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Ron Rivera Presser: We have to get better at 1st/2nd down defense, and we have to be better overall

Ron Rivera speaks to the media

Ron Rivera held his regular day after presser with the media, and it was a little later than usual due to the red eye flight the team took home from Seattle. The Washington Commanders lost to the Seahawks 29-26, after Seattle kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. Rivera talked about the defense needing to play better, and adapt to the updated roster after the trades of starting DEs Montez Sweat and Chase Young.

Rivera also talked about the “lulls” the offense went through at the end of the second half vs the Seahawks where they had three consecutive drives of 3 or 4 plays that ended in punts. He was also asked why Washington didn’t turn to the run game until later in the game, and Rivera then explained how well it worked when they actually ran it. He also talked about moving more away from the run under OC Eric Bieniemy, and using the short passing game as replacement/extension of the run game.

James Smith-Williams injury:

I couldn’t tell you right now. Truth of the matter is I will probably know a little bit more a little bit later because we got in so late. We got in around five o’clock this morning, so most of the guys have probably just come in or came in just a little bit ago. And so, we really haven’t gotten a full evaluation yet of everybody.

Defense needs to play better:

The biggest thing, more so than anything else, and I kind of felt it yesterday and kind of got a chance to look at it and look at some of the numbers and we got to be better on first and second down situations.

We put ourselves in a couple of really good third down situations and we were able to convert, and we held them 4-for-14. But there were some first and second down things that we’ve got to get better at and collectively we have to be better overall.

We’re playing a number of different guys now, especially after last week and there’s some cohesion that has to come. Guys have got to come together and work together. And so it’s a little bit of that more than it is anything else. But again, it’s collective. We all have to be better.

The cause of explosive plays on defense over the years:

I think a lot of it when you look at it goes to really a collective thing and more than anything else is its guys doing the things that they need to do, us putting them in the position to have success. And it’s unfortunate that we as a whole haven’t done the things that we needed to do at the right time.

It’s difficult because we’ve had opportunities to win football games and part of it is too, is taking advantage of the takeaway battle. We’ve had balls that have been out there that we didn’t finish up. We missed a couple of opportunities to have a couple of interceptions yesterday and that was disappointing and so we’ve got to continue to battle and get better at it.

What kind of season he would have envisioned having had known about the success QB Sam Howell would have:

Well, if everything was coming together, you’d like to think we’d be better than we are right now, but you are what your record says you are. And with the number of games we have left, obviously we’ve got to make hay, we’ve got to start winning football games and at a more consistent rate, obviously.

Did the run game fit into the offense against Seattle?:

I thought it did, especially later in the game when we put a couple of really good runs together it opened up some things offensively and we scored on our last two series to give ourselves a chance.

What stood out about Howell’s play and the progress he showed:

I’ll tell you, to be honest with you, there’s not a lot of things that are standing out that all of a sudden you go, ‘Oh wow, that’s new.’ I think he’s gotten to a point where he’s done a lot of good things. He’s putting a lot of things together. He is still growing, he’s still learning. And by no means is he there.

But again, it’s some consistency because we had a bit of a lull where we didn’t convert. I think it was like three or four series in a row and we had an opportunity to convert as an offense and we didn’t. So, some of that has to happen. You’ve got to be able to be consistent throughout the game, start fast, play smart, finish strong. That’s what we’ve got to be able to do.

And in that little lull where it’s three or four series in a row where we’re going out after three or four snaps, we’ve got to be more consistent with that. And that’s all part of the growth as well.

Why those lulls happen and how it can be fixed:

It’s about making plays. It’s about being consistent. I think that’s the biggest thing. Whether it’s something that goes up front with the line or something with the execution or maybe it could have been a different call, but it’s still trying to find our footing as a unit. And that’s for both sides of the ball, offensively, defensively. It’s one of those things that collectively somewhere along the line, something is still being developed and learning and understanding.

Benjamin St-Juste’s penalties:

Well, you let him work through it for the most part. You just tell him, ‘Just continue to compete.’ I mean, it’s tough because for the penalty they called on them to sit there and look at as much contact as is being allowed, you almost wonder, ‘Why would that be called at that time?’ I mean, compared to some of them that weren’t? I’ve got about three or four that I’m going to send in and ask if I can get explanations on these as to why they weren’t called or why they were called. Just so I can see where the consistency is. Right now, there’s not a lot of consistency in the calls that are being made or not made for that matter.

What St-Juste could have done better to not have the penalties called on him:

I think for the most part is just the fact that there was contact. The thing I struggle with is if you look at it, you’ll see that the receiver puts his hand on him just as much. Again, as you sit there and you talk about is he getting an edge? At what point is the contact leading to an individual having an advantage over the other?

That was one of the criteria that when I was on the Coaches Committee that we talked about, that needs to be one of the criteria is whether you have a penalty or not for as much contact being allowed and hand fighting that’s being allowed, if a guy’s getting a true advantage. Well, that ball was thrown high and away and I’m not sure if anybody had an advantage right there when that ball was thrown.

Percy Butler’s growth:

I think he is one of the guys that’s gotten a lot of opportunities. Obviously with the injury to DFo, he’s had to step up and again, he’s still growing and learning. But, with his athletic ability, his ability to run, you’d like to see him continue to grow and show you what he’s capable of, which he’s doing.

He made a couple of really nice plays on the ball. He did miss a tackle on one situation, and it’s one of those things that again, he’s got to understand he’s the topper. He’s the guy that’s got to put a lid on it and kind of allow a play to continue.

So, he’ll continue to work at that and understand and learn his angles. I mean, he’s a good young player that’s got a bright future in this league.

Eric Bieniemy switching the offense from run to pass heavy:

I think it was a combination of those things, because when I started out looking for a new coordinator, I had a number of candidates, I had about 11 or 12 in total. I looked at a lot of resumes and then had a number of interviews that I brought guys in and spent a lot of time with them.

One thing you did see, was you did see from a lot of these guys is the past, especially the quick game, the quick passing game that a lot of them considered the extended handoff. We really seem to be getting that in sync an awful lot, the quick throws, the throws to the backs.

I mean, how many times did our backs catch the ball in the flat? How many times did our backs catch just running a little simple circle out of the backfield. To look at it and say, that’s just an extended handoff that kind of goes along the way with running the ball.

But the actual runs and when you see them, especially you saw it in the second half, there are a couple things that we wanted to get to and we got to and you really saw it. I think we had four runs in a row that were over six, seven yards each. We really saw us take a couple chunks and I think that helped open up some things downfield.

So those are some of the things that looking at what we’ve been working on and what we’re trying to get synced to with our passing game, I think that’s part of it.

Why they didn’t incorporate the run game more in the first half:

I think part of this too, more than anything else for me personally, has been the growth of this quarterback. That’s one of the things that we’ve talked about extensively throughout this season, is that having him throw the ball, having them stay out there in the games and throwing the ball has helped in his growth and development. We’re getting to a point where we are right now because of that and we’ll continue to see how it goes because one thing that I told you guys I was committed to and that was Sam. I think that this is a guy that’s going to give us an opportunity going forward and we’ll continue to work on that.

Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne’s performance:

I thought they had their moments. Again, one of the things that you have to work on is getting to fill with the guys that you’re rushing with. For them, it’s been a little bit of a change obviously, so they’ve got to continue to work with these guys, develop this rapport that you need as far as rushing and being in the lanes. I think they both were very stout and physical against the run, made some plays for us when we needed them.

Again, I think their pass rush obviously as they get more and more comfortable with these guys, I think we’ll see this as a unit pick up and be there and be there and create opportunities.

Does the offensive line needs more running plays to get into a rhythm?:

I don’t think it does. I think those guys react to really what the calls are. I think the big thing that you really see more than anything else with the offensive line, especially in the quick game, is it’s almost kind of the same mentality as far as the run game is concerned in terms of, ‘Hey, I’ve got to hold this block for a certain amount and then we move on to the next thing.’

I think that’s one of the things that these guys are getting used to and they’ve done a pretty good job the last few weeks. You see it when it all clicks, it can really go pretty well. I thought the last two drives were indicative of what the potential is.