Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions acted as a microcosm of the entire season for the Washington Football Team defense.
A unit filled with promise entering the season, there were moments where they delivered on the hype, making stops. Yet, especially in the first half, it seemed like every positive move was matched with an opposing player getting behind the defense for a big gain.
Ron Rivera has seen that too, and the group's inability to deliver consistently at times has him ready to rip out his hair.
“Sometimes, sometimes I do," Rivera said to NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay when describing if he was frustrated with the defense.
The biggest disappointment for Rivera is that his unit is constantly on the cusp of reaching the next level. The solid play is there, and just when one more stop is needed, all the positive work comes crumbling down due to one lapse. Just as the rock is almost at the top of the hill, it comes rolling all the way back down.
It's those moments that are holding back Washington's defense from delivering on a consistent basis.
“Defensively, we have a couple of positive plays and then we allow something over the top. It’s those things that you have to understand that you have to sustain the success," Rivera said. "It’s gotta be first down, second down, third down, punt on defense. That’s the mistake we’re making right now.”
Rivera believes that inexperience in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's system is what could be causing the mistakes. He's a big fan of how Del Rio styles and schemes for the defense, and believes it puts the group in a position to succeed. But, he also knows that the players within the unit are going through an adjustment period.
Both new additions and veterans are learning together as the new playbook is in its first year. So while they've finished step one of implementing a system, they not must achieve the second step of getting everyone comfortable in it.
“It’s interesting cause I love Jack’s philosophy, I really do. It is an aggressive attacking style of defense. The hard part is we have to get these guys to understand that and teach them that, basically," Rivera said. "There’s a lot of habits, there’s a lot of techniques these guys learned before we got here, some of them, and we got to work that out of them. That’s the hard part, and that’s the truth.”
“Defense is truly technique-oriented as far as the style that we play and the hard part is getting these guys to grasp it," Rivera said.
As much as Rivera wants to get all the kinks out now, smoothing out all the edges of the defense could take a little time. The pieces are there, but time, reps and experience are all needed.
At times, the potential of the group and the scheme has shown itself. Against Detroit, the unit made multiple key stops in the second half that nearly helped Washington complete an incredible comeback. Now, like with everything Washington is working through, it's about keeping that aspect and eliminating the steps backward that have coincided throughout the first nine games.
"It’s interesting because when they do things the right way you see it and you see the growth and you see the potential and you see possibility," Rivera said. "But, still a work in progress.”