A series of confusing coaching decisions sinks Washington against the Giants

In what was almost a must-win game with two weeks of preparation, Washington played to the end in an error-riddled match that ultimately ended their chances against the New York Giants. Poor in-game management of Washington’s first drive of the game set the tone and ultimately put the team in a losing position.

First off, let me say that overall defensive training throughout the game, while not perfect, was incredibly solid. Some will complain about the 97-yard TD drive abandoned by the defense in the second quarter and the total lack of sacks as a defense failure, but the reality is that Jack Del Rio’s game plan is a series of adjustments consisted of what Washington had seen two weeks earlier. Devastated by Daniel Jones’ rush in Week 13 (12 carries for 71 yards), Washington took that away this week (10 carries for 35 yards) and forced Jones to try and hit her with his arm, which he failed to do (21 Completions for 160 yards and 0 TDs)

Unfortunately, you couldn’t say that on the offensive side of the ball. On the first drive of the game, Washington put together a 9-game sequence to get to the Giants’ 34-yard line. After Coach Rivera made the right call earlier in the drive – to try for 4th and 1st place – a 4th and 12th place was at hand.

At 34, it would have been a 51-yard field goal attempt for Joey Slye. A 50-yard field goal isn’t nearly automatic, as Slye had little trouble at that distance, hitting a 58-yarder earlier in the season. Nonetheless, Rivera opted for a punt.

For a man as immersed in analytics as Ron pretends to be, this was a confusing decision. The analytics are clear, in these circumstances you’ll kick the field goal, assuming your kicker has the leg for it.

As the game progressed, Giants kicker Graham Gano hit two 50-yard field goals and Slye himself hit a 51-yarder. Temperature, wind etc weren’t any significant detractors for long field goals last night, as was pretty evident when the TV camera panned to the flags on the goalposts hanging limp beside them.

The punt that followed ended up scoring something on the order of 4 yards.

On the next drive, Washington would go on to drive and kick a field goal. After again holding the Giants on offense, Washington got the ball deep into his own territory, committed a holding penalty and then had Taylor Heinicke brutalized with a sack, a fumble and a touchdown recovery.

In the following series, Washington drove into Giants territory and again stopped in 4th place, this time around the 40-yard line. Here, according to The Analytics, the “correct” call was to go all out (a 57-yard kick would definitely have been at the limit of Slye’s abilities). Instead, Ron called in one of the most cowardly punts in a generation.

In the next series, New York would rush for 97 yards and score his only offensive touchdown of the game.

halftime

During the first series of the second half, Washington seemed to finally wake up from its offensive slumber, stroking 91 yards and scoring with a 19-yard pass from Heinicke to Dotson. Five points behind, Rivera opted for the two-point conversion, which was denied by a penalty. Washington attempted the extended extra point, which Slye missed.

Had Washington attempted the first drive of the game and scored the field goal, the score would have been 14-12 to New York at that point. Would that have prompted Rivera to simply attempt the extra point of normal length? We will never know.

New York and Washington then traded over 50-yard field goals before Heinicke was fired again and turned the ball over the Giants at New York’s 5-yard line. Now the game was 17-12. If the game had gone 17-15 instead, might that have changed Washington’s game plan to something more conservative so close to the end zone? We will never know.

New York would subsequently drive into Washington’s territory and Gano would hit another 50-yard field goal, making it 20-12.

Washington would drive to New York’s 1-yard line and appear to score, only to nullify the touchdown with a penalty on Terry McLaurin. Imagine if Washington were just playing for a game-winning field goal at this point. It could easily have been the case had it not been for a cascade of coaching mistakes set in motion by a bad decision in the first drive of the game.

There’s absolutely blame for this loss, but we’ve seen too many poor in-game management by this coaching staff prior to this season to let them off the hook.

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