Last season, as the Washington secondary struggled to contain seemingly every opponent, their go-to buzzword was communication. Everyone, from the corners to the safeties to Greg Manusky, brought up needing more of it whenever they were pressed on why the group was failing.
This season, the back end of Washington's defense is once again defective, and their effort against the Rams was just the latest proof of that. Jared Goff pretty much accomplished whatever he wanted in the contest and posted completions of 56, 49 and 40 yards, all of which featured players in Burgundy and Gold either trailing well behind Goff's targets or not even near them at all.
As Ron Rivera discussed what was behind the Rams constantly getting behind his defensive backs — both immediately after the loss on Sunday and during his time with the media on Monday — he, too, repeatedly turned to one word over and over again. It wasn't communication, though.
“Again, it’s about leverages and understanding how to play the leverages," Rivera said at FedEx Field following his team's fourth-consecutive defeat. "That’s what we’re working on with these young guys."
"Some guys don’t understand how to play with leverage," he said while back in Ashburn on Monday. "By that, we mean knowing where your help is. If your help is inside, then you should play your guy outside to in. If your help is outside, then you should play your guy inside to out."
Communication? That's so last year. In fact, Kendall Fuller, who intercepted Goff on what was really the quarterback's only negative sequence in Week 5, told reporters in his postgame interview that he thinks "communication has been good so far" in his part of the unit.
Like Rivera, Fuller believes the issue is coming after the snap, not before it.
"We just have to execute every play, every quarter," he said. "We go through good stretches, and then have some stretches that are not so good."
So, the guys involved at least have an idea what's leading to the breakdowns. The 2019 collection did as well, yet they never actually made strides in correcting their key flaw.
If the 2020 version is also unable to either, these next few months are going to feel longer than the highlights they're giving up. They're giving up a ton, by the way.
According to the Washington Post's Sam Fortier, Washington's defense has allowed eight plays of 40 yards or more and four plays of 50 yards or more. They lead the NFL in both categories.
While Fuller, Landon Collins, Troy Apke, Ronald Darby and the rest of the DBs aren't fully to blame for those numbers — Rivera and Jack Del Rio both have spoken to the importance of the pass rush being in unison with the coverage — they are ultimately the members of the roster who get paid to prevent such passes.
On Monday, Rivera's patience already appeared to be wearing thin when talking about the mistakes. An offseason of hype about the defense and their season-opening, dominant effort against the Eagles seem like they happened ages ago, especially when hearing and reading quotes from the coach like this.
"Sometimes it looks like we’re not where we need to be, and that’s the frustrating part because I see that’s something that the coaches are working on, something that the players are practicing, but we’ve got to take what we’re being taught, what we’re doing and transfer that from the practice field to the game field and go out and execute."
The concept of leverage will surely be at the top of the defense's list as they prepare for their next chance in New York versus the Giants. Thanks to how truly awful the NFC East is, it's not too late for them to rectify their troubles with it.
If Daniel Jones and his mediocre supporting cast light Washington up, though, whatever faith remains in the secondary will disappear.
To put it simply, they'll have lost all leverage among those who once thought they could help lead this defense to a renowned campaign.