Updated: Jan 22, 2021
In an off-season full of changes in Washington, one position group has fans dreaming of potential greatness. With a rotation that could have as many as 8 different lineman playing along the defensive line, new HC Ron Rivera and his new DC Jack Del Rio have inherited a defensive unit that is tailor made for their scheme.
The national media has been pretty consistent in saying that Washington will end up in the bottom of the league with a projected record well below .500. One of the only certainties among fans this year is that Washington’s Defensive Line Could Be Scary.
For the season opener, Washington faces a Philadelphia team that is banged up along the offensive line, which could lead to early success for Del Rio’s unit.
Rivera named Daron Payne, John Allen, Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young the starters on the defensive line. Some might be surprised that, for the first time in his career, Ryan Kerrigan will not be lining up with the starting line. However, with the Washington sack record looming, Kerrigan will still see plenty of action. Although Kerrigan has been a valuable contributor to the organization and should break the club’s sack record this season, Young is already a better prospect at such an early age and should have a bigger impact.
As a group, this defensive line will keep Washington in games when the offense is struggling as they continue to find their identity. Del Rio’s approach has always been super aggressive. Deploying pressure from all over the field and creating mismatches by moving around his play-makers are key components of JDR’s scheme.
Del Rio has coached some of the best pass rushers in the modern age of football in Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Julius Peppers. Similar to Young, Peppers was a rookie when JDR coached him in 2002. Peppers went on to have a dominant rookie season recording 12 sacks, 5 FF, 5 pass break ups and 1 int in only twelve games played, on his way to earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honor under Del Rio’s tutelage.
Del Rio has always had great players at his disposal, but this unit as a whole, could be the best and deepest units he’s ever had. The combination of Young and Sweat at end should give opposing teams fits. This is the NFL though, and offensive coordinators are always evolving to combat creative schemes and talented pass rushers. Rotating defensive lineman will pay off especially in close games when offensive lineman get gassed.
Washington’s decision to retain 7th round rookie DE James Smith-Williams came as a surprise. When asked the thought process behind retaining Smith-Williams, Del Rio responded that adding another end with his type of speed and athleticism, who could stunt and move inside, was just too good to pass up. Another mild surprise was the decision to list Ryan Anderson as a backup defensive end, while still listing him as a linebacker. His ability to shed blocks and set the edge make him a valuable asset to this defensive rotation and will likely get his share of snaps throughout the season.
Facing division opponents to start the season is always a tough task, especially in the up and down NFC East. Washington’s leg up on the competition is their defensive line depth. As previously mentioned, Kerrigan will come off the bench, but so will last year’s defensive line sack leader Matt Ioannidis (8.5 sacks in ‘19) and rising star Tim Settle. A healthy rotation and a defensive line that can utilize fresh legs is new territory for Washington, but something to watch as the season goes on.
What to look for vs Philadelphia
Last season’s match up against Philadelphia saw Washington jump out to an early lead in dominant fashion, only to see former DC Greg Manusky resort to a conservative game plan to preserve the lead. As in most cases, that resulted in losses during the Manusky era. JDR’s linebackers and defensive backs will benefit from the pressure the defensive line will apply to an ailing Eagles offensive line. With two starters out for the year, Philadelphia brought back 38 year old Jason Peters, who has also struggled to stay healthy at times. Right tackle Lane Johnson, yet another protector for quarterback Carson Wentz, is dealing with an injury and is listed as questionable to play.
This will be an opportunity for JDR to apply early pressure with his front four while constantly bringing in fresh bodies. Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz has had success over the years against Washington; keeping him contained will, no doubt, be a focal point of the defensive game plan. The athletic ability and depth along the defensive line will allow Washington to usher out various defensive fronts and player combinations. Del Rio will have this defense ready to play and Washington players have made it clear they will be the aggressors this season. Fans should look forward to exotic fronts with some pre-snap movement from JDR’s defense.
Most fans will agree that the 2020 off-season has been a struggle and we’re just happy football is back.. The Burgundy and Gold Report’s position is that this is the year the team turns the corner. The addition of Chase Young and the dedication to building depth along the defensive line have renewed fans’ hope that this defense could be one of the best in football. Washington football is finally back with Victory Monday on the horizon.
*Credit photos to Washingtonfootball.com and Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team and Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports More from the Burgundy and Gold Report…