Jim Owczarski, Olivia Reiner and Ryan Wood discuss the last four games of the Packers' 2019 regular-season schedule. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
Last in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2019 regular season.
GREEN BAY - For a team that’s been no NFC pushover in recent years, a lot of uncertainty surrounds Washington this offseason.
While it wasn’t a serious title contender in 2018, Washington saw any chance of being competitive crumble when quarterback Alex Smith broke his leg in November, a gruesome injury that sent the team’s season into a spiral. Washington had been 6-3 entering its Nov. 18 home game against the Houston Texans. After Smith’s injury, Washington lost against the Texans and then six of its final seven games overall.
Smith’s leg required multiple surgeries because of infections. It’s unlikely he will play in 2019, though his chances have not been officially ruled out. If Smith does return, it likely won’t be until late in the season. The Green Bay Packers, who host Washington on Dec. 8, could be one of Smith’s first opponents — if the quarterback plays this fall.
In the meantime, Washington will make do at its most important position, and try to stay afloat better than it did in its sinking end to 2018.
A Case for Washington
Given the unlikelihood Smith plays in 2019 — and also the chance he may never play again — Washington used this offseason to prepare for life after its veteran starter. The team traded a sixth-round pick to the Denver Broncos for quarterback Case Keenum and a seventh-round pick. It then drafted Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick. Keenum had a floundering 2018 season in Denver, but he’s only two years removed from quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game. He had a career-high 98.3 passer rating in 14 games with the Vikings, tossing 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. While that level of play hasn’t been the norm in his career, Keenum is cut from a similar cloth as Smith, a proven game manager who can win when insulated by a talented roster. He’s only a stopgap solution while the team develops Haskins, who might be the starter by the time Washington travels to Lambeau Field in Week 14. Washington also has Colt McCoy in the mix to start this season. Regardless, the quarterback position is too important to dilly dally, and Washington wasted no time moving on from Smith this spring.
Jay Gruden is entering his sixth season with Washington, a remarkable feat considering the team has just two winning seasons under his guidance. Gruden’s 35-44-1 record is hardly impressive, even when considering he hasn’t had a sure-fire, elite quarterback in his first five seasons. (His best quarterback in that time was Kirk Cousins.) Gruden led Washington to an NFC East title in 2015, but it promptly lost its home wild-card game to the Packers. Washington had a chance to earn a wild-card slot in 2016, but it lost its finale at home to the New York Giants. Since then, Washington has been an assortment of underwhelming results, with matching 7-9 records in 2017 and '18. Gruden is still employed, but as his sixth season begins, it’s clear he needs better results — regardless of who lines up at quarterback.
The Packers took a bite out of Washington’s pass rush this offseason, signing free agent Preston Smith to a four-year, $52 million contract. Smith had 24.5 sacks in four seasons, including eight in 2015 when he led all rookies. He was mostly Washington’s second edge rusher, behind Ryan Kerrigan. With Smith gone, Washington still has a pass rush built on Kerrigan, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, defensive end Matthew Ioannidis and nose tackle Daron Payne. But expect Smith to want to prove his old team made a mistake by failing to match the Packers’ offer when they meet again late this season.
Packers schedule glimpse
Dec. 8 vs. Washington, noon, FOX
Week before: at New York Giants, Dec. 1
Week after: vs. Bears, Dec. 15
On the horizon: at Minnesota, Dec. 23
Coach: Jay Gruden (35-44-1, sixth season with Washington).
2018 record: 7-9, third in NFC East.
Scoring offense: 17.6 points per game (29th in NFL).
Total offense: 299.7 yards per game (28th).
Scoring defense: 22.4 points allowed per game (15th).
Total defense: 353.4 yards allowed per game (17th.
Series: Packers lead, 10-8.
Last meeting: The moment the Packers’ 2018 season officially started to decay might have come in Week 3. A week later, quarterback Aaron Rodgers would publicly criticize coach Mike McCarthy’s game plan after a win against Buffalo, signaling the beginning of the end to their relationship. But the Packers’ third game last season, a 31-17 loss at Washington following a miraculous win against Chicago in the opener and a frustrating tie against Minnesota, highlighted many of the deficiencies that would snowball into a second straight year without the playoffs. The Packers couldn’t consistently cover deep down the middle of the field, as first seen on the fourth play against Washington, when Paul Richardson ran past safety Kentrell Brice for a 46-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith. And the offense wasn’t capable of making nearly enough big plays, with Rodgers finishing 27-for-44 with 265 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and four sacks. (There was also the controversial roughing-the-passer penalty against Clay Matthews.) It was just the first loss in what would become a dismal 6-9-1 season.