After a tumultuous week for the Washington Football Team, with the benching of Dwayne Haskins, coach Ron Rivera hoped that Washington could go on a run with four NFC games on the horizon, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. However, the game did not go as planned as Washington fell 30-10 at FedEx Field. Despite the heroic return of Alex Smith following an injury to Kyle Allen, Washington did not get the spark they needed as Smith was sacked six times and the offense had negative six yards of offense in the second half.
In addition to the dismal offensive performance, the highly-touted Washington defense allowed 30 or more points for the fourth consecutive game. While a few of these games could be attributed to the offense, the Rams thrashed Washington in the first half and made plays in the second half when the rain came down. Washington has had question marks in the secondary throughout the season, with the suspect play of Landon Collins and Troy Apke. The linebacking corps also struggled in coverage. Both units must improve in the future if Washington wants to avoid a repeat of previous years: a defensive collapse late in the season.
Defensive Struggles Continue for Washington Football Team in 30-10 Loss
Big Plays Continue
Washington was torched by the Rams on big plays on Sunday. Allowing just four 25+ yard plays in the first four games, Washington allowed four in Sunday’s game alone. This has been a theme for Washington this season with the huge third-down play by Jalen Reagor in Week 1, and the 50-yard touchdown run by Lamar Jackson. On Sunday, Robert Woods was left wide open for a 56-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Later, Gerald Everett found himself wide open for 40 yards, and Cooper Kupp beat Kamren Curl on a 49-yard gain. Cam Akers capped off the game with a 46-yard run.
Washington entered the game with 4 plays of 25 yards or more allowed this season. They've allowed 4 such plays today.
— John Keim (@john_keim) October 11, 2020
Just like in the Greg Manusky defenses of the past, there seemed to be a miscommunication on the first deep ball to Robert Woods. In a zone coverage look, Kendall Fuller passed Woods onto Landon Collins who was slow getting back, leading to an easy throw and catch for Jared Goff and Woods. Later in the second quarter, tight ends continued to torch Washington as Everett found himself wide open with Jon Bostic and Collins in coverage again. Bostic, who struggled in coverage throughout the game, seemed to have his eyes in the backfield on a play-action fake and was caught nowhere near Everett on the big gain. Finally, Kupp had a beautiful route on seventh-round rookie Kamren Curl, for a 49-yard play where Apke made a touchdown-saving tackle.
Most of these big plays stem from the secondary as Apke and Collins have struggled mightily in coverage throughout the year, and the linebackers, other than Kevin Pierre-Louis, lack the speed to guard athletic tight ends.
Tight Ends Torch Washington Once Again
New coordinator, new scheme, and new players, but tight ends continue to be the nemesis of Washington. Despite holding Tyler Higbee to just 12 yards, Gerald Everett had four catches for 90 yards. Just last week, Mark Andrews had 57 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 1, Dallas Goedert had 101 yards. Most of this comes down to the linebackers for Washington. Kevin Pierre-Louis is the fastest in the group, but he struggles in coverage. Shaun Dion Hamilton is Washington’s best coverage linebacker, with Thomas Davis at age 37. However, Dion Hamilton’s highest snap count heading into Sunday was just 16. Since Josh Harvey-Clemons opted out of the 2020 season, Washington doesn’t have an athletic linebacker to cover tight ends.
The safety duo has also struggled against tight ends. Collins has always been a run-stopping safety, and Apke isn’t the physical presence to cover tight ends in man coverage.
Another Slow Start on Defense
Washington has yet to put together a 60 minute game on defense this season. Even in the Week 1 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia raced out to a 17-0 lead in the first half. Washington has allowed at least 17 points in the first half each game this season as the Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns scored 17, while the defense surrendered at least 20 points in the other three games. Most of this damage has come through the air early in games, as Washington has been solid against the run this season, despite ranking 23rd in the league.
On a positive note for Washington, this does seem to indicate that the new defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, has been successful in terms of the halftime adjustments. There were various concerns regarding adjustments in the Jay Gruden regime. Washington has allowed just 9.4 points per game in the second half this season. However, some of this may be due to Washington constantly being behind in the second half. Washington did lead in the second half Week 3 against the Browns.
Last Word on the Washington Football Team Defense
Undoubtedly, the biggest problem for Washington is their offense, and their biggest strength is their defensive line. While Montez Sweat had an excellent game against the Rams and Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne consistently blew up running plays in the backfield, the back-end of the Washington defense must hold up to live up to their potential. Despite the major offensive struggles for Washington, the blueprint for victory is clear: a dominant pass rush paired with winning the turnover battle. Although Washington won the turnover battle on Sunday, the defense as a whole was not up to par.