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A look in the mirror: previewing Washington’s Week 6 matchup with the Chiefs

What do you see when you look at these teams?

Washington Redskins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

Sunday’s game between the Chiefs and the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field will see a struggling defense take the field with a safety that has often been out of position and beaten regularly, coached by a defensive coordinator that is under fire from the fan base. The restless fans of the 2-3 football team are blaming the defense for the sub-.500 record, and some are getting surly about the head coach’s role in the unexpected direction of the season in which a great deal more was expected.

Consider some statistics:

The veteran safety has been repeatedly burned in coverage, and last week gave up another long touchdown in a loss. Per Pro Football Reference, he has nine missed tackles and has also given up a perfect passer rating of 153.8 on 19 targets. Fans want to know why the defensive coordinator is stubbornly sticking with him despite having a younger safety who seems to offer a better option on the roster.

The defensive backs coach recently said, “[When] the guys are playing with good eye leverage and good depth as a deep defender, we play good defense. Getting back to that is a matter of time — and I think it’s going to happen this week, for sure.”

Fans are less convinced. Looking through the comments on the SB Nation fan site, you’ll find all of this:

What really scares me is that the near abandonment of our young safety and high usage of the struggling veteran is probably an order from not only our defensive coordinator but our head coach as well

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If the young guy falters as bad as our veteran safety then i for one will give it a rest and shut up. IT CANNOT GET ANY WORSE. Enough said about who should start. The DC needs to concentrate on total defense and quit being petty and listen and watch what has transpired so far and fix it. Morale is low and tensions high so do some damn coaching

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Def Coordinator: I’m going to ignore what everyone can see and keep starting my boy at safety because I am a stubborn S.O.B.

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What bothers me is the defensive coordinator still trying to treat the media/fans like idiots. Like it’s the 90s and only the team has accessibility to stats and film.

Now does he need to throw our struggling safety under the bus publicly? no. That’s horrible coaching to single out one guy. But he should have been saying from the get go that his guys, his side of the ball need to step up, across the board, at every position. But don’t try to say “oh you guys don’t see the times he is covering his guy, only the times he isn’t” IF your name comes up that much in fan talk for Fing up, you’re Fing up tooooo much, regardless if you cover your guy some other plays.

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Typical defensive loser coach speak. A true leader takes ownership for the failures of their subordinates. It’s not the player’s fault he has no business being a starting safety in the NFL but his leaders keep trotting him out there every game.

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Gotta blitz, blitz, blitz. Too much time for the opposing QB to scan the field and find someone open.

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I hope everyone is watching the Tampa - Philly game. Tampa’s defense wins not only with talent but non-stop hustle. You don’t see our guys pursue like this. They just quit on plays.

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Watch what happens if this Defense fails again this week. Time to fire guys. Could go all the way to the top.

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The head coach needs to answer for his subordinates’ performance or lack thereof. He’s the head coach of the entire team, not just the offense. Leadership is lonely and full of difficult decisions . If the HC values employing old friends over winning he needs to answer for that.

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Our head coach was fired from his last job for a REASON.

He wants to much control.


Statistically, one of the worst defenses in the league

  • Defensively, the team is giving up over 32 points per game — there is nobody worse in the NFL.
  • Opponents are completing 67.5% of passes against the secondary, and averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. That latter number is 3rd-worst in the NFL. Only Jacksonville and Detroit give up more yards per attempt.
  • Only 6 teams in the league give up more passing touchdowns per game, and the defense has produced the second-lowest sack percentage in the league.
  • They are in the bottom-third of the league in forcing interceptions, and also in the bottom-third in recovering offensive fumbles. The team is minus-7 in turnover differential on the season through 5 games.
  • The defense is ranked 25th in allowing opposing offenses to convert on 3rd down, and fall to 28th in the league when they play on the road.
  • They are dead last in the NFL in the number of red zone touchdowns they allow to opposing offenses per game, giving up 3.4 TDs per game on average. Not to put too fine point on things, but they are also 32nd in the league in opponents’ points per play, at 0.528. This is the only defense in the league to give up more than a half point per play to opposing offenses.

In short, we’re talking about a bad defense - by many statistical measures, the league’s worst.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce the Kansas City Chiefs

If you hadn’t figured it out already, the defense I’ve been describing is the Kansas City defense, which has been gashed repeatedly by good offensive teams this season. The defensive coordinator under fire from fans is former Giants DC Steve Spagnuolo. Of course, the head coach that some Kansas City fans believe should be in the hot seat is none other than Andy Reid. The struggling veteran safety is Daniel Sorensen, who has played 326 defensive snaps this season, while 3rd year safety Juan Thornhill has gotten only 142 defensive snaps.

Through the first 5 weeks of 2021, Washington is ranked 31st in scoring defense; Kansas City is ranked 32nd.

The same types of coverage issues that have plagued the WFT have been issues for the Chiefs secondary, but for KC, the problem has been compounded by the Chiefs’ inability to generate pressure on the QB. Washington, by contrast, is 2nd in pass rush grade, 2nd in pass rush win %, 4th in pressure %, and 5th in hurries according to PFF.

Kansas City has faced a daunting schedule, playing the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Eagles and Bills, but Washington has also played two of those same teams, with both the Chiefs and the Football Team losing to Buffalo and LA.

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

These two teams, at least defensively, look a lot alike.

Defensively, Kansas City has struggled every bit as much as Washington has. Football Outsiders ranks Washington 28th in the NFL in Defensive DVOA with a mark of 11.7%, but they rank Kansas City dead last with a DVOA of 29.3% (defensively, higher DVOA numbers are worse; lower numbers are better). To put that into some perspective, only two teams — Jacksonville and Kansas City — have Defensive DVOA scores above 13.3% right now.

Washington’s defense has been a bottom-five unit so far in 2021, but it’s easy to make the statistical argument that the Chiefs have been the absolute worst in the league — similar to the 2020 Dallas Cowboys. That Cowboys team, which was historically bad, gave up 180 points in the first five games of last season; the Chiefs thus far have given up 163. Washington, of course, has surrendered 155.

But, what about offense?

No one is going to confuse Patrick Mahomes and Taylor Heinicke. Even Taylor Heinicke this week talked about Patrick Mahomes’ unique skillset.

But the gulf between the two offenses may not be as vast as it seems. Kansas City is 5th in the NFL in points per game, at 30.8, but Washington ranks 12th at 24.6.

Kansas City scored 24 and 20 points against the Chargers and Bills respectively, while Washington scored 16 and 21, and that 16-point Chargers game, of course, saw Heinicke come off the bench to replace an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When the Chiefs played the Chargers, the KC offense turned the ball over on the first three drives, and while the defense hasn’t been great about taking the ball away, the Mahomes-led offense has given it away far too freely this season, and is a big part of the Chiefs -7 turnover differential.

In fact, twice this season (against the Chargers and Bills) the KC offense has lost 2 fumbles & 2 INTs in the game. That’s 4 turnovers per game — 8 total in those two losses. This is a potentially exploitable issue, and goes some way in explaining why the Steve Spagnuolo defense is giving up so many points — against two of the more explosive offenses in the NFL, the Chiefs defense would barely get to the sideline before having to go back out and defend a short field on a sudden change — again and again.

In the first part of the article, I focused primarily on KC’s passing defense, but they aren’t good at stopping the run either. In fact, Kansas City is ranked 30th in the league, giving up 141 rushing yards per game.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that Scott Turner’s balanced offensive attack should do well against this Chiefs defense, which is deficient in so many ways.

Washington’s offense, featuring Taylor Heinicke, Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic, Terry McLaurin and Ricky Seals-Jones is not as dynamic as the one that features Patrick Mahomes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, but Scott Turner’s group will get the added benefit of playing the NFL’s worst defense this week.

Maybe that will be enough to make it an interesting game.

The aura of back-to-back super bowls

The Kansas City Chiefs have been one one of the league’s most successful teams under Andy Reid; since he took over as head coach in 2013, the team has not had a losing season; they’ve been to the playoffs 7 times in 8 years; they’ve played in 3 consecutive conference championship games (2018-2020), twice reaching the super bowl, and bringing home the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2019 season.

There are a lot of reasons to respect this team, and even good reasons to be intimidated.

The series history is not pretty to look at if you are a Washington fan:


The Redskins won the third-ever game between the two teams in 1983, but Washington has lost the other 9 games, including the “Josh Doctson” game in 2017, which is one of the more painful recent memories for fans of the burgundy & gold.

Kansas City has been a good team for a long time, and a powerhouse for the past three seasons in particular. The 40-year history between the two teams offers no solace.

The best thing to do seems to be to give up in advance.

But let’s not do that just yet. This KC team seems, at the moment, to be the most vulnerable that it’s been in years. If ever there was going to be a shot at a stunning upset, now seems to be the time. Look at the top part of the article. The KC defense has played badly; the fans are disgruntled with the players, the defensive coordinator, and — for some at least — even the head coach. Kansas City has been beaten three times this season already, and that means that they can be beaten again.

But it will take an inspired effort to make it happen.

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If the team and the fans are looking for inspiration, then they could do worse than to look at the team’s greatest safety of all time — Sean Taylor — who will be honored, and whose number will be retired in a halftime ceremony. There was no adversity on the football field that Taylor couldn’t face. It would be a fantastic tribute to his memory if the individual players on the Washington Football Team can lift themselves to meet the many challenges they will face this weekend.

I hope that every Washington player can look in the mirror this week and commit to playing his best game this Sunday. If that happens, then it just might be possible to play the kind of game that should be played on the day that Sean Taylor is being honored for his life on and off the field.

2005 NFC Wild Card Playoff Game - Washington Redskins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - January 7, 2006 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images