It has not been pretty at all for the Washington Football Team’s defense after four weeks of football. Washington’s defense is 30th in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed, and 32nd in third-down defense. As many have identified by analyzing the game or what the coaches say to the media, the issues stem from various problems. These issues include clear disconnect in the secondary, the defensive line not playing in unison, and the defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio mostly playing passively in critical situations for the defense.
On ESPN beat reporter John Keim’s most recent podcast episode of “The John Keim Report”, former cornerback Fred Smoot joined him to discuss the many issues on the defensive side of the football.
Smoot recalled a play against the Atlanta Falcons in which Atlanta used motion into a trio look (three wide receivers on one side). “We, in my day, we would usually “box” that as I run across the formation. When I say “box that”, because I’m the corner that’s coming, me and the other corner are the bottom of the box, the safety, and the inside linebacker are the other “corners” of the box. So now we’re naturally going four (defenders) against three (receivers). That just made it easier for me, because now if they run a “switch” route I don’t have to chase that guy.”
As Smoot transitioned to what he sees from this current unit, he said he wasn’t seeing them help each other. “I’m not seeing them help each other; it’s like everyone is for themselves, trying to survive. That ain’t going to work on defense; if you want to play dominating defense, then you have to dictate the pace; you got to get these quarterbacks off their spot.”
When you can successfully get quarterbacks off of their spot, they become susceptible to turnovers, another aspect that Washington’s defense has struggled in. Washington’s defense has only forced two turnovers on the season, currently ranking 25th in the league, and has not forced a turnover in three consecutive weeks. Forcing turnovers is one of the few things left that Washington’s defense can do to stop the bleeding. As it stands right now, because of the third-down conversion rate and the lack of punts being forced, Washington’s offense essentially needs to score 30 points per game even to have a chance at winning games.
Washington has forced a 3-and-out on 19% of its opponents drives this season (28th in NFL). Last year? It was 37.2 % (second). Yes, facing good QBs but not the only reason for this. This surprised me: The 4 teams worse than them this year? LAC, KC, LAR and Raiders.— John Keim (@john_keim) October 4, 2021
Being able to force turnovers on a struggling defense has proved to be a successful remedy for many teams over the years, especially for Washington in the 2010s. Washington’s most competitive seasons during the 2010s were 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017. The defenses of those years in yards per game ranked 28th, 28th, 28th, and 21st, respectively. However, in turnovers forced, the defenses ranked fifth, eighth, 17th, and 12th, respectively.
It’s all about helping your offense out in any which way, and the 2021 defense right now is failing on multiple fronts. Creating some luck and seizing on these opportunities moving forward will be paramount for just staying above water for this defense. It will help with a more aggressive defense, which includes blitzing from a disguised look, jamming receivers, and being more creative on third downs. So the onus will be on Jack Del Rio and head coach Ron Rivera to find the solutions.