Before the Ravens and Football Team square off, Andrew York of Hogs Haven and I exchanged questions for some inside info.
The most heralded bright spot for the Football Team has been their defensive line and sack totals, with 13.0 coming into this game. However, first-round pick Chase Young has been ruled out. How great of a loss is this?
It’s a huge loss. Although the DL is the most talented unit on the team, Chase Young instantly upgraded it and we’ve noticed teams gameplanning for him (through double teams and chips) more than any other player on the DL. The DL is full of good players, but Chase might be the only blue chip player on the entire defense. Not only did Chase show tremendous explosiveness and technique rushing the passer (as well as a savvy array of countermoves), but he also showed a lot of hustle tackling runs to his side and showed a nose for sniffing out screens as well. It’s also worth noting we lost our 2nd best player on defense, DT Matt Ioannidis, to a season-ending bicep tear last week as well, so our DL has taken numerous hits.
2. Dwayne Haskins is in his second year now with the Football Team. From what I’ve heard there is little faith in him to becoming “the guy.” Is that accurate?
Not really. I think it’s more accurate to say the fanbase is in wait-and-see mode, though there are always a few fans who want to move on as soon as it looks like we aren’t making the playoffs this year. We knew he was going to be a bit of a project at the outset because he had very little experience as a starter (only a single season as starter in college). He was forced to play early his rookie year due to injuries and lack of talent (cough, Case Keenum, cough) ahead of him on the depth chart, and he looked really rough when he first took the field. However, he improved throughout the season and looked like a starting QB by the end of the season, so fans were cautiously optimistic that he might hit the ground running this year. He certainly has great physical traits (a cannon for an arm and a big body), but is really raw in his technique.
However, a coaching change, a new offensive scheme (switching from West Coast Offense to Air Coryell), and a shortened offseason due to COVID have conspired to make this a challenging transition. Haskins looked like an up-and-down game manager in weeks 1 & 2 this year, but had his worst game as a starter last week against the Browns. For the most part, Haskins seems to be good at reading defenses and knowing where to place the ball so that only his receiver can get it, but he’s got very poor throwing mechanics that lead to a lot of errant passes. Last week he was staring down his receivers and misreading coverage as well, though I don’t think that’s typical for him. In addition to all of this, I think it’s fair to say he has not been given a lot of weapons (in terms of OL or skill position players) to succeed. Honestly, I’m not sure any team has fewer weapons on offense, maybe the Jets, although they probably have a better OL than we do. WR Terry McLaurin is our only star skill position player and even he might be injured this week. The lack of talent around Haskins also makes it difficult to evaluate him.
Either way, it makes sense to give Haskins the full season to see what he can do. It took him quite a few games last year before he started clicking with the offense, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true this year.
3. Who, this season, has stepped up for the Football Team and surprised the fanbase?
I think it would be RT Morgan Moses. He’s a vet who has been good in the past, but has under-performed in recent years (possibly due to injury) and was starting to earn the ire of the fanbase. But since the departure of Trent Williams, it seems like Moses has stepped up to be the leader of the OL and has improved his performance in both the run and pass game.
4. How big of a difference have you seen in the coaching staff with Ron Rivera leading the team?
It’s a complete culture change from how things were done before. Former HC Jay Gruden was a talented offensive mind and good OC, but had a blindspot when it came to defensive coaching, had a lackadaisical approach to practice, and seemed like someone the players saw as more of a buddy than a leader. Ron Rivera is the complete opposite. He’s unquestionably a leader to his players, not a buddy, and they have responded by following his example and pushing themselves harder. Ron is also a good defensive coach, though I would say he has more of a CEO approach to coaching and sets the strategy, but leaves a lot of the details to his coordinators. Ron also runs much harder practices and focuses hard on conditioning.
At the same time, Ron has made it clear that he sees this year as a rebuilding year. He wants to win games, but he’s left around $25M in unspent cap space and seems to be prioritizing developing young players over signing expensive vets to win right now. He’s also left a few timeouts unused at the end of games we were losing with the justification that he wanted to get the game over quickly to minimize the risk of injury to our players. That hasn’t sat well with fans who think he should be focused more on winning right now, but it’s fair to say this wasn’t going to be a playoff year for us anyway (unless due to the complete collapse of the NFC East).
Overall, it seems like Ron has a more professional coaching approach than the previous regime, but his seeming to punt on this year has irked some fans.
5. Which two players from Washington (1 offense, 1 defense) should Ravens’ fans watch for on Sunday?
On offense (assuming he can play), WR Terry McLaurin. He almost broke 1,000 receiving yards last year despite a run-heavy offense and with three different quarterbacks throwing to him (none of them very good). He has 4.3 speed, but is also a savvy route runner and physical blocker. He was shadowed by Darius Slay in Week 1 and Patrick Peterson in Week 2, but has still been the only Washington player you’d want to start in fantasy football.
On defense, DE Montez Sweat. He was our less-heralded 1st round pick last year (the team traded up to get him after selecting Haskins). He had tremendous athletic upside, but was quite raw in his technique. He had a good, though somewhat quiet year last year, but seems to have developed in the offseason and really pressured Baker Mayfield in last week’s matchup. With Chase Young out, it will be Sweat’s chance to step up and show what he can do.