The Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1) and the Washington Football Team (6-9) are set to play this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview this Week 17 matchup that stupidly got flexed to prime-time, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The admirable Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at his answers. (Check out my side of the exchange coming up at HH.)
1 - Do Washington fans even want the team to make the playoffs?
Yes, almost all the fans want the team to make the playoffs at this point. I think the “team tank” crowd only had influence when it seemed like we might be looking at a top 3 pick and consensus franchise-changing players like Trevor Lawrence or Penei Sewell might be in play. But as things stand, the best pick we could possibly get would be 7th overall, and there’s not really a lot of separation between 7th and 20th overall. At that point, you really just need to have good scouting to find good players. Players like Lamar Jackson (32nd pick), TJ Watt (30th pick), and even our own Montez Sweat (26th pick) were taken near the end of the first round and have outperformed many of the guys taken before them. It’s a lot more valuable now to try to establish a winning culture and sense of confidence in the locker room, which we can only do by winning. Let the front office worry about making sure we get the best players at our pick in the draft.
2 - Washington’s roster is nice but their undesirable quarterback situation is ultimately holding them back. What should they do to fix that spot?
I think some combination of Alex Smith or Kyle Allen will be enough to keep us competitive next year. Alex Smith has been 4-1 while starting for the team so far this season, the big question for him remains his health and longevity (which the team knows more about than I). Kyle Allen has an overall passer rating of 99.3 and a QBR of 73.5 this year and the offense moved pretty well with him at the helm (and Allen might still be starting if not for injury). If Smith isn’t healthy, Allen might very well be better than the 4th QB in the draft or a QB we’d find as a free agent. The thing is, we don’t need a great QB to carry the team, we just need a game manager who doesn’t make mistakes that lose games. The defense and the running game can be the units that carry the team. OC Scott Turner seems to run a very QB-friendly offense that allowed even 4th-string QB Taylor Heinecke to post a 102.3 QBR last week in Carolina; only Dwayne Haskins has seemed unable to run it.
QB is still a need for us, but it’s one of many needs and I don’t think we should sell out and trade a lot of draft capital for a mediocre veteran like Stafford or go for another RG3-style trade up for a QB in the draft. If a decent veteran QB is available at a reasonable trade price or we like a QB that falls to our pick, we should go for him, but if the price is too high on any of those guys, we should focus on building the rest of the team first. There’s no magical way to go from a 3-13 team last year to a Super Bowl winner next year, so we should stay patient and take what’s available.
3 - How would you grade Ron Rivera’s first year performance?
If I were giving him a letter grade, I’d give him a B. The overall result in terms of win-loss record is more deserving of a C, but I think he’s had to overcome a lot of adversity (battling cancer, teaching a new system in a shortened offseason, evaluating new players with no preseason games, a messy QB situation) that make me grade him on a curve. Most importantly, he’s got the players playing hard and performing much better in the second half of the season than the first half, which is exactly what he told us to expect when he started. There were a lot of rough patches early as the players learned the system and the team tried out various players until they found the best starting combinations, but it really started clicking midway through the season. If not for some truly terrible QB performances by Haskins recently, we’d probably have already clinched the division and be feeling much more confident about the team.
4 - What are Washington’s strengths and weaknesses heading into this game?
On defense, our biggest strengths are the DL and DB group. The quality of the DL is known, but our DB group has flown a bit under the radar. CBs Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby have been playing really well on the outside, while 7th-round rookie Kamren Curl has done a standout job in the middle of the field at SS and looks like the steal of the draft. We are still weak at FS and LB though. The LB group in particular has been the Achilles heel of the defense all season. They’ve been giving up a lot of short passes and many of the long runs we give up are due to LBs missing their gap assignments. They’ve been looking better recently, but we’ll see if that persists.
On offense, our biggest strength is the OL and the running game, our biggest weakness is the passing game in general. Despite several inexpensive free agents filling in as starters, OL coach John Matsko seems to have this unit performing well above expectations just like he often did in Carolina (turning undrafted players like Andrew Norwell into big free agents). RBs Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic were signed in the offseason and have performed well above most people’s expectations. The problem has been in the passing game. WR Terry McLaurin is unlikely to play due to a high-ankle sprain, which leaves us with no healthy WRs that would start for most NFL teams. TE Logan Thomas has performed well above expectations this season, but he’s still not the kind of pass catcher who can carry an offense. As I write this mid-week, QB Alex Smith is questionable and will probably be somewhat limited even if he does play. If Smith doesn’t play, we’ll be turning to Taylor Heinecke, who was literally taking classes and finishing up his degree at Old Dominion University a month ago. That being said, Heinecke seemed to run the offense better than Haskins last week, so maybe that will still be an improvement from what we had week 1.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are some of your expectations for this upcoming offseason?
On any given Sunday any team can win, so I would not at all put it past the Eagles to end our playoff hopes. That being said, I still think it’s more likely Washington wins. The Eagles are again rather injured, which makes life difficult. I think our DL is again going to be a big problem for your OL. I also think Hurts seems to have looked worse in each game he started, so I wonder if teams have started to figure him out. That or he’s starting to get nervous after taking so many NFL hits behind that OL. I think it will be a lower-scoring affair though, since our defense is pretty good and the Eagles run defense is always good, and we will likely need to run the ball on offense. Therefore, I’d predict something like 24-17 in favor of Washington.
In terms of the offseason... I think we laid a good blueprint last offseason with our free agent signings, which were almost all for inexpensive veterans that have largely outperformed their contracts this season, though none of them are stars. “Fill holes in free agency and find stars in the draft” as the saying goes. I think the exception to this is we may sign a big free agent WR and possibly a LB, which we can easily afford given our cap situation. What we do at QB is the big question and I think every option should be on the table. QB Kyle Allen should almost definitely be retained. He’s played well this season and can be given an exclusive rights tender, which would only cost something like $2M against the cap. Even if he’s the backup, that’s a bargain. If Alex Smith is healthy, he may be retained, though it’s also possible they cut him if they really want to focus on the long term and free up some cap. I think they will consider QB a need, but not one they should reach for given the other needs on the team. I would predict they take a QB in one of the early rounds of the draft, but not necessarily in the 1st round if their draft board dictates otherwise. I think any QB they draft will sit behind either Alex Smith or Kyle Allen for some amount of time before starting, so they won’t be focused on a QB to start week 1.
It also sounds like Rivera intends to hire a GM this offseason. A lot of people expect him to hire ex-Panthers GM Marty Hurney, who was released recently. A lot of Washington fans would prefer an internal promotion of Kyle Smith, who has been overseeing our personnel department. The organization hasn’t given any public indications, so we’ll see, but I do expect them to finally hire a full-time GM.
Allow me to also recommend you listening to my guest spot on the Hogs Haven podcast network this week. Lots of good discussion here that’s worth your time: