Despite struggles, Rivera says 'we're not there yet' on defensive changes


Through two games in the new NFL season the Commanders defense ranks near the bottom of the league in the game's two most important metrics - points allowed and yards allowed. 

At 404 yards-per-game allowed, Washington's defense ranks 26th out of 32 teams. At 29 points-per-game, Washington ranks even lower, trailing just three other teams. 

Despite the ugly start, and the continued lackluster results dating back to last season, head coach Ron Rivera isn't looking to overhaul his defense. 

"I think there is a fix to it. First and foremost, it is about making sure that everybody is on the same page. And then secondly, if it persists, now you have to look at some personnel changes and we're not there yet," Rivera said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.

Asked for a specific timeline to make personnel changes Rivera added, "that just really dictates as the season goes on."

Beyond the fact that it gets increasingly difficult to make significant personnel changes once the season begins, Rivera points to big plays surrendered by his defense as the main culprit for the gaudy statistics. 

"We've given up explosives [plays] and you just can't do that and expect to win games because that's a big part of scoring is getting it into the opposing teams red zone, whether it be the top of the red zone or down through the red zone, you know, when any time to get around the 30-yard-line, they have a potential to score," the coach said. 


Against Detroit, big plays buried Washington in the first half, and then ruined the Commanders chances at a second half comeback. 

In the third quarter alone, after Carson Wentz and the Commanders offense scored consecutive touchdowns and nabbed a two-point conversion to bring the score to 22-15, Washington's defense surrendered a nearly 50-yard run to wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown and a few plays later a 22-yard touchdown catch to running back D'Andre Swift. 

On that drive, Detroit went 75 yards in four plays for the score, and Washington never got back to within seven points before the final 36-27 loss.

It wasn't just those two big plays and it wasn't just the loss to Detroit. Even in the Week 1 win against Jacksonville, the Commanders defense gave up four plays of 20-yards or more, including a 49-yard pass to Christian Kirk. 

Perhaps the best stat that belies Washington's inability to stop chunk yardage comes via yards-per-play. The Commanders are tied for 30th in the league allowing 6.6 yards-per-play.

Last season Washington had similar early stumbles defensively before a four-game win streak when their defense improved. For the 2021 season, however, the Commanders still finished in the bottom third of the league in most major categories.

There wasn't a major overhaul of the defense this offseason, and by and large, Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio seemed confident enough in their group to bring it back largely intact for the 2022 campaign. Keep in mind too that the return of injured players like Kam Curl and Chase Young should bring an immediate impact, but it's unclear when either player will be back on the field.

This weekend a hot Philadelphia Eagles team comes to FedEx Field. They boast the No. 1 ranked yardage offense and are tied for the fourth-highest scoring offense in the NFL. 

Rivera believes his defensive group will right itself and the numbers will improve. Changes aren't on the horizon, for now anyway, and a major challenge against the Eagles looms.