Coming into the 2020 NFL season, there was much discussion about how dominant the Washington defensive line would be. There was so much conversation about this being the year the defensive line becomes the force it should be with the addition of Chase Young. If you're keeping count, that's four first round picks that start on the defensive line for Washington. The problem is, they haven't played consistently as a unit over the first nine games of the season. You have seen some flashes from individual players like Montez Sweat, who currently has five sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. Rookie Chase Young has done a solid job holding down the opposite defensive end, but hasn't looked the same since his groin injury. In his defense, Young has also been double-teamed, and many times triple teamed while being blocked pretty much every down, which means others on the defensive line should be eating. That isn't happening enough with the talent they possess across the board.
A severe blow occurred to the defensive line when Matt Ioannidis went down for the year with a torn bicep. Ioannidis, in my opinion, is the best and most consistent interior defensive lineman Washington had the last three seasons. Third year defensive tackle Daron Payne has played solid football, and looks to be improving on playing off of blocks and getting off of double-teams. Payne just needs to take that next step from being a solid contributor to be a force offensive linemen have to game plan for week after week. Fourth year starter Jonathan Allen has been "average". For a guy that I held in high regard coming out of Alabama, he hasn't been the impact player he should be based on his attributes and work ethic. He struggles to take on double-teams and has issues getting off blocks to make plays in the running game.
The defensive line reserves have underwhelmed as well led by the 12 million dollar backup defensive end Ryan Kerrigan who has 4.5 sacks on the season. Kerrigan does plays hard and sets a great example for Young and Sweat to follow. Defensive tackle Tim Settle has been one of the brighter spots and he plays less than 30 snaps a game with his season high being 27 last week. Settle is trying to prove he deserves to be on the field more often. He has proven he can make plays stopping the run and rushing the passer with his three sacks this season in limited repetitions. That leads me to defensive end Ryan Anderson. Before the season, everybody was raving about Ryan Anderson and how this would be his breakout year. Well, in nine games, Anderson has 6 solo tackles and his number of snaps continue to decrease. Anderson has not provided any value defensively, but has been one of the teams most reliable special teams contributors. In Anderson's defense, I believe he is playing out of position and should be playing outside linebacker rather than defensive end. I’m not sure why defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio hasn't put him there with all the issues he has had with the linebacking core's lack of production.
The most frustrating thing about the defensive line has been its inability to stop the run. They have been gashed week after week, and teams recognize that they aren't physical enough at the point of contact to stop a downhill attack. The defense is currently ranked 21st against the run allowing 126 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense has been decent to pretty good at best even though the team currently holds the number one pass defense in the league. Don't be bamboozled into thinking Washington has this stellar defensive backfield because they don't. In reality, they are usually down in points so much, teams aren't forced to pass a lot in the second half, so the numbers take a natural drop because of clock management situations.
Del Rio is going to have to make the decision to just let the defense attack and establish an identity. The defensive line has proven they can't get consistent pressure with just four and even five, so Del Rio is going to have to get the linebackers and strong safety Kamren Curl involved in more blitz packages in run and pass situations. Washington has the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, and this SHOULD be a redemption game for the defensive line because rookie quarterback Joe Burrow gets hit a lot in the passing game; not to mention starting running back Joe Mixon is out Sunday. The Bengals do however have a top notch wideout group with AJ Green and Tee Haggins leading the way. There are a lot of things working in Washington's favor this week, but no such thing as a "definite" win with this team. Let's see what defensive linemen step up against a bad, but competitive Bengals team. It's time for them to impose their will and stop getting pushed around up front. This week is a pivotal game for the stretch run, and the defense either gets right and plays well, or they implode and fans are back saying "here we go again". We shall see. As you were…
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team