FOOTBALL IS BACK: The 2020 regular season schedule kicks off tonight!
Of course, we’ll still have to wait a few days for the game that actually matters.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Football Team are set to play each other this Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field. In order to preview this Week 1 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The amazing Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Don’t forget to also check out my Q&A exchange over at HH.)
1 - What’s the confidence level in Dwayne Haskins heading into Week 1? For context purposes, where do you think he ranks among NFL starting QBs heading into the season?
I think most fans, myself included, would describe ourselves as “cautious, but optimistic.” Haskins has very little college starting experience for an NFL QB and was very raw in a lot of the nuances of the QB position in his first few games last year, but improved quite a bit as the season wore on and flashed tremendous natural gifts in terms of ball placement and arm talent. He’s very much a high ceiling, low floor player who could end up being great (based on arm talent and ability to push the ball downfield) or could end up being a bust if he doesn’t develop in all the ways he is raw (like speeding up his progressions and improving his timing). In a lot of ways, we’re viewing this as if it were his rookie year, since last year was largely wasted and Haskins was too raw to start. He shows promise, but is still unproven, and I think anything from Aaron Rodgers to Jameis Winston is in his range of outcomes, so it’s hard to say where he ranks among QBs. In terms of how I think he’ll perform this year, I’d put him in the high 20s (ahead of Tyrod Taylor, Daniel Jones, Gardner Minshew, Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa), but he’s got a lot of room to grow and move higher.
2 - What’s the early impression of Ron Rivera and his new coaching staff?
Very positive and a complete change from the last regime. Most of the position coaches come from Ron’s staff in Carolina, where they had a great track record of developing NFL talent (Carolina has had the most All Pros of any NFL team since 2000). However, Ron chose a DC (Jack Del Rio) and Special Teams Coordinator (Nate Kaczor, retained from Jay’s staff) he hadn’t coached with before, so it seems like he’s not afraid to look for better staff where he thinks he can find them, and both of those guys have a good track record as coordinators. The reports out of practice are that Ron has been pushing the players harder than before. Fans joked about practice being “Club Jay” under Jay Gruden, where players could take things somewhat easy if they wanted, but Ron seems to be demanding more. Another big change is that Ron seems to be clearly in charge of football operations, whereas we always got the feeling Jay was somewhat constrained by Bruce Allen. Ron is also trying hard to instill a culture of accountability and integrity in the organization that was much needed and it seems to be going over well with players.
That being said, this is a weird offseason with COVID protocols, online team meetings, and no preseason games, so it’s tougher than most years to get a sense of how the players are responding to the coaches. It seems positive, but we won’t know until we see them on the field. Also, Rivera’s cancer diagnosis has complicated things and it’s unclear how much time he’ll have to miss during the season for treatment, though Jack Del Rio (a former head coach himself) has been deputized to lead the team when Ron misses time.
3 - What is Washington’s biggest strength? Where do they have the biggest edge in this game?
The biggest strength is definitely the defensive line. We have five 1st round picks along the DL (Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Chase Young), as well as standout DT Matt Ioannidis (who quietly racked up 8.5 sacks and 64 combined tackles last year). It’s a group that is both deep and high on top-end talent. They also face an Eagles OL that seems to have a few question marks compared to years past.
4 - What is Washington’s biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
The opposite side of the line is our biggest problem. The Eagles have a capable DL, whereas our OL is a mess (or more charitably: “unproven”). We traded away one of the best LTs in the game in Trent Williams and will be starting Geron Christian in his place, a 3rd round pick from the 2018 draft. Christian has been a backup in his career so far, much will depend on him taking a big 3rd year step forward. Starting next to him at LG will be Wes Martin, a 4th round pick in the draft last year who is also new to starting. Our Center (Chase Roullier) and RG (Brandon Scherff) are fine, but our veteran RT Morgan Moses has also seriously underperformed the last few years. Add to that a QB in Haskins with less than 2 seasons of starting experience in college and the NFL combined, and this offense will be depending on young players showing a lot of development.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for this 2020 season?
The Eagles have a lot of advantages: a proven QB, less turnover among coaches, and less reliance on young or newly-signed players after a shortened offseason. I would predict something like 24 - 17 in favor of the Eagles. If Washington is going to upset that prediction, it’s going to have to be through young players taking that needed step forward in development and the DL getting pressure on Wentz. One advantage we have is that our offense and defense will be a surprise, even to us fans. Many of our players will be starting for the first time in burgundy and gold and our exact playing scheme is a bit of a mystery. A lot could surprise.
I expect the season to be very focused on developing young players and building the core identity of the team around toughness and accountability. I don’t expect a great win-loss record, but I expect games to be a lot closer than people expect and for many of our young players to look like they are developing and have a future here. If that happens, I think the season will be a success. Still, Ron Rivera has never had fewer than 6 wins in 8 full seasons as head coach, which includes his first year inheriting a 2-14 Panthers team. As such, I’d predict a season record along the lines of 6 - 10.
6 - What should the new team name be? Or should they just stick with Football Team?
I like Red Wolves and that seems to be the favorite among fans. It has a bit of a reference to the previous name for some continuity, but is inoffensive and references a cool animal that lends itself to good theming (wolf howls and costumes would be quick to appear in the stands, and many logo ideas have already appeared on twitter). Wolves are also a pack animal, which makes them a good representative for a sports team than more solo animals. It might even do some good towards conservation if it inspired the team to direct some charity towards saving this critically endangered species. Another popular name is Warriors, which has alliteration with Washington, but is a bit too generic and boring for my taste. Red Tails is another popular option referencing the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII, but I think that lends itself to a lot of bad theming (referencing crashing and burning when we struggle) and it’s just a bad idea to reference another group of actual people in case that too becomes considered offensive as times change. I don’t think many fans want to stick with Football Team, though at least it’s unique and has led to some funny merchandise in the meantime.