If there was a week for Washington's defense to turn its early-season struggles around, Sunday versus the Falcons was the perfect time to do it.
Yet, despite Washington leaving Mercedes Benz Stadium with a thrilling 34-30 victory and a 2-2 record, its defense -- a unit that had preseason expectations of being among the league's best -- still has more questions than answers.
No excuses were made from Washington's defense postgame, though. As a whole, the group knows they have to simply play a lot better in order for the team to reach its goals this season.
"We don't have expectations. We have standards.," defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said postgame. "We haven't been achieving our standards, so that's what we've got to do better. ... We've been talking about this for four weeks. There's really not much left for me to say besides, 'We've just got to do better.'"
Through the first four weeks of the season, Washington's secondary has had multiple blown coverages that resulted in big plays for the opponent. Such occurred once again in the second quarter on Sunday, as Falcons wideout Cordarrelle Patterson found himself wide open for a 42-yard touchdown.
"I think we weren't consistent with some of the stuff we need to be better at in terms of coverage," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Our guys are competing, trying some things. But we dropped a couple coverages [that] we shouldn't have. We'll go back, we'll look at it and we'll really evaluate it once we get the chance to see how those things happened."
Communication was an issue that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, pass rusher Chase Young and multiple other defensive players spoke about this past week. It was something the group, as a whole, vowed to do its best to fix.
But postgame, Allen admitted that a lack of communication was, once again, an issue for the defense.
"We just have to do the little things right. We're not communicating. We just have to be better," Allen said.
While miscommunication has been a significant issue for Washington's defense in 2021, its inability to stop opponents on third down has been the group's most glaring matter.
The Falcons were able to convert 10-of-16 third downs on Sunday, a whopping 62.5% conversion rate. For the season, Washington has allowed its opponents to convert 60% of the time (37-of-62), a number that is by far the worst in the NFL.
Asked about third-down struggles on Sunday, Rivera didn't sugarcoat how much better his defense needs to be.
"We've still got to be better on third down. If there is a sore spot right now that really contributes to it, it truly is what's going on third downs," Rivera said. "We have to find an answer for that. And sometimes, it's really just one guy. Sometimes it's one guy making a play. We'll see what happens."
Despite another all-around poor defensive performance, Jack Del Rio's unit was bailed out by Washington's offense -- a group that scored on four of its five second-half possessions. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke led Washington on two touchdown drives to end the game, erasing an eight-point Falcons lead in merely minutes.
Washington's defense has not played anywhere close to its potential thus far in 2021. But, as the season nears its quarter mark, the club is .500 and just one game back of the NFC East lead behind the Dallas Cowboys. With five divisional games to end the season, Washington merely just has to keep pace for the majority of the season in order to remain alive entering December.
However, despite the win in Atlanta, Rivera knows the group must change things quickly in order for Washington to reach its full potential.
"I told the guys let's be realistic and be honest about the things that we've got to correct. You're always happy about a win. You really are. You should be. But you also have to be realistic," Rivera said. "There are some things we have to correct, some things we'll go back and we'll work on, because they need to be worked on, to be very honest. They really do. And, we have to be honest with ourselves. Because if not, we'll run into a wall very quickly."