Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Listen to last Monday's Beltway Sports Bros. Podcast with guest USA Today NFL Report/Columnist, Mike Jones, and his reaction to the WSH @ AZ matchup below.
The Washington Football Team lost in a mostly one-sided affair against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, 30-15. The loss was expected by most, but the larger question looms, is Washington closer to the team we saw against Philadelphia, where they showed an incredible amount of grit and will to fight back from a 17-point deficit? Or...are the WFT closer to yesterday's team, that found itself in that same 17-0 hole, only to find that same lead insurmountable?
On Monday's podcast, we spoke with USA Today NFL Reporter, Mike Jones, who is still close to the WFT from his years covering them for the Washington Post. Mike believes that that Washington ran into a Cardinals team that is a year ahead of them, and is where they are hoping to move towards. While I completely agree with Mike, I believe it goes a bit deeper than that. Arizona has gone out of their way to speed up their development process, while Washington is seemingly standing still.
The Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, essentially as a package deal with the second year, QB Kyler Murray. Arizona held last year's #1 overall pick and Kingsbury made it clear to the Cardinals brass how he felt about Murray. Kingsbury had built a 7-year relationship with Murray, recruiting him since he was a sophomore in Highschool. There was an understanding that Kingsbury would run his college-style offense that would fit Murray's skillset to a tee, in hopes of making it an easier transition to next level.
Contrary to popular belief, Arizona is a much older team then one would believe. The Cardinals average age is 26.1, the 24th oldest team in the league this year. Why is that important? 37-year-old, Future Hall of Fame WR, Larry Fitzgerald was not let go because of a new era took over, or Arizona simply wanted to get younger. The intangibles that Fitzgerald brings are immeasurable, not to mention he is still productive. In Sunday's game, the 37-year- old was targeted 7 times for 7 receptions, and 50 yards. The stats don't jump off the page, but 4 of those receptions went for 1st downs, and significantly minimized Washington's slim chances of coming back.
The Cardinals also traded a conditional late-round pick for RB Kenyon Drake, who ran for 86 yards on 20 carries on Sunday. Arizona also stole 2019 First Team, All-Pro WR Deandre Hopkins in a trade with Houston. The unselfish veteran leader that he is, Fitzgerald accepted a diminished role to allow Hopkins to be the lead pass catcher, to the tune of 22 receptions for 219 yards and a TD, in 2 only weeks of action.
Arizona has made moves to progress with veteran leadership, along with cornerstone high draft picks like Murray and LB Isaiah Simmons. Both can be accomplished at the same time.
In a previous article, I voiced my concerns in regards to Washington not having enough veterans at key positions. Some will say that the only way a young player can learn, is to be thrown out into the fire. Some excel in those situations; see Exhibit A: Young, Chase. The reality is, most do not; see Exhibit B: Apke, Troy.
Read "Out with the Old, in with the Nucleus"
There is a sizable gap when comparing these two franchises, mainly because Washington refused to move forward with decisions that would have made their own draft picks better in the long run.
In comparison, Washington released their own future Hall of Famer, in RB Adrian Peterson before the season began. Peterson has run for 134 yards on 21 carries, with a 6.4 YPC average, while Washington Running Backs have averaged a paltry, 3.46 YPC.
The WFT currently sits at the 14th youngest team in the league, with an average age of 25.8. It would have been in Washington's best interest to push harder to make a trade, or even overpay for a top-level free agent after they whiffed on their attempt at Cowboys WR Amari Cooper. According to reports, when Cooper decided to resign with the Cowboys, Washington was content to stay the course.
As mentioned, Murray teamed up Kingsbury as a package deal, while Haskins was never welcomed by the prior coaching regime, and wasn't exactly handpicked by current HC Ron Rivera, either.
Arizona made it a point to make Murray's transition into the NFL as smooth as possible. Kingsbury created a playbook that fit around his skillset. The front office added veteran playmakers that could help Murray get to the next level and expect their young signal-caller to shoulder the load in only his sophomore season. Haskins, on the other hand, seems set up for failure.
Yes, the season is only 2 weeks in, but the cracks are already showing. Washington's offense does not have enough depth, talent, or veteran leadership to sustain a winning season for 16 weeks. Yesterday's game was a microcosm of how the season will most likely play out going forward. There will be some flashes of brilliance, but just enough to make the season look respectable, but in reality, nothing was accomplished.
It may seem like on paper, a proper rebuild is moving on from capable veterans, slashing cap space, and turning to less experienced players, but Arizona is a perfect example that keeping a mix of both, can be more beneficial for now, and the future. Unless of course, your ultimate goal is to shave 0.3 on your team's average age, then, sure...whatever.