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NFL Draft

Washington’s Defense Needs Reality Check

  • The Draft Network
  • September 26, 2021
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Where do I start?

The 3rd-and-15 conversion on Buffalo’s first drive? The 29 first downs allowed? Zero sacks? A unit expected to once again lead the burgundy and gold to the playoffs has quickly become the burden of blame three weeks into the season. Washington’s defense was abysmal once again as a group on Sunday.

Whatever Bills coordinator Brian Daboll wanted to do, he did. Wherever Josh Allen wanted to throw the football, the window was open. A 43-21 drubbing by the Bills has now quickly moved the spotlight to Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Let’s start up front, where the front four of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Young, and Sweat must be better if Washington hopes to remain competitive moving through the gauntlet of offenses they soon face. The 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Young has been invisible through 12 quarters of play. It’s a cause for concern considering the talent he’s faced through three weeks. Bryan Bulaga, Nate Solder, and Daryl Williams... sure, the list could be worse, but Young’s floor of ability surely should have him on the sack sheet by now. And while teams have adjusted their protections toward No. 99 with double teams, extra help from tight ends, and ball-carriers, Young has to find ways to win, there’s no way around it.

The same goes for Sweat.

Now in his third season as a pro, Sweat was supposed to progress into one of the league’s elite defenders following nine sacks in his sophomore season. And although the former Mississippi State standout has amassed two sacks in the two matchups prior to Sunday’s game—he could have totaled a handful more—he’s consistently offered pressure off the edge, including a career-high seven quarterback hurries in Week 2 against the Giants. But pressure isn’t enough, and Ron Rivera needs his guys to get home.

A multitude of reasons could be attributed to the lack of punch on the edge, but it’s truly been a massive development as to how little production Washington has received from their high-octane rush duo, and specifically, Young. At one point on third down against the Bills, Del Rio had Young in coverage. Folks, Young is a heck of an athlete, but Washington didn’t take Young No. 2 overall to work in coverage. In fact, it was eerily similar to how former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky deployed Ryan Kerrigan, and to keep it blunt, it was ugly. If Washington ever hopes to return to the form they showed late last season, Young and Sweat have to break from their leash.

At the second level, Jon Bostic has become the scapegoat for the lack of success in the linebackers room. While many have called for more snaps for rookie Jamin Davis, and rightly so, Bostic has been hung out to dry due to the lack of any sort of penetration from the front four. Davis was drafted to supply a boost in coverage alongside Cole Holcomb, but Bostic is a run-thumping linebacker who fills gaps and works 90% of the time downhill, not working backward in ROBOT coverage to cover crossers.

On the backend, this is where major questions have arisen toward Del Rio’s deployment of his defenders. Following the departure of Ronald Darby in free agency, Washington made William Jackson III their prized free-agency signing of the offseason to pair with Kendall Fuller and third-round corner Benjamin St-Juste. With length and athleticism aplenty, through three weeks, Del Rio has opted to work in soft zone (instead of man) with corners off the line allowing free releases across the board. Against the Bills, and the undersized talents of Cole Beasley (5-foot-8) and Emmanuel Sanders (5-foot-11), Washington was torn apart by Josh Allen via 358 yards through the air and four touchdowns.

Rather than adjusting his defenders to play man or bump-n-run with his corners near the LOS against the physically weaker wideouts—which would in turn offer additional time for his front four to get home—Del Rio continued to sit back, and well, was picked at like roadkill. It was an all-around embarrassing effort that has resulted in a Washington defense that has now allowed 30.6 points per game through three weeks; a formula for a high pick come April.

Rivera’s group has a long, long way to go. While his 2020 defense got off to a similarly slow start, allowing 81 points in its first three games, Washington’s schedule in the coming weeks doesn’t offer any breathing room. A front seven littered with first-rounders coupled with a veteran secondary, the discussion of the burgundy and gold’s defense as one of the league’s “elite” has become mute early this fall.

It’s put up or shut up time in the nation’s capital.

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