The Seahawks are back on the road this weekend to face the Washington Football Team, which has won four consecutive games to take over first place in the NFC East. To learn more about this week's opponent, Seahawks.com reached out to Washington Football Team staff writer Zach Selby with five questions about Sunday's game.
Washington started the year 1-5 and later was 2-7, but have now won four straight to take over first place in the NFC East; what have been the biggest factors in that turnaround?
Selby: I think there are two reasons for such a massive turnaround. The first is that this defensive line is playing like the group that everyone predicted it would before the season began. Twenty-four of their 40 sacks have come since Week 7, and it has contributed to its defense being one of the better units against the run. Ron Rivera said after the Steelers game this group is buying into new techniques, and that has help it ascend at the right time. That brings up my broader point, which is that this team is starting to believe in itself and Rivera's culture. Wins against the Steelers and San Francisco 49ers have given the players confidence, and they have faith that as long as they play how Rivera demands of them, they can beat anyone.
It would appear that 5.5 sacks don't really tell the whole story of the impact No. 2 pick Chase Young has made so far, what has Young brought to that defense?
Selby: It really has been fun to watch Young grow this season, because he truly has affected the entire defense in the way Rivera predicted he would when Washington drafted him. He makes plays that don't look like much on the stat sheet, but they have positively altered the course of the game. A prime example of this came against the Cincinnati Bengals when delivered a hit to Joe Burrow at the goal line that forced him to fumble the ball, which was then recovered by Washington for a touchback. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle against the Steelers on a 4th-and-goal. Then, of course, you combine that with performances like the one he had against the 49ers (six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown), and you have the all-around player who is in the mix for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
And piggybacking off of that, no one player, no matter how talented, can explain the improvement Washington has shown on defense from 2019 to this year; what have been the other factors in that defensive turnaround?
Selby: While the defensive line is clearly the best group on the team, the biggest improvement on defense has to go to the secondary. This is a group that is almost entirely filled with new players. The only main exception would be Landon Collins, and he has not played since tearing his Achilles against the Cowboys in Week 7. Despite that loss, the secondary still averages a third-best 206.3 yards per game. It hasn't been perfect; they're still prone to giving up big plays on occasion, but Washington is getting quality play out of cheap free agency pick-ups like Ronald Darby and late-round picks like Kamren Curl. That's not even mentioning Kendall Fuller, who at one point was tied for the league lead in interceptions. A lot of attention is rightfully focused on the defensive line, but this secondary is just as good as any in the NFL.
In addition to just being a great comeback story, what has Alex Smith done to help the offense, and conversely, how does the team feel about the offense if Dwayne Haskins takes over this week if Smith can't go?
Selby: Smith's biggest contribution is the leadership that he brings to the offense. People might forget, but he played for Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner's father, Norv Turner, when he was with the 49ers, so he's familiar with the Air Coryell system. Smith's stats aren't going to grab many headlines, but the offense still flows effectively with him under center. As for Haskins, the coaches feel that he will be ready to go if he is ultimately named the starter against the Seahawks. Haskins has admitted there are some things he still needs to learn, but he has shown that, like all quarterbacks, he can play better when the game plan is designed for his skillset. He's been putting in extra work on the sideline and outside of the facility, and Turner believes that will pay off.
What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing in Sunday's game?
Selby: I think the most obvious will be between Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf, even though they won't necessarily match up against each other. These receivers have become two of the league's best, and it's safe to say that it's hard for either team to win without them playing well. I think the other would have to be Washington's defensive line against Russell Wilson. This group is confident in itself heading into this game, but it has struggled against mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. The difference is that Wilson is a superior passer, and Rivera called him one of the league's best escape artists. The defensive line wants to wreak havoc on offenses, and it likely feels that if it can get to Wilson in a similar way that the New York Giants did two weeks ago, Washington has a chance to win.
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Washington Football Team for Week 15 of the 2020 season, the 18th meeting between the two teams. Take a look back at some of their previous matchups.