Tale of 2 seasons: Stats prove Washington's dramatic improvement originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Washington opened the season with an improbable come-from-behind win over the Eagles, and then promptly lost five games in a row. In that stretch the Football Team played a tough combination of good teams and bad football.
Well, in the five games since, the tide has turned.
At 3-2, Ron Rivera's team actually has a winning record in its last five contests. Thursday's blowout win in Dallas gave Washington both its first two-game win streak of the year and its first road win of the year.
Dig into the stats a bit, and the difference is dramatic.
In Washington's first six games of the season, the team averaged 18 points-per-game and gave up on average 27 points-per-game, a -9 point differential.
In Washington's last five games, the team has averaged 26.6 points-per-game while giving up 16.4, good for a +10.4 point differential.
What's been the key to the improvement?
Well, it's easy to say steady play from veteran quarterback Alex Smith and improved run game production, especially from rookie Antonio Gibson. It also helps to play the lowly Cowboys twice and the perpetually bad Bengals.
But that ignores a big uptick in 3rd-down play, both offensively and defensively.
In its first six games, Washington converted just 34 percent of its third downs. In the last five games, that production jumped to nearly 47 percent. That means more first downs, more time of possession, more snaps and more opportunities to run the ball.
Don't think that adds up?
Washington just dropped 41 points on Dallas, their first 40-point game since 2016, and for the fifth-straight game scored at least 20 points. Washington hasn't scored 20-points or more in five straight games since 2017.
On the defensive side, Washington gave up third down conversions 42 percent of the time in the first six games of the year.
In the last five games? Washington's defense has dropped its third down conversion rate by more than 10 percent. That means the defense has forced more punts and given the ball back to the offense.
When Rivera took over the Washington job way back in January, he explained that his teams usually improve in the second half of the year.
Looks like the coach nailed that one.