Especially in Sunday’s 36-27 loss to the Detroit Lions, Commander coach Ron Rivera seemed really troubled with six games. All six ran for more than 20 yards, and half of them ran for at least 49 yards. Even less than 24 hours after the failure, Rivera was still frustrated by the failure. He told reporters that the mistakes came down to individual mistakes, not the group or plan as a whole.
“These games should be kept to a minimum because we’re at a disadvantage and they’re able to take advantage of it,” Rivera said.
This is hardly a new problem for commanders.
As it was last year, Washington’s defense struggled again, allowing for what Rivera called an “explosive game.” In two games, the commanders allowed at least 20 yards 11 times — the most the NFL has entered Monday’s game, according to Pro Football Reference. In 2021, Washington is tied for 18th in the category — but the problem is especially prevalent at the start of the season, when almost half of all games (26 of 58) take place in the first six weeks. Commander was 10th in that time.
Over time, Washington may limit the issue, as it did last year. Generally speaking, Rivera’s teams tend to end strong after a slow start. But this cannot be taken for granted – not when there are so many issues at the forefront.
This season, the Commanders (1-1) have allowed opponents to score on 44 percent of their drives, the sixth-highest scoring percentage in the league. The sample size may be small, but last year wasn’t much better (42.4%, seventh).
The trend to abandon big moves contributed to these percentages.
On Sunday, the Lions scored — two touchdowns, two field goals — except one of their five drives had at least a 20-yard gain.
“If you allow them to play this type of game,” Rivera said, “we’ll pay eventually.”
After the loss, Rivera mentioned he had to make sure his staff put the players in positions to succeed. Safety Darrick Forrest also told reporters that it feels like the Lions “know exactly” what type of defense Washington is playing. Detroit perimeter Amon-Ra St. Brown, who ripped off 58 and 49 yards, said his team knew the commanders were having a hard time against the bunch.
But on Monday, Rivera defended reports that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio called. Instead, Rivera pointed to specific glitches, such as an error on running back D’Andre Swift’s 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
In this game, Washington had a blitz at the 3 and 15 to try and stop Detroit and potentially kick Detroit out of range. But, Rivera said, one player forgot to “hug” Swift outside the apartment — which led quarterback Jared Goff to find the open running back when he checked.
To make matters worse, Swift was able to score even after falling while receiving the ball. No one in Washington touched him, and defenders like Bobby McCain and Kendall Fuller both missed tackles after Swift got up.
“We could have just sat there doing a safe cover — an area cover down below — or we could have been aggressive and tried to push them back a little bit,” Rivera said. “We did, unfortunately. The thing is, we have a guy who isn’t doing his job.”
Rivera did not specify which player was responsible for the game.
Last season, Washington was able to make adjustments in part because of personnel changes. Instead of relying on Landon Collins as a pure safety, the team moved him more into a hybrid linebacker safety role. The shift allowed Collins to get closer to the line of scrimmage, and the former pro bowler was able to disrupt quarterbacks.
It’s unclear if there will be a similar adjustment this year. The Commander was without safe Kam Curl (thumb) in both games, but it would be wrong to place the blame solely on his replacement (Forrest).
Perhaps the most dramatic change Rivera could make would be firing Del Rio or taking over game-directing duties on the defensive end, but the coach has shown no signs of him willing to do so.
Instead, Rivera appears to be banking on improvements on the inside.
“If I don’t think we can stop the big games, the explosive games, then we’re definitely going to be in trouble,” Rivera said.