Editor’s note: As we head into Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Football Team, we welcome Andrew York of Hogs Haven — our sister SB Nation site covering the Washington Football Team — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1) Many expected the Washington defense to be one of, if not the league’s best. Do you know why it hasn’t lived up to the hype?
Washington fans are still debating this intently. I don’t think there’s only one reason why, but I’m asked a question like this every week, and what I always have to fall back on is the following: if one or two players are playing poorly, those players are the problem. But if almost all of your players are underperforming, then coaching is likely the problem. The latter seems to be the case here, though I can’t say exactly if it’s Ron Rivera’s scheme, DC Jack Del Rio’s practices, or the position coaches who are failing them.
Most of the problems seem to be simple coverage busts, poor zone positioning, and failure to pick up or pass off assignments properly; basic things that even young players on other teams are able to do at this point in the season. Although I mentioned that almost every player is underperforming expectations, they are not underperforming equally. I think the DL has actually been okay, not elite like was expected, but better than their simple stats indicate. According to ESPN analytics, the DL has a pass rush win rate of 47% (11th best in the NFL) and a run stop win rate of 33% (12th best in the NFL). Not elite, but not nearly as bad as the rest of the defense. The problem is that the coverage is so poor that opposing QBs can throw the ball to an open receiver before the pass rush has a chance to get home. If we can fix the breakdowns in coverage, I think the DL will look much better. The group that is underperforming the most are the safeties (particularly Landon Collins and Bobby McCain). That’s unfortunate, because safeties are pretty important to a defense and ours have been giving up a lot of long completions and TDs.
2) Is Taylor Heinicke the quarterback of the future in Washington? How has he played this season?
No, but he could be the backup QB of the future. He plays like he’s got Brett Favre’s mind in Colt McCoy’s body (though some have compared him to a young Ryan Fitzpatrick). He’s got a gamer mindset and elevates his play in games as compared to practice. He’s smart and generally reads the field well, but he’s a risk taker and seems prone to forcing throws that aren’t there when the pressure is on. Sometimes those risky throws result in big plays (particularly when he’s throwing to a receiver that can bail him out, like Terry McLaurin). But sometimes they result in back-breaking turnovers as well (I think he played so poorly against the Saints because Marshon Lattimore blanketed Terry better than any CB this year, resulting in some of those forced throws being riskier than normal). Heinicke also has a weak arm for a starting NFL QB (hence the Colt McCoy comp), which results in some inaccuracies down the field and him floating balls a bit higher and slower than is often ideal. He’s got good ball placement on short and intermediate throws, but he keeps wanting to go for the big play, which doesn’t always suit his strengths.
3) Who do the Chiefs need to keep an eye out for this Sunday?
Most obviously WR Terry McLaurin and RB Antonio Gibson. They are both workhorses at their positions, capable of beating any 1-on-1 matchups and with the explosive speed to take any play to the house. I’ll mention two other players on offense: RB JD McKissick and WR DeAndre Carter. McKissick is primarily our 3rd down back, filling a James White type role in the offense. He’s very agile and explosive though, and has a knack for turning checkdowns into big gains. DeAndre Carter is our primary punt and kick returner and is great in space. He’s already got one kick return TD on the year and has really boosted our return game. He’s recently started getting worked into the passing game after some injuries in the WR corps and looks to be able to start carving a role there as well.
On defense, you should keep an eye out for Landon Collins and Bobby McCain and throw in their direction whenever one of them is playing single high safety. I think Tyreek Hill will eat them alive.
4) How does the Football Team beat the Chiefs?
By playing up to the level of the talent on our defense. I still think the talent is there and this defense is capable of being very good if they can just stop making so many mistakes. We also need to admit Landon Collins has no business playing in deep coverage. He needs to either be benched or kept much closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety/linebacker. If the coverage plays better, it will help out the rest of the defense as well, and I expect all those pressures by the DL to start turning into sacks.
Also if the Chiefs keep turning the ball over and playing poorly in pass defense. Heinicke has his limitations, but he’s played well against poor pass defenses so far (336 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT against the Giants; 290 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs against the Falcons). If the defense can keep this game within reach, I think Heinicke can play well enough to win.
5) Let’s have your future name and score prediction?
Haha, those are two very different predictions. My prediction for the future name is Red Wolves. They are a species of wolf that used to inhabit the DC area (and much of the East Coast) and it would be great if the team used the name change as an opportunity to help fund conservation for that critically endangered species. It also has a slight tie in with the previous name for continuity, it would make sense to continue using burgundy and gold as the team colors (similar to the red and tan of their pelt), and wolves are just cool animals to theme around. It’s also the fan-favorite name in every online poll I’ve seen.
In terms of score, I’d love it if this is the week our defense gets it together, but I just don’t think it’ll happen. I think Mahomes will find a lot of success through the air, particularly if his OL can protect him long enough for some deep strikes at our vulnerable safeties. I think our offense will find success too, but we don’t have the ability to move the ball through the air quite like KC. I think it will be a high-scoring game all around, but the Chiefs will come out on top something like 42-34. One thing’s for sure, I will be targeting this game in fantasy football.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.