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Armed with the NFL's most exciting young pass rusher and fresh off a top-five 2020 finish, the Washington Football Team's defense was pegged as something special this season.
Justin Herbert suggested otherwise in Week 1. Two weeks later, it's clear the unit isn't what we thought it was.
Josh Allen torches WFT D
The Buffalo Bills gashed Washington for a 43-21 win at Orchard Park on Sunday. Josh Allen had his way while completing 32 of 43 (74.4%) pass attempts for 358 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He added another touchdown on the ground. The Bills tallied 481 yards of total offense and didn't turn the ball over. They controlled the football with a decisive win in the time-of-possession battle (35:37 to 24:23).
Perhaps most damning is the sack tally. A Washington defense built around a ballyhooed defensive front failed to record a sack on Sunday.
No, this defense doesn't resemble one that can anchor a playoff run on a team with quarterback concerns. A popular pick to upend the preseason favorite Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title, Washington sits at 1-2 on the heels of three straight disappointing defensive efforts. And with zero sacks through three games, Young doesn't look like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his second season.
Washington's hefty defense spending
Washington has invested heavy draft capital in building its defensive front. It spent a first-round pick in four straight drafts selecting defensive linemen, taking Jonathan Allen (No. 17 pick) in 2017, Daron Payne (No. 13) in 2018, Montez Sweat (No. 26) in 2019 and Young (No. 2) in 2020.
In April's draft, it spent the No. 21 pick on Kentucky middle linebacker Jamin Davis. All five players are 2021 starters. Thus far this season they're not getting the job done. Not as a unit, at least.
WFT's defense can't get off the field
Week 1 didn't signal red flags. The defense couldn't be completely blamed for Washington's 20-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. But a closer look at the stats raised concerns. Washington's defense had no answer for the Chargers on third down.
L.A. dominated time of possession (36:03 to 23:57) as it converted an astounding 14 of 19 (73.6%) third-down attempts. For comparison's sake, the Green Bay Packers led the NFL in third-down conversions in 2020 with a 51% success rate.
Herbert wasn't off the charts that day but he completed 31 of 47 (66%) passes for 337 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice for a grand total of 3 yards lost. It's an anomaly that that Chargers didn't score more than 20 points.
Danny Dimes deals
If Week 1 was concerning, Week 2 sounded alarms. New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones actually looked worthy of his "Danny Dimes" moniker as a Giants offense that ranked 31st in the NFL in 2020 posted 29 points. Only a late Giants penalty on a missed Washington field goal salvaged Washington's 30-29 win.
Washington defensive backs regularly found themselves beat as Jones completed 22 of 32 passes for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
— New York Giants (@Giants) September 17, 2021
It was easily Jones' best start this season with his 102.2 passer rating eclipsing all but one of his starts in 2020. He also added 95 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Washington pressured Jones with four sacks for 21 yards lost but it was a rare bit of solace in a start to the season that's seen Washington tally just six sacks through three games. Sunday's disaster against the Bills just piled on.
The numbers don't look great
Through Sunday afternoon, Washington is allowing opponents 432 yards of offense per game, a rate good for 31st in a league of 32 teams. Only three teams allow more yards in the air. The would-be signature pass rush is regularly a step too slow.
No, this isn't what Washington fans expected in Year 2 under Ron Rivera, who made his name in the NFL as a defensive coordinator before rising to the rank of head coach. And it shouldn't stay this way. Young didn't suddenly lose his all-world athleticism. The talent that led Washington's stout 2020 unit didn't just disappear.
But Washington needs to find an answer, and quick. A 1-2 start can go off the rails in a hurry, and Taylor Heinicke can't be the source of a turnaround.