Ioannidis, Payne address WFT's defensive struggles in 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
It's no secret that the Washington Football Team's defense has not lived up to its preseason expectations. That continued again on Sunday, as Jack Del Rio's unit allowed 33 points -- seven aided by a Hail Mary 49-yard touchdown to end the first half -- to the New Orleans Saints in its Week 5 loss.
Over the first month of the season, the defensive line was most criticized for Washington's defensive struggles. The front four was the backbone of Washington's defense a year ago, and with Matt Ioannidis returning from injury, was expected to be even better this year.
On Sunday, Washington's defensive struggles appeared to mainly fall on the secondary, as New Orleans was able to take advantage of multiple blown coverages. But after the game, Ioannidis accepted responsibility on behalf of the defensive line as to why the unit struggled as a whole.
"That's a tough loss. It's a game where the defense needs to step up and do better. And we didn't," Ioannidis said. "I'll look internally and say it's on the D-line from here."
Washington's front four was able to sack Saints quarterback Jameis Winston twice on Sunday, with one resulting in a fumble recovery by the Burgundy and Gold's defense. But the group was unable to create pressure consistently enough, often leaving Winston with plenty of time to exploit the holes in the backend of Washington's defense.
Ioannidis refused to place blame on the secondary, though, saying the defensive line needs to rush better and prevent opposing quarterbacks from having ample time to throw the football.
"It's frustrating," he said, "We need to rush better. We need to be more stout in the run game. The great thing about this league is that there's another opportunity next week. But certainly, this is going to sting for a little bit."
After the game, Ioannidis was asked about the lofty expectations Washington's defensive line had entering 2021. He responded honestly, admitting the group as a whole needs to play better moving forward.
"Obviously, there's a lot of hype around this defensive line. We're tremendously talented," Ioannidis said. "When it doesn't go our way, I think we need to look at ourselves and say 'people put faith and trust in us, let's live up to that.'"
Fellow defensive lineman Daron Payne, who had one of Washington's two sacks on Sunday, largely echoed Ioannidis' thoughts when asked about how the defensive front has played compared to the preseason hopes it had.
"It's a new year. We can't go off last year. We can only play up to our potential this year," Payne said.
What frustrated both Ioannidis and Payne, at least on Sunday, was that they felt the defense gave New Orleans plays and allowed them to execute. A perfect example is the end of half Hail Mary, a 49-yard prayer that allowed the Saints to enter the halftime break with a seven-point lead.
"I feel like we've got to stop giving up so much, like giving people gifts," Payne said. "Just keep our foot on their neck."
"I think we beat ourselves in a lot of ways," Ioannidis added. "Those are the ones that are tough to get over because you do it to yourselves."
Following each of Washington's matchups thus far in 2021, there's been a constant theme with players and coaches when asked about the defensive struggles: there's a lot of football still to be played. Payne echoed similar comments once again on Sunday night.
"I'm not frustrated at all. There's still a lot of football to play," Payne said.
But five weeks is over one-quarter of the season. That's more than enough of a sample size to state what's been the reality: Washington's defense is not the juggernaut many thought them to be.
While Payne played the "there's still a lot of football to play" card on Sunday, Ioannidis took a more honest approach in what has to change in order for Jack Del Rio's defense to turn its season around.
"I think ultimately, this is a talented defensive line and we just need to play better, all of us across the board," Ioannidis said.