Football Team

Grading Washington's defense at the bye week

Football Team

Thanks to the shift to a 17-game schedule, Washington isn't technically halfway through the 2021 season after playing eight games like they'd normally be. But for all intents and purposes, as the franchise rests on its bye, now's a good time to evaluate where things stand.

Here's a look at how each position on defense has fared so far along with a grade for each group (for a review of the offense, head here)...

Defensive ends

Grade: C-

Analysis: Chase Young and Montez Sweat's preseason, record-setting talk is aging about as well as an avocado right now.

The pair of pass rushers were projected to be two of Washington's top five players this year, but at this point, they're not remotely close to delivering on all of the hype they received before Week 1. That especially applies to Young.

Despite being healthier than he was a year ago and obviously having more pro experience, Young has just 1.5 sacks to his name in eight appearances. Beyond his sack numbers, his impact hasn't been felt nearly as much as it was in his rookie campaign. 

Sweat has caused a decent amount of disruption on his side, as he's posted 4 sacks and shown up a bit more elsewhere. That said, this combination has left a lot — a lot — to be desired. 

The rotational guys behind them, meanwhile, like Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams, have been relatively ineffective. But that's as much on Ron Rivera, who chose to roll with them instead of bringing in better depth, as it is on those two younger pieces.

 

Defensive tackles

Grade: B-

Analysis: It's Jonathan Allen, and not Young or Sweat, who's been the most consistent force up front for the Burgundy and Gold. There's an argument to be made that he's currently the best interior D-lineman in the sport, thanks to his 6 sacks and constant pressure.

Allen's comrade, Daron Payne, has 2 sacks of his own, but the majority of his best work comes against the run. There are a couple of sequences per week where he will floor you with his strength. Then there's Matt Ioannidis, whose performance has been more helpful than his stats would suggest. 

With Ioannidis back, Tim Settle has been relegated to a fairly limited role, which is unfortunate after his mini breakout in 2020. 

All in all, the men in the middle have outdone Washington's edge threats. However, the collective defensive line simply hasn't emerged as the dominant, league-frightening group that it was touted to become. 

Linebackers

Grade: C-

Analysis: Jamin Davis' rookie season has featured more questions about his playing time than highlights. Some quiet stretches were expected for someone with little college experience, but he's basically been a non-factor for the entire first half of the schedule. His long-term outlook remains positive, yet his early production hasn't been.

Cole Holcomb is putting together an overall solid year. That isn't to say he hasn't made his share of mistakes, but for the most part, he is on the field for every snap, he's where he needs to be post-snap and he's a pretty reliable tackler.  

Before going on injured reserve, Jon Bostic was a major weakness for the defense. His absence has opened the door for Davis to see more action, which is best for the team's future. But while Davis was supposed to be the addition that made the middle portion of Jack Del Rio's unit more dangerous, it's clear more talent is still needed.

Lastly, Landon Collins has been inserted as a linebacker after experiencing major problems at safety, and the experiment has been a positive one. What he did in Denver — 8 tackles (2 for loss) and 1 sack — might've been his best game ever for the franchise. He's much more comfortable closer to the line of scrimmage, and even if he's not a fan of the role, he's showing a proclivity for it. 

Cornerbacks

Grade: D

Analysis: William Jackson III's debut slate with Washington is going better than Curtis Samuel's because he's at least been on the field for the majority of contests. That's really the only advantage he has over his fellow free-agent pickup, though, as Jackson III has been a part of the squad's most egregious coverage breakdowns and isn't holding up in man coverage, either.

 

As for Kendall Fuller, he's regressed as well. He and Jackson III aren't shutdown defenders individually, but putting them together had the makings of a really good duo. The results have been the opposite of really good.

Third-round selection Benjamin St-Juste has certainly been picked on often, but he's also competed hard and proven to be very physical as a tackler. If he can continue to grow in pass coverage, he'll be a useful corner in the NFL for years. 

Others beyond that trio, like Danny Johnson, have gotten involved in spots, but Jackson III, Fuller and St-Juste are the main cornerbacks to discuss. And the first two players have seriously disappointed and are quite culpable for the defense's failures as a whole.

Safeties

Grade: D-

Analysis: As mentioned, Collins isn't a part of the back end anymore, but when he was, he was a huge liability. 

Bobby McCain has also been an issue. His tackling has been inconsistent to go along with his up-and-down coverage, and while it was just one play, his dropped interception against the Broncos is a sequence that's tough to forget. It's now understood why the Dolphins let him go in the offseason.

Kam Curl may not be creating the game-altering turnovers he was responsible for as a rookie, but the second-year safety is intelligent, versatile and will undoubtedly be a key part of this defense in the long haul. 

Despite Curl's best efforts, the safeties have been leaky and targeted a bunch by opposing quarterbacks. Deshazor Everett and Darrick Forrest should get chances to try and chip in in November and December.