NFL players and coaches often state that they pay no attention to what reporters, pundits, fans and any other outsiders say about them, but with the omnipresence of social media and the amount of attention the league gets these days, it's sometimes difficult to believe them.
A comment Ron Rivera made on Tuesday won't help those claims about tuning out the noise, either.
During Rivera and Washington Football Team general manager Martin Mayhew's end-of-season press conference, the struggles of Washington's 2021 defensive line were brought up. The group, which was loaded with talent heading into the year, failed to dominate as expected.
So, Rivera was asked to assess why that occurred.
"I think the one thing was expectations," he responded. "Everybody's expectations across the board — players included, mine, coaches', fans', everybody — was probably a little bit out of whack.
"I think one of the biggest things that we tried to do was we tried to show what we were capable of and who we are instead of trying to just go out and play football the way we were supposed to."
Essentially, Rivera believes his front four was aware of the preseason praise they received, bought into it and then went on to eschew the scheme in favor of trying to create highlights in order to generate further hype.
"I thought guys, and I talked about this, that there was some things that we were doing when we weren’t supposed to," Rivera said. "We were popping gaps when we were trying to make plays instead of staying home and just knowing the play doesn't care who makes it."
That's disappointing, among many other things. It also reflects poorly on just about everyone involved.
If the defensive line felt like it arrived after the 7-9 campaign in 2020 in which it performed well (albeit against some miserable quarterbacks), then that means the players who are a part of it are seriously lacking maturity. Rivera himself even mentioned the need for his team to be mature pre-Week 1, and it's pretty clear now who those remarks were directed at.
But at the same time, if Rivera was worried about how the unit was processing their praise, why couldn't he find a way to change that either before the opener or at another point on the schedule? Why was it an issue for so much of the season?
Those are questions worth considering as much as the questions about the players' mentalities.
Looking ahead to September 2022, the primary contributors along the line — Jonathan Allen, Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Matt Ioannidis — should all be back. Tim Settle, meanwhile, is a free agent, while Daron Payne has been mentioned by analysts as a possible trade candidate, but there's no legitimacy to that idea yet.
Therefore, it's not like there will be any grand reshuffling on the depth chart. The pieces that underwhelmed this past season will be leading the way again come the fall. Maybe there'll be a minor staff change, but Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio certainly aren't moving, so it'll be the same voices at the helm as well.
Now, one thing the members of the line will have going for them is that, after their inconsistent performance in 2021, the expectations around them should be diminished. Rivera leaned on that whole angle as an excuse on Tuesday.
Should the bunch falter once more in the third year of his tenure, however, Rivera will have to get creative with his reasoning for that — that is, if anyone's willing to listen to his evaluation at all.