can’t be held in check
Washington’s star second-year receiver was listed as questionable heading into this matchup with a thigh injury that held him out of Friday’s practice but he Sunday he looked as healthy as a horse as he galloped for 118 yards on 10 catches, both were team and game highs.
Scary Terry was able to find the open spots in zone coverage and had success against every Ravens cornerback not named Marlon Humphrey in man coverage. He was unjammable off the line of scrimmage and was able to gain separation with both speed and crisp route running.
His best play game on Washington’s final offensive possession where he got behind Ravens reserve cornerback Khalil Dorsey and hauled in a 39-yard pass down the left sideline that set up quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ first career rushing touchdown that he sneaked in three plays later.
Kendall Fuller sparked both touchdown drives
Ravens quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson hadn’t thrown an interception through the first three-game of the season and hadn’t been picked off in a regular-season since Week 14 of last season. That impressive streak came to an abrupt end just before halftime when veteran cornerback made the first of his two impressive interceptions along the left sideline.
The ball was thrown a bit high but before Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin could get his head turned around to make a play on the ball, Fuller had already climbed the ladder to do the same. He was able to corral the pass and keep his entire body inbounds to set the offense up Baltimore’s 37-yard line.
His second interception was even more impressive and once again set the offense up on the Ravens’ side of the field at the 42-yard line. After the ball went just past the outstretched arms of leaping Baltimore receiver Marquise Brown, Fuller was able to reel in the heave from former Washington quarterback, now Ravens back Robert Griffin III. He was able to click his heels down and get his hip down inbounds before his momentum carried him out.
Both his interceptions sparked scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns. Against better competition such as the Ravens and others, Washington will need more plays like that to get themselves into and stay in games.
Chase Young was sorely missed
Washington could’ve really used the services of the second overall pick in this year’s draft against the Ravens on Sunday. Even though Baltimore was without their First-Team All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley who was a surprising addition to the inactive list before the game, Washington’s still loaded defensive front wasn’t able to take advantage of the reshuffled offensive line missing their best player without their star defensive end.
The Ravens moved their starting right tackle over to left which is a position he hadn’t played since college and slid veteran DJ Fluker who has exclusively played guard since 2015 into the other tackle spot.
Against a Baltimore pass protection unit that has given up four sacks in back to back games heading into this matchup, Washington failed to put consistent pressure on Jackson and only managed to bring him down for a sack once on a rollout that he decided to absorb after not being able to find an open receiver.
Despite still having multiple former first-round picks healthy and active for this game, Young was sorely missed. He likely would’ve posed a greater challenge for either Brown of Fluker on the edge had he been available for this game. While his presence wouldn’t necessarily mean the outcome of the game would’ve turned out any different since he only plays on one side of the ball, he could’ve provided them with similar energizing plays as a pass rusher like Fuller did in coverage with his two interceptions that led to offensive touchdowns.
Haskins still needs to play a lot better
After throwing three interceptions to the Cleveland Browns in Week Three, each of which was followed by touchdowns on the ensuing drives, the second-year signal-caller was much cleaner with football in this outing. However, he was far from perfect and made some bad decisions that either cost his team points or led to points for the Ravens.
Even though he wasn’t directly credited with a turnover, he is partly responsible for Washington’s only of the game. On their second offensive drive of the game, he dropped back to pass on second-and-11 and hit running back J.D. McKissic in the flat on a check down.
Ordinarily, that would be the logical thing to do after a quarterback has gone through his progressions but in this instance, Haskins took too long to go through his reads, and by the time he realized his outlet receiver was wide open, it gave Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey enough time to sprint over and make a play on the ball carrier before he could turn upfield.
Baltimore’s First Team All-Pro not only wrapped up McKissic behind the line of scrimmage for another loss of yardage, but he was able to rip the ball out of his grasp and it would be recovered by their other First-Team All-Pro corner Marcus Peters. Two plays later, the Ravens were in the end zone and up 7-0.
Haskins’ second big mistake came on their second drive of the third quarter with the team down 28-10. Washington took nearly eight minutes to cover 87 yards in 17 plays and came away with zero points. He had made some good plays as the offense matriculated the ball down the field but on the 14th play of the drive, he took a horrendous 18-yard sack on first and goal from Baltimore’s 15-yard line that backed them up to the 33.
He picked up 20 yards on two passing attempts to get to fourth-and-goal from the 13 and after scrambling to his right, instead of throwing it into the end zone to give one of his targets an opportunity to make a play or at least draw a pass interference penalty that would’ve set them up with a fresh set of downs a yard away from pay dirt, Haskins threw it to receiver Isaiah Wright eight yards short of the goal line.
Wright was pushed out of bounds for a five-yard pickup and Washington turned the ball over on downs. The Ravens went on a six-plus minute drive to open the fourth quarter and kicked a field goal to extend their lead to three touchdowns, effectively extinguishing any hopes of pulling off a comeback.
It was fourth down, the ball’s got to go into the end zone or it’s got to be put into a situation where it can get into the end zone,” Head Coach Ron Rivera said after the game. “Again, it’s just something that he’s got to learn if he’s going to be a starter in this league and contribute to winning football games. He has to understand and develop. This is part of it. This is part of the growth. We didn’t have opportunities this offseason to work through situations and scenarios. It’s just kind of learn as you grow.”
Haskins finished 32-of-45 for 314 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and scored the first rushing touchdown of his career in garbage time. As clean as his stat sheet looked, and even though he made some nice throws at times, it was still another uninspiring performance from a young quarterback whose leash is getting shorter and shorter with each loss where he continues to struggle more than he is showing signs of improvement.
“I thought Dwayne had his moments. There are still some things that, again, we’re still working through and we’re still developing and learning,” Rivera said. “There are some things that, obviously, I know he’s going to wish he had back once we get a chance to really break the tape down and look at it. He made some plays and he missed some plays. We’ll talk about situational awareness. We’ll talk about certain things that he’s got to continue to grow on and that he has to do. This is all a growing and learning process for him.”