The Commanders’ defense looks like it is in more trouble than Adam Levine, and that’s saying something. The first two weeks of any NFL season is the only time in the entire calendar year that fans of every single team all have hope for their team. However, now that the first two weeks have passed and the dust is just starting to settle, hope is going away fast for some of them. One fanbase is losing hope at an alarming rate for their team, and that team is the Washington Commanders, specifically for their defense.
Lions’ WR Amon-Ra St. Brown catching a touchdown over Commanders’ CB William Jackson
I will say, miraculous turnarounds and strange things can happen over the course of a season.
However, a troubling trend that does not seem likely to change if the Commanders don’t fix it soon is their defensive woes. Every team at this stage in the season most likely has things they could clearly improve on, but with this Washington team, there is a unique feeling of dread in the air among fans. To properly understand how we got to this point, let’s go back in time a few years.
In 2020, Washington’s defense ranked as the 4th best team defense, according to Pro Football Reference. The then Washington Football Team was the 2nd best team in the league against the pass, and the 13th best team in the league against the run. They also had the 4th best scoring defense, and the only teams to rank ahead of them in team defense that year were the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers, all of whom were playoff teams.
The Commanders had one of the best defenses in the league, and deservingly so; they had selected a defensive player in the first round of every draft since 2017, and more importantly, hit on every single on. With a defensive line of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young, all of whom were playing on rookie contracts, it seemed as though the sky was the limit with the Washington defense.
Not many people could have predicted what happened next, however.
After the 2020 season, Washington desperately needed to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Washington ranked as the 30th total offense in 2020 according to StatMuse, and Washington responded by signing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal. They also signed WR Curtis Samuel from the Carolina Panthers, WR DeAndre Carter from the Chicago Bears, and WR Adam Humphries from the Tennessee Titans, giving Washington some much-needed receiving help. Along with the additions of rookie LB Jamin Davis and the highest paid free agent acquisition of the offseason for Washington in CB William Jackson, Washington looked ready to take that next step forward.
But it never happened.
Instead, Washington’s defense imploded, and for seemingly no reason. Washington’s calling card was supposed to be its defense, and despite the offense jumping up from 30th to 21st in the league, the Washington offense was still not consistent enough to win games consistently, as Samuel struggled with injury all season, RB Antonio Gibson lead the league in non-QB fumbles with six, and QB Taylor Heinicke, while a fan favorite, did an average job of filling in for the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick.
While the offense struggled at times, it improved plenty well enough for Washington to contend for a playoff spot, that is if the defensive played like it did in 2020. As we all know, it did not. The defense massively regressed, and while they were solid against the run, they were the 29th ranked team against the pass. They also ranked as the 25th scoring defense and 32nd (dead last in the league) in third down conversion percentage, as they let opponents convert 111 third downs. It was a shocking and steep decline, as there were no major injuries to the defense, other than Chase Young tearing his ACL. However, the defense was not performing well long before Young got hurt.
Long story short, the defense was a mess.
It improved slightly down the stretch, but was by no means good, and was even worse when compared to Washington’s 2020 defense. Rookie LB Jamin Davis struggled throughout the whole season, rotating between the MIC linebacker and outside linebacker. The defense consistently blew coverages, as CBs William Jackson and Kendall Fuller constantly miscommunicated. They even let New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston complete a hail marry at the end of the 2nd quarter. Starting safety Landon Collins was exposed constantly in coverage, and it eventually got so bad that head coach Ron Rivera had to move Collins to linebacker. The defensive line could never get consistent pressure on opposing QBs, and the Washington pass rushers would chase sacks instead of collapsing the pocket and bringing the quarterback down as a unit.
These issues were mind-numbingly frustrating for Washington fans to watch, and so far in the 2022 season, the same exact issues have surfaced. So far in this early season, the Commanders rank as the 27th total defense, 20th against the pass and 28th against the run, again according to Pro Football Reference. Jaguars’ WR Christian Kirk went for six catches and 117 yards against the Commanders in week one, and Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and RB D’Andre Swift carved up the Commanders’ defense in week two, making them look lost and confused time and time again.
Lions’ WR Amon-Ra St. Brown evading a tackle from Commanders’ S Darrick Forest
This is a troubling trend that started in 2021 and has continued to plague the Commanders.
If they can not solve their defensive woes, then it is not a stretch to say that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio could kiss his job goodbye. If the Commanders waste what looks like a season of the best offensive production they have had in years, then head coach Ron Rivera might have to kiss his job goodbye too.
Fans are growing restless, and even other Commanders’ writers are seeing the desperate need for the defense to improve. S Kamren Curl and DE Chase Young are coming back at some point during this season, but one thing is for certain regardless: If the Commanders can not find a way to fix the defensive and improve to even a middle of the pack defense, then this season could be the very last the Del Rio and Rivera ever coach in the nation’s capital.
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