Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Midseason malaise

When the Washington Football Team fell at the previously-winless New York Giants last month, two turnovers led to both Giant touchdowns.

Not to be outdone, the Burgundy and Gold turned the ball over five times in their 23-20 loss last Sunday. The first fumble (Antonio Gibson after a 21-yard catch from Kyle Allen) led to a Giants field goal, while the second (Isaiah Wright after muffing a punt at the Washington 15) resulted in a Giants touchdown.

The first interception came in the red zone right before halftime (taking at least three points off of the board), while the other two came in the fourth quarter of a one-possession game.

So following a week off, the WFT lost at home to a last-place Giants team traveling after playing on Monday Night Football. That’s consecutive sweeps, five straight losses and 12 defeats in 16 games to a division foe. Welcome to the world of the 2-6 Washington Football Team.

Mr. Smith Goes to Starter — Kyle Allen’s dislocated ankle means his tenure as QB1 ends after four starts. The former Carolina Panther posted a passer rating of 99.3 and was 1-3 as a starter (the very same record Dwayne Haskins recorded). In his place, Alex Smith continued his incredible comeback by throwing for 325 yards and a touchdown (a sweet 68-yard strike to Terry McLaurin).

Unfortunately, he also threw three interceptions, two of which came in the final minutes with the game on the line against a pass defense that ranked No. 23 in the league.

Smith will be the starter moving forward, as the WFT will start at least three quarterbacks for the fourth time in seven years and multiple QB’s for the seventh time in 10 seasons. The only exceptions to the recent rule came from 2015-17, when Kirk Cousins was entrenched in the role.

Running Rarely — Due to the early double-digit deficit, the team ran just nine times for 37 yards, although J.D. McKissic caught nine passes while Antonio Gibson grabbed three receptions. We’ll consider those “long handoffs” while not technically considering them runs. That’s what happens when you trail most of the way and have only two 3rd & shorts.

Oh, Captain! — Terry McLaurin followed up being named a team captain during the week by catching seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, giving him 50 for 692 and three scores for the season (I’m going to let you double the numbers for his projected 2020 totals).

He had deep help this week, with Cam Sims catching three balls for 110 yards, while Logan Thomas returned to his sub-10 yards per catch form, tallying three grabs for 28 yards.

Even though it’s the same system, each quarterback has a different way of working with his receivers. I’ll be intrigued moving forward to see how Smith gets the most out of this bunch.

Third and Short — Three weeks after moving the chains on 8 of 15 attempts in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the WFT converted just 3 of 8 this time. Kyle Allen completed one of two passes with one conversion, while Alex Smith completed four of five passes with two conversions. J.D. McKissic ran for 10 yards on a 3rd & 24 draw play.

The top option? McKissic had two catches on three targets with one conversion, while Terry McLaurin caught both of the balls thrown his way for one conversion. Yardage breakdown: 2-2 on short yardage, 1-1 on medium (4 to 6 yards needed), and 0-5 on long yardage.

Case Against the Defense — At first glance, the WFT did a decent job holding the Giants in check, limiting the visitors to 6-15 on third down. The 23 points and 350 yards allowed might not raise eyebrows, but the defense held New York’s 31st ranked offense to just one three-and-out (we’re not counting the kneel down at the end of the first half).

They bent just enough after turnovers to allow points on nine, 10, and 12 play drives. And they failed to turn over an offense that had 15 giveaways (third most in the NFL). On the bright side, the pass rush didn’t fall off the face of the Earth, as the WFT notched five sacks. Kamren Curl paced the team with 11 tackles and a sack.

Special Situations – Dustin Hopkins connected on 44 and 48-yard field goals, while four of his five kickoffs were for touchbacks. Tress Way averaged 55 yards per punt. Kick coverage wasn’t a disaster, while the return game ranged from OK (Danny Johnson averaged 21.7 yards per kickoff return) to disastrous (Isaiah Wright’s muff and fumble led to a Giants touchdown).

Flying Flags — Six penalties for 45 yards, giving the team 40 (sixth-fewest in the NFL) for 322 (seventh-fewest) this fall. Four were on the offense (two holds, a false start and an illegal use of hands) while two were on the defense (Montez Sweat whistled for offsides and a neutral zone infraction). Sweat’s two flags give him a team-high six on the season.

The most costly penalty? Actually a sequence that saw three flags in four plays from scrimmage that turned a second and four from the Giants’ 10 into a 3rd and 24 from the 30. Instead of a touchdown, the Burgundy and Gold settled for a field goal in a game they would go on to lose by three points.

Digesting the Division — Despite getting swept by the Giants, the Washington Football team remains in second place of the division at 2-6. Idle Philadelphia (3-4-1) remains ahead of the pack, while Dallas (2-7) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Giants. WFT, the Cowboys and Giants are 14th, 15th, and 16th in the NFC, while the Eagles would be seeded fourth in the playoffs (despite having the ninth-best record in the conference).

NFC Least — The division of depression is now 9-24-1 on the season, easily the worst of the NFL’s quartets. And they’re actually much worse: 2-17-1 against non-division foes. The AFC North (21-10-1) has pulled away from the NFC West (20-13) in recent weeks, while one game separates the AFC West (18-15), NFC North (19-16), and AFC South (18-17). The AFC owns a 20-14-1 advantage in the interconference contest, needing a 12-17 finish to take bragging rights for the second straight year.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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