D-Hall, Springs express concerns over Washington's defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Defense was supposed to be the Washington Football Team's strength this season as it was in 2020, but that hasn't been the case through two games of the 2021 campaign.
After struggling to get off the field on third down in a loss to the Chargers in Week 1, Washington allowed Daniel Jones and a sputtering Giants offense to score 29 points and gain nearly 400 yards Thursday night. DeAngelo Hall and Shawn Springs believe the solution can come from their defensive playcalling and communication.
One problem has stemmed from the lack of pressure the defensive line and the unit as a whole have put on opposing quarterbacks. After terrorizing quarterbacks throughout last season, opposing teams appear to have found ways to neutralize Washington's pass rush.
To former Washington cornerback Springs, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio needs to adjust his playcalling a bit to apply more pressure on the quarterback.
"To be a top defense, you've got to be a little more aggressive in the playcalling than what we've been," Springs told The Sports Junkies Friday. "It looked like they're relying on the defensive front to be the lead, which we expect because they're all first-rounders. Their linebackers obviously need upgrading there and the secondary is solid. But right now they're just kind of playing what looks like a vanilla, basic Cover 4 sometimes, some type of zone defense and [Jack] Del Rio doesn't look to be real aggressive and that's probably because you don't want to put the corners out in a tough position."
Washington relied heavily on zone coverage last season thanks to the line's ability to get pressure rushing four players. Their corners weren't great press, man coverage type players, so they played to their strengths even though they eventually ran into problems against big, physical receivers like Mike Evans in the playoffs.
However, signing Williams Jackson III to a three-year contract in free agency gave Washington a player who played a bunch of man coverage in the past. If Washington put their corners on an island a bit more, they could be more equipped to handle that challenge. At the end of the day though, it's all about pressure.
"If you're going to play in this day and age of football and you want to be the top defense, you've got to have one, guys in the back who can just like anybody down," Springs said. "But two, when you have a good front, you've got to get after people."
The lack of pressure hasn't been the only issue, though. Washington has seen a few too many breakdowns in the secondary leading to wide-open passing lanes and third-down conversions. If it weren't for Darius Slayton dropping a touchdown on a busted coverage by Jackson and Landon Collins, Washington is probably 0-2 entering Week 3.
Those issues haven't gone unnoticed for Hall, and he thinks those breakdowns have been a product of poor communication born out of steady substitutions.
"Hearing coach Rivera this whole offseason, he wanted to preach getting guys in position to do what they do well," Hall told Brian Mitchell and JP Finlay on 106.7 The Fan. "Putting guys in different personnel packages for what the offense wanted to put out there, not wanting to put guys in positions that didn't maximize what they did.
"I understood that very well and I've been a part of defenses where it was a lot of packages. But when you do that, the communication has to be 100% locked down. You have to almost know what [your teammate] is thinking... To me, it's a little bit of that miscommunication that I'm seeing because they do run out so many different packages and so many different guys. You've got room for error, you've got room for communication breakdowns."
The silver lining in all of this might be the fact that both issues Springs and Hall are highlighting are completely fixable. Communication improves over the course of the season and defensive coordinators are always finding new ways to scheme up pressure.
If the line can get more pressure on the quarterback, those breakdowns in the secondary won't be as deadly. If the corners and safeties improve their communication and lock it down on the back-end, that gives Chase Young and company more time to get home.
It might just be a matter of waiting for everyone to settle in. The only problem there, is there isn't always a ton of time to wait and still have hopes of making the playoffs.
"This defense should be a whole lot better than what we've seen through two weeks of the season and I'm starting to get a little bit nervous, and it's scary," Hall said. "It's scary to think about this defense not being able to be that dominant force because now you're in trouble. Taylor Heinicke, this offense played great, but you don't want to be in a shootout for the better part of the season. You're facing too many good quarterbacks up and down the schedule to try to win games like that."