The Commanders have exploded to the team’s first 2-0 start since 2011 and the defense is a significant reason for it. After allowing multiple big plays early to Russell Wilson and Marvin Mims Jr., Washington’s defensive line took over. With two games in the books, the numbers suggest that Washington’s defense could be one of the NFL’s best.
Washington Commanders Defense Has High Potential
Bend But Don’t Break
Before diving into the data, it is important to note that this two-game sample size is not considered statistically significant. The Cardinals and Broncos offenses are two of the weakest offenses in the NFL and can’t be directly extrapolated. However, these games offer a glimpse into the potential that this Commanders defense could have.
The first of many interesting nuggets that jumped out was the split between the first and second-half performances. Washington has allowed 34 points combined in the first half of games compared to only 15 total points in the second half. It beats the alternative. Jack Del Rio appears to be making strong mid-game defensive adjustments to the game plan. This gives the offense time to orchestrate comebacks, which they’ve needed in both games.
The defense has allowed a total of 609 yards so far, ranking tenth in the NFL after Week 2. Even more impressive, though, is the unit’s ability to keep offenses out of the endzone once they breach the 20-yard line. Washington is currently top-five in Redzone touchdown rate (33%) and total Redzone touchdowns (2) given up. This statistical category has a direct impact on the final score and is crucial to maintain. Yardage totals are easier to swallow when they end in field goals.
The success of the Washington Commanders defense relies heavily on its pass rush. The already-elite defensive line benefited from Chase Young’s return, racking up seven sacks, five tackles for loss, and 14 total quarterback hits on Russell Wilson. Young’s 31 pass rush snaps will almost certainly increase as the season progresses.
Through two games, the Commanders are tied with Dallas for the most sacks in the NFL (10). Unfortunately, the Cowboys rank highly in nearly every defensive metric as well. Washington has been able to generate a 28% pressure rate, eighth-best in the league, despite only blitzing a league-average 25.3% of the time. Getting to quarterbacks with a four-man rush allows Del Rio to devote more manpower to coverage.
After the Catch
If the opposing offense is able to complete a pass, which is easier said than done, things only get more challenging from there. The Washington Commanders defense has allowed the eighth-fewest yards after catch (163) of any team to this point. Additionally, they have only committed nine missed tackles total, tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
Washington returned its coordinator and the vast majority of personnel from a 2022 defense that finished first in the entire NFL in both statistical categories. They allowed the fewest YAC (1,535 yards) and missed the fewest tackles (49) over the course of the full season, giving confidence that this two-game sample in 2023 is not a fluke. This is a trend that fans can expect to continue.
Room For Improvement
Despite all of the glowing numbers in support of the Washington Commanders defense, there is still room for improvement. The defense has been penalized 18 times and has conceded the most defensive penalty yards (180) in the NFL. It has essentially surrendered two 90-yard drives worth of yardage on penalties alone.
The Commanders will have to clean up their mistakes if they expect to compete against the Bills and Eagles in the next two weeks. Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts don’t need much help moving the ball. That said, Washington’s top-10 defense has the ability to keep the team in games they don’t belong in. If the offense can continue its momentum from the Denver game, don’t be surprised if the Commanders are able to pull off a shocking upset.
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