The Washington Football Team has got to find a way to win a football game.
Not win the division.
Not go on a winning streak.
Just win one game.
After Week 1, I wrote an article about this team being "legitimate" and what it would take for them to sustain that title. Well ladies and gentlemen, they have done none of that. They have been fools gold ever since that first game ended as they have lost five games in a row. The crazy thing is that they go into Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys one game away from having the first overall draft pick if they lose, but also only one game from being the division leaders, in a porous NFC East. Coming into the season, I think most expected the offense to struggle. What has been a surprise has been the inconsistency of the defense and their inability to impose their will with a seemingly talented unit.
When the season started, anybody would have looked at this defensive line and said "they switched to the 4'3 which fits their personnel; this should allow them to flourish". The bookend defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young are as advertised and have not disappointed. They have shown the ability to collapse the pocket and generate pressure fairly frequently. The interior defensive line however, led by Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, have underwhelmed considerably. The loss of Matt Ioannidis for the year with a torn bicep has not helped, but even prior to that, they were only good in spots.
The linebacker core has been the most disappointing. None of the backers have really stood out for the season. I will say I hear Kevin Pierre-Louis's name more than anyone else's. He is around the football consistently, even if he isn't making the play as he should. There hasn’t been a complete quality game out of this unit so far this season. They have had some other good individual performances like Cole Holcomb last week against the Giants. They have to find a way to get some consistency and cut down on the missed tackles at the point of contact if this defense has any chance of improving as the season continues.
The defensive backs have made some plays particularly Kendall Fuller who has 4 interceptions in just three games. Outside of that, no other defensive back has made a play worth mentioning since Week 1 outside of the interception by Landon Collins Week 2 against Arizona. Speaking of Landon Collins, Mr. 84 million has been "regular" at best this season after many including myself thought this would be a breakout season for him. The safety play overall has been stagnant and inconsistent, and could be labeled as a problem area for Washington.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio has to go back to the drawing board and ask himself "What can I do to give us the best chance to win". Now, I won't insult Del Rio as if he doesn't have that conversation with himself and the rest of the coaching staff every week as they prepare, but clearly their current approach isn't working.
So what needs to be modified?
Is it the personnel?
We saw Deshazor Everett start last week at free safety in place of Troy Apke who has been bad to say the least this season, but should it stop there? It's not just Apke who is out there missing tackles, blowing coverages and being ineffective.
Should the schematics change?
To me, that is a glaring necessity. This team needs to ATTACK and live and die by that with the type of personnel they have. They struggle in zone coverages in the secondary and they have the wrong personnel on the field on third down situations at times. There isn't a third down and long situation I wouldn't have Chase Young and/or Montez Sweat on the field. There have been times where I have seen Ryan Anderson who has been a disappointment, and Ryan Kerrigan who has just one sack since Week 1 in those down and distance circumstances. I'm all about rotations and fresh bodies, but this defense isn't good enough to take the only consistent players off the field in situations where they are needed most. Let the young boys play. Which leads me to my next concern.
Washington is at a crossroad where they need to recognize that the current group flat out isn't getting it done and some of these young guys need to start seeing the field more. Safety Kamren Curl, utility player Khaleke Hudson, and defensive lineman James Smith-Williams are all rookies that should start seeing more in-game time as the season continues so Del Rio can find out what he has in these guys. Curl and Smith-Williams have shown the ability to be effective in limited snaps. They need to find out if they are capable of sustaining their production because right now you aren't getting consistency from the current players at their positions.
Defense is definitely about understanding your responsibility, but it's even more about making a play. They just haven't made enough plays especially on third down. When it is a recurring theme that you get beat the same way in the same situations, it becomes a coaching issue because that shows the inability to make adjustments. I will be the first to say I loved the Jack Del Rio hiring simply because he is old school, has built defenses from the ground up, and has proven he is a leader of men. That confidence that I had in him has wavered some. At the end of the day, the defense just needs to get better at the fundamental things like tackling angles, staying disciplined in your drop zones as a linebacker, not vacating your zone as a defensive back. Take care of your responsibility. Self-accountability is key, and they have to have some on that side of the football.
Who is going to step up for this team?
Who is going to emerge as a leader in this unit?
Who will the players be able to rally around?
We will see this Sunday as Washington faces its most hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys in a must win game. As you were…
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team