Following a poor performance from the Washington Football Team's defense in Week 9 -- specifically against the run -- head coach Ron Rivera pointed out that the play of his linebackers was concerning.
To him, the unit was hesitant, unwilling to go all-in and make plays. Former NFL offensive lineman and current NBC Sports Washington analyst Trevor Matich saw similar struggles, but he would label the linebackers as something else.
“I would use a different word than hesitancy, [NBC Sports Washington Insider] JP [Finlay]," Matich said on Washington Kickoff Live. "I would use the word soft."
"Soft" is a label that works great for things such as pillows and blankets. When it comes to NFL defenses, however, it's one of the bigger insults a unit can be given.
The reason Matich feels as if this is the best way to describe Washington's linebackers is because, in general, he's seen them playing soft coverage. More often than not, they're just too far away to make a play when it matters.
“Too often the linebackers will stay at about a three-yard depth, wait there for the offensive lineman to come right at him, catch the offensive lineman and look right around him," Matich said. "And because the linebacker is still three yards depth, the defensive line is three yards in front, that creates seams on both sides.”
“That soft play has to be really frustrating to coach, because sometimes they’re in the right gap, they’re just not at the right level," Matich said. "And that creates the same problem.”
Matich isn't alone in his critique of the unit. Former Washington linebacker London Fletcher saw the performance against the Giants in which the team allowed 166 yards on the ground and labeled it as "disgusting" while challenging the linebackers to play at a higher level.
No single unit can do everything, but Washington needs to get more out of the middle of its defense. If the linebackers are unable to fill gaps, make tackles and play fast, both the front and back ends of the defense will be in trouble and the "soft" label will stick around.