Expectations for the Washington Football Team are high in 2021 as the club enters off an improbable NFC East title and upgraded its roster significantly on both sides of the football this offseason.
However, those who are pessimistic about Washington's outlook this fall often point out that the club's seven wins in 2020 came against mainly below-average quarterbacks. The seven signal-callers Washington beat last year were: Carson Wentz, Andy Dalton (twice), Joe Burrow (who exited with injury), Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Mullens and Jalen Hurts.
If Washington is going to repeat as NFC East champs -- something that hasn't happened since 2004 -- it will have to stockpile wins against some of the league's best QBs. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Russell Wilson are all on the schedule this fall, just to name a few.
Asked about the number of elite quarterbacks Washington will see on the schedule, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said he understands what's ahead and is looking forward to it.
"It's a challenge. I look forward to the opportunity competing against the very best," Del Rio told reporters after practice. "We're certainly going to see that as we go throughout the schedule."
For Del Rio, his philosophy is simple: focus on the task at hand without getting ahead of himself.
"We take it one week at a time," Del Rio said. "My approach has always been 'fear nobody, but respect [everybody].' We're starting out this week against a really good player, a good football team. I'm looking forward to having them here at home."
Washington begins its season this upcoming Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, who have the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, under center. Herbert is coming off a record-breaking rookie season and looks every bit the franchise quarterback Los Angeles hoped he'd become when it selected him sixth overall in 2020.
"[He's a] talented young quarterback, got all the different tools that you look for," Del Rio said. "He's got mobility, he's got arm strength, he's clearly a good decision maker, all those things. He can really throw the football. He's a good football player."
In 2020, one specific area Herbert excelled in was on third down. As a team, the Chargers were among the league's best at converting on third down at a clip just above 44%, which was ranked top 10 in the NFL.
As for why Herbert was so successful on third downs as a rookie, Del Rio said he benefitted from having one of the NFL's better receiving corps, headlined by Keenan Allen.
"He's got some good receivers who get open. He's accurate and throws the ball," Del Rio said. "A guy like Keenan Allen, a tremendous football player, a great route runner, every dependable, tough. I think having guys like that helps. But he's accurate, throws the ball well, makes good decisions."
While Del Rio knows it'll be tough to slow down Herbert come Sunday, he's confident in his group. After all, Washington had one of the NFL's best defenses last season in his first year as defensive coordinator. With almost the entire starting defense back from 2020, along with the addition of standout cornerback William Jackson III, this group has the potential to be even better.
"We want to do the same thing this year. We just want to start a little faster," Del Rio said. "But we want to continue to improve as we go throughout the year." Kickoff is set to take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Coverage begins with Washington Football Kickoff Live on NBC Sports Washington and the MyTeams app at 12 p.m. and Washington Football Postgame Live immediately following the game.