Alex Smith: ‘vanilla’ defending has exposed Washington


Through the first five games of the season, the Washington Football Team ranks dead last in the NFL in passing touchdowns conceded, 28th in passing yards, 27th in interceptions, and 30th in first downs allowed. The defensive unit, lauded by many as one of the most talented in the league over the offseason, has not come close to meeting expectations in 2021.

Alex Smith led the Burgundy and Gold to its first playoff berth in five seasons last year, along with a defense which, then, was one of the most dominant forces in football. But after Washington dropped a 33-22 contest to New Orleans in Week 5, Smith took note of what could be plaguing the current squad.

“They’ve been letting that defensive line try to work, rushing four, and they have not been getting home. On the backend they’ve been vanilla and been getting exposed. And I really do think it comes back to the defensive line,” Smith said on an episode of the ESPN Daily Podcast this week.

Smith added: “If that front four, if you’re going to play that way, can’t get home, it can be tough sledding. Because you really can’t leave the backend exposed. That’s really kinda what I see. I really feel like they’re trying to find their identity on defense, something they can hang their hat on.”


Washington’s Week 5 efforts were inhibited further by the 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown it conceded to end the first half -- a play which has gone viral since then, due to the fact that it appeared as though no Washington defenders jumped to grab the ball. Plays like that, Smith said, are always difficult to overcome.

“They actually started the game, in the first half, caused a couple turnovers. Chase Young got his first one, it was a sack fumble, and I felt like they actually were getting ready to turn the corner,” Smith said. “And then, man, when they got the Hail Mary thrown right before half, and then in the fourth quarter, gave up some big plays. It’s tough.”

Talent, on paper, is not in short supply for WFT’s defense. Young, Allen, Sweat and Payne comprise the star-studded defensive line, which has only stacked up nine total sacks in five games.

A lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks has left the secondary exposed, which could explain why Washington has only two interceptions on the year, complemented with a league-high 14 passing touchdowns allowed.

With Pro Bowlers all over the gridiron on defense, Alex Smith, like many, pegged Washington to field one of the best units in the game. That has not been the case.

“This is another one I’m really surprised by. I thought they were going to roll,” Smith said. “At the end of the last year when that defense really hit their stride, that defensive line was causing so many problems. A ton of pressure. They were creating turnovers all over the place. Really, really disruptive group. I kind of though that’s where they were going to take off -- right where they left off. It just hasn’t been the case.”

So, five weeks into the year, Washington sits at 2-3 and has perhaps the toughest game of their entire season coming up: a home matchup against the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. While the defense has largely been disappointing thus far in 2021, Smith tried to offer some light at the end of the tunnel for Washington fans to consider.

“I do think they’re searching. It’s a group that’s extremely talented," Smith said. "They should be playing better. Still a lot of football left ahead of them. I hope they can kind of find their way, find their footing.”