WFT's Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season
The Washington Football Team wrapped up its 2021 preseason with an underwhelming 37-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. However, fans shouldn't be discouraged, as Washington sat the majority of its key personnel for safety reasons.
"We didn't want to get anybody hurt," head coach Ron Rivera said, per JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington.
The meaningful games will begin September 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Washington is looking to repeat as NFC East champion, and with the Football Team carrying momentum from 2020 and featuring a host of new additions, anything less than a playoff berth would be a failure.
Here we'll examine three keys to making the season a success.
Limit Ryan Fitzpatrick's Mistakes
The addition of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was arguably the biggest move Washington made this offseason. While the 16-year veteran hasn't been named the Week 1 starter just yet, Washington brought him in to fill that role.
For Fitzpatrick to be successful, Washington will have to limit his miscues. The cannon-armed gunslinger can be a major asset under center, but turnovers can also be an issue. He led the league with 23 interceptions in 2011 and had 12 picks in only eight games in 2018. In his career, the Harvard product has thrown 223 touchdowns and 169 interceptions.
Washington is already stressing the importance of ball security and smart decision-making.
"He's an aggressive player, and we knew that, and that's why we brought him in here," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said, per Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington. "There's a fine line between aggressive and reckless, you know? I think he's kind of found that niche in there."
Last year, Washington got 16 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions out of its quarterbacks. Fitzpatrick has the potential to significantly upgrade the position, but only if he takes care of the football.
Utilize New Additions to the Receiving Corps
Part of Washington's passing problem in 2020—the team ranked 28th in yards per attempt—was a lack of complementary receivers. The Football Team has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin and a quality tight end in Logan Thomas. Outside of those two, though, the talent was lacking.
Running back J.D. McKissic was third on the team behind McLaurin and Thomas with 589 receiving yards. No other player topped 500 yards on the season.
Adding Fitzpatrick should help, but the Football Team also brought in Curtis Samuel, Adam Humphries and rookie third-round pick Dyami Brown. Unfortunately, Samuel has been dealing with a groin injury, and Washington isn't eager to rush him back.
Humphries and Brown can be big early contributors, though. Brown has serious deep-threat potential, while Humphries has chemistry with Fitzpatrick—the two played together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McLaurin and Thomas are still going to demand defensive attention, so Humphries and Brown should see their fair share of one-on-one opportunities. If Washington hopes to get the most out of Fitzpatrick, it must utilize Humphries, Brown and Samuel—once healthy—early and often.
Find the Right Offensive-Line Rotation and Keep It Healthy
Washington is going to dominate in the trenches defensively this season. With players like Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat up front, there's little question about that. However, the Football Team will need to dominate on the offensive line as well to be a legitimate contender in the NFC.
There has been some shuffling along the line this offseason, so finding the right lineup will be key. Washington parted with 2020 starting tackles Cornelius Lucas and Morgan Moses while adding Charles Leno Jr. and rookie second-round pick Samuel Cosmi.
Center Chase Roullier and guards Brandon Scherff and Wes Schweitzer return from last season.
While Roullier, Scherff, Schweitzer, Leno and Cosmi appear to be the starting five, Washington will have to determine during the season whether this is the right lineup. Cosmi is a rookie. Leno was responsible for six penalties and five sacks allowed with the Chicago Bears last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Washington must identify the right combination of starters, the right depth players behind it and, perhaps most importantly, keep the line healthy through the 17-game schedule. Teams that can get after the quarterback—like the Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers—will be waiting in the postseason.