The Washington Football Team hasn't exactly lived up to expectations so far this season.
At 2-3, the season is hardly over, especially in a division as volatile as the NFC East. However, the offensive inconsistencies and drastic drop-off in production by the defense have this team looking like one destined to pick in the top 10 of the 2022 NFL Draft rather than playing in playoff games in January.
Last year's surprise trip to the playoffs almost makes you forget that this is only Ron Rivera's second year leading the franchise out of a nightmare 3-13 campaign in 2019. Washington may have won the division last season and pushed the Buccaneers to the limit in its lone playoff game, but as Rivera explained on the Sports Junkies Tuesday, this is a team still focused on growth and development.
"We're trying to focus in on what's truly the development of this football team for the long run, not an overnight fix," Rivera said. "You almost want to say, 'I wish 7-9 last year wouldn't have been good enough to win the division, that way the expectations would have been much lower and it would have been a little bit easier.' This is hard. This is the way it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be hard because it's the only way you learn."
The biggest disappointment for Washington so far has been on defense. This group closed out the 2020 season as one of the best defenses in the NFL, and with everyone on the defensive line returning, Landon Collins coming back from an Achilles injury and free-agent addition William Jackson III, it was expected to be even better.
Instead, the unit has been one of the worst defenses in the NFL, giving up over 400 yards and 31 points per game. Only the Chiefs are allowing more points per game than Washington and they have far less talent on that side of the ball.
Washington's competition has been strong, including matchups against Justin Herbert and Josh Allen in the first three weeks of the year, but the strength of the schedule doesn't excuse blown coverages and allowing a Hail Mary touchdown to Jameis Winston and the Saints.
Still, Rivera wants to focus on the positive with his team moving forward.
"Everybody sees, unfortunately, the two bad plays [vs. New Orleans]," Rivera said. "I get it, they were two bad plays, they were two bad plays that truly impacted this game. But don't take away from what the guys have done. Don't take away from the improvement that is being made. This is about growing and developing, and if every time all we want to do is remember the negative, we're not going to go anywhere. We're going to keep getting pulled backward. We're trying to develop. We're trying to get better. We're trying to become a football team that can win on a consistent basis, and this is about teaching a bunch of young guys."
Washington certainly has its fair share of young players, especially on defense. They may be supremely talented, but a lot of Washington's biggest defensive contributors are still on their first contracts.
Chase Young and Montez Sweat are still in their second and third seasons in the NFL, respectively. Daron Payne is 24 years old, Jonathan Allen and Kendall Fuller are 26. Kamren Curl is 22, Cole Holcomb is 25, Collins is 27 and Jackson is 29. The oldest starter on the defense was Jon Bostic (30), but he's likely missing the season after landing on injured reserve.
Should a unit this young and talented be playing better? Absolutely. But perhaps the explanation is rooted more in their inexperience than maybe the scheme or play-calling.
"I do know that we've got some maturing to do," Rivera said. "I do know that we have some development and growth still to be made. That much I know, that much I said. This is about growing and developing. We don't start where we finished each year. You have to start somewhere and I believe you always start with the basics and work your way back up to the top. If you always start things at the top and just pick up where you left off, you're going to forget the things that are important, and that's the basic fundamentals of what you do. That's what I talk about when I talk about maturity, growth and development. It's making sure that our base fundamentals are solid and sound."
As Washington looks toward correcting its fundamentals and developing throughout the season, the next two weeks won't be easy in that regard. The team hosts Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in Week 7 and then hits the road the next week to play Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.