The Washington Football Team heads into Week 3 with the 24th ranked defense in yards per game. 24th in yards for a team many touted as one of the better units in the NFL; some even called Washington’s defense elite. So, I speak for everyone reading this, saying that nobody saw this poor start coming. The most perplexing aspect of the defense’s regression is that Washington only lost two players from the year before in cornerback Ronald Darby and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. Furthermore, on paper, Washington got better by adding to their linebacker corp and secondary with rookie Jamin Davis, veterans William Jackson III and Bobby McCain.
Washington’s defensive struggles to this point stem from a variety of things; communication, selfishness, and flat-out poor play from some in pass 1or run defense. Several players do belong on that list, but it is worth noting that Head Coach Ron Rivera believes that all of their issues are correctable.
“It’s all correctable, just lack of discipline. A couple times we went diving down inside on the play action where we shouldn’t have been. That’s frustrating because when we prepared for something that we’ve seen in the past, he [QB Daniel Jones] has exploited that in the past. Now he did it last week and he did it again this week. So that’s disappointing. That will be pointed out and we’re gonna work to correct it, cause that’s honestly, it’s something that’s very frustrating for us as coaches. I know for the players, they’re trusting their teammates to do their job and we’ve gotta be disciplined enough to do the things we’re supposed to.” - Head Coach Ron Rivera on if what he’s seen from the defense is correctable
Here’s the concern I have with this. A few years ago, during the 2018 training camp, I interviewed former Washington safety, Montae Nicholson. Following a solid start to the 2017 season, Washington’s defense eventually went downhill and regressed quickly. Do you know what one of the concerns was over the past few seasons before Rivera arrived? Communication.
“I think, again, part of it is your communication is really once we’re playing the coverage, now we get a certain specific type of formation, ‘Hey, this is the technique we’re going to play and understanding where that leverage is going to come from and then how I’m going to react to it.’ So now, some of these things, we have to read on the run, you know, release of routes, combination of routes, high versus low, crossers coming, combinations. What are those combinations? And we all have to be on the same page. So if we get a guy coming in and he’s running a dig across the middle and the guy behind him is going to run a post, the last thing we wanted to see somebody jumped the dig. Make sure we stay high on top of it. So again, some of that communication is verbal and some of it is really just understanding what I’m reading and seeing.” - Rivera on his defense’s miscommunication.
Now, let’s be clear, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is tiers above Greg Manusky, and if there’s one coach you can trust to correct this, I will take Del Rio over Manusky. However, the point of this is to note that you would be naive to think that these types of things are simple fixes; Washington has shown that it has been year-long problems for them, and that is unfortunate. With past struggles rearing their head again under a new regime, Rivera and Del Rio must find solutions as soon as possible.
For Del Rio, off-season upgrades that Washington acquired have allowed him to show many different defensive looks, like five defensive linemen, three safeties, and a mix of everything in-between. However, the best short-term solution to the disarray would be to simplify everything. From the defensive line to the secondary, all three levels make their jobs easier by reducing the number of coverages and combination coverages, making players think-less and play faster.
How concerned are you with the defensive issues? Do you think the root issues can get corrected quickly, or will it take time?