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It’s official; Washington’s defense isn’t scaring anybody

Washington Football Team v Buffalo Bills Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

Let me start this by acknowledging that the offense could have done a lot more to help the defense in the game against the Buffalo Bills. Logan Thomas lost a fumble in the middle of the field in the first quarter, and Taylor Heinicke made two really bad decisions that resulted in interceptions. When you give the ball to the other team three times, that’s gonna put pressure on the defense. Add in a failed 4th down attempt deep in Washington territory to give Josh Allen and the Bills offense a very short field, and the Washington defense has even more excuses.

To be honest, they need a lot of excuses right now. Against the Bills, they got zero sacks and zero takeways. They gave up 43 points, and it could have easily been 50 if Buffalo had been inclined to try to score on their final drive of the game.

Buffalo ran 77 plays and racked up 481 yards at a clip of 6.2 yards per play. They didn’t rush very effectively or for many yards, but then, they didn’t need to. Josh Allen completed over 74% of his passes for 358 yards and 4 TDs (and he walked into the end zone for another touchdown).

The secondary couldn’t stop the Buffalo passing game. Cole Beasley, no stranger to catching passes against Washington’s defense, hauled in 11 passes for 98 yards and looked all but unstoppable.

Consider what the Chargers, Giants and Bills have done.

Opposing offenses are averaging 73 plays per game on possession time of over 34 12 minutes per game, and have run up an average of 432 yards and nearly 31 points. The opposing offenses are gaining 5.9 yards per play and Washington is -3 in turnover differential through three games.

This is just bad defensive performance. When you consider that the Giants are 0-3, and just lost to the Atlanta Falcons, who held Daniel Jones’ offense to just 14 points, it really stings.

Of course, Buffalo is a popular pick to win the AFC title this year, and the Chargers just defeated the Chiefs to move to 2-1 on the season, but getting beaten convincingly by good teams isn’t any kind of moral victory. Washington needs to be able to beat good teams to be successful.

If there’s any consolation in the two losses, it’s that they came at the hands of two very good AFC teams, and out-of-conference losses are not very important when it comes to playoff tiebreakers.

But Washington won’t need to worry about playoff tiebreakers if the defense can’t figure things out pretty quickly. Between now and Week 12, Washington plays 5 games against NFC opponents, and they’ve got the Kansas City Chiefs in the middle of all that. Right now, the only game that looks winnable is the one next week on the road against the Falcons, but I don’t expect the Football Team to be favored to win that game. The burgundy & gold desperately need to play .500 ball or better over the next 8 games if they hope to be in a position to have a meaningful 2021 season. If they can’t beat good teams, it’s gonna be a difficult season to watch.

There was a brief period in Sunday’s game against the Bills when it was possible to believe that things might turn out all right. Antonio Gibson took a screen pass 73 yards for an amazing touchdown, and the special teams unit followed that up by stealing a possession on an unexpected short kickoff that worked perfectly for the burgundy & gold, with Dustin Hopkins eventually recovering his own kickoff to set Washington’s offense up with a short field. Taylor Heinicke made a spectacular diving touch-the-pylon touchdown (the second of the game after Gibson’s incredible leap) to bring the score to 21-14. When the WFT offense had the ball inside of 2 minutes, down 24-14 and driving for a possible score — and set to receive the second half kickoff — I had scenarios running through my head of Washington tying the ball game with an early 3rd-quarter score.

Instead, Washington failed to keep the drive alive, giving the ball back to Buffalo with 25 seconds left in the first half and 3 timeouts in hand. When the Bills drove the field and kicked a field goal, then opened the 3rd quarter with a 3 & out stop of the WFT offense, the game was basically done. As highlighted above, Washington couldn’t stop the Bills, who scored on 5 possessions in the first half, and then three more possessions in the second half. The Bills were only forced to punt twice in the game (though the defense did make a big stop on 4th & 2 at the Washington 36 yard line with about 3 minutes left in the first quarter).

Dallas and Philly play on Monday Night Football. The winner of that game will move into first place in the division with a 2-1 record. The loser will fall to third place, tied with Washington with an overall mark of 1-2, but getting the lower spot in the bracket due to an 0-1 division record, compared to Washington’s 1-0 record inside the division.

It’s early, and because the other teams in the division haven’t been doing a lot of winning, Washington, with its two losses to AFC opponents, isn’t out of the playoff race by any stretch of the imagination, but NFL seasons are short. Washington needs to figure things out — particularly on defense — and it needs to happen quickly.

A loss to Atlanta next Sunday would be devastating. Even if the team can win that game, the stretch from Week 5 to Week 13 is brutal. The Football Team needs to be at .500 or better by the time they play their next NFC East game in Week 14. However, if the defense can’t figure out how to stop opposing offenses, Washington fans will be counting wins & losses in December and January, not to figure out the team’s position in the playoffs, but its position near the top of the draft and its chances of finding a franchise quarterback.