The Washington Football Team began the 2020 season with a 27-17 win over the eagles, which was led by the defense for tallying eight sacks and forcing three turnovers.
Fast forward five weeks and the defense has given up at least 30 points in four of the past five games.
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Aside from the quarterback controversy the offense has been dealing with, the defensive side of the ball has gone through its ups and downs throughout the beginning of the season as well, partially due to injury and inconsistency.
Rookie sensation Chase Young went down with a groin strain in the loss against the Cleveland Browns and is still trying to get himself back into the flow of the defense. Linebacker Cole Holcomb has been out since week one with a knee injury, however his return last Sunday brought much-needed physicality and energy to the defense.
Washington is currently ranked 23rd in overall defense. Although they are one of the better teams in terms of defending the pass, they lack in defending the run. Giving up 27 points per game and 130 rushing yards per game. Both stats are listed on the bottom half of the league's rank.
For the most part, Washington’s defense held its own against New York Sunday. Quarterback Daniel Jones recorded a season-low 112 passing yards and forced an interception in the red zone. They did allow over 100 yards rushing again, featuring a 49-yard run from Jones himself — faking out the Washington defense and camera operator in the process.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio shared his thoughts on giving up chunk plays like Jones’ big run.
“We didn’t take care of business there,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job… At the end of the day, we want to be a defense that gets the ball back for our offense as often as possible. It starts by creating turnovers, being good on third down, being good in the red zone, not giving up chunk plays. This is a team that gets a lot of them, so we’ve got our work cut out.”
The coaching staff wants to see more production and playmaking on defense. Del Rio and Rivera have already stated that there will most likely be changes in the personnel. The possible return of Cole Holcomb gave the defense a playmaker that they have been missing since week one. Also, getting safety Deshazor Everett more involved in the secondary is a part of his plan moving forward.
“I thought we got a pretty good game out of Deshazor,” Rivera said. “I’ve got to take an opportunity to watch that on tape. As far as linebackers were concerned, I thought we had some good things.”
Everett wasn’t the only one being moved around at safety last week. Cornerback Kendall Fuller, who is having a Pro Bowl-like season, also had some opportunities at free safety. His playmaking ability has been exactly what Washington needed in the secondary, catching his fourth interception in just his third game of the season, all while stopping New York from scoring at the goal line.
“He’s a very headsy player,” Rivera said. “He’s a guy, with his skill set, we have to put him in position to make plays. So, what you saw was an opportunity for us to bring in an extra DB, take a linebacker out, so we had an extra DB for coverage, to put our best guy who plays with a vision back at the safety position, in Kendall, and obviously, it paid off for us. I believe on the touchdown at the back of the endzone, I believe we were in a specific defense that put him at free safety.”
Rivera wants a safety that can complement Landon Collins and the rest of the defensive scheme well. Testing the waters and finding which combo works the best while giving others an opportunity seems like the best plan for now. He just wants to see production.
On Sunday, Washington faces the Dallas Cowboys, who just got off an embarrassing defeat to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. The rival Cowboys are currently at the top of the NFC East, however after losing star Dak Prescott for the year due to an ankle injury, the window of opportunity looks wider than it already does.
As for Dallas’ offense, after turning over the ball four times and quarterback Andy Dalton having a QBR rating of 38.7, they are now starting to look like a completely different team with the loss of Prescott. They were only able to muster up 10 points against the Cardinals. However, as Dallas’ focus may not be on the passing game anymore, they still have three-time Pro Bowler Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield. Their offensive production may have been butchered in half but the elephant in the room is Dallas’ defensive problems, allowing a whopping 36.3 points per contest.
Washington’s defensive line against Dallas’ running game will play a big role in the game’s outcome.
When asked if the Cowboys game is a must-win, Rivera answered, “If you want to win the division, you have to win within the division.”
The Dallas Cowboys will visit Washington on Sunday at 1 p.m.