Snider: Let's Not Crown the WFT Defense...Yet
Hold off on new nicknames or anointing Washington Football Team’s defense its best since the Super Bowl days. There’s another big test to pass.
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, a one-man wrecking crew of good defenses, is up next on Sunday. It’s one thing for Washington to sack Philadelphia’s statue of a passer Carson Wentz eight times. Now let’s see what the unit can do with someone more elusive than the truth.
Rick's Report Card: Eagles - Washington Football Team Week 1
“He gives me anxiety,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “What you want to do is you want to keep a guy like that in the pocket. You want to keep that guy contained. You don’t want to give him an opportunity to extend plays. With his athleticism and his arm, he can make plays. One of the things that we’ve looked at is his ability to scramble and create downfield. You’ve got to keep that young man contained. You’ve got to keep him hammed up. You cannot allow him to get outside the pocket.”
Washington is supposed to be the next San Francisco of sorts defensively with Chase Young following Nick Bosa upgrading the 49ers last season as a major pass rusher. But, Murray completed 26 of 40 for 230 yards with one touchdown and one interception while also rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. The early frontrunner for 2020 NFL Most Valuable Player led Arizona to a 24-20 victory nearly by himself.
“Well, I think a lot of it was quick throws and quick hitting plays,” Rivera said. “They ran the ball fairly well – I shouldn’t say fairly well – they ran the ball well enough to keep [San Francisco] off balance. A lot of throws were quick.”
Quick – that’s Washington’s defensive game plan. How quick can Chase Young and Co. get to Murray? Can they contain him on the edge? Do they keep linebacker Jon Bostic as a spy?
Can Murray counter Washington’s front seven by throwing deep? Murray was just 1 of 6 on throws of 15 yards or more versus San Francisco with an interception. They were largely thrown on the run. But, Football Outsiders rated Murray as the NFL’s best last season on throws of 21-plus yards. So, either Washington consistently harasses Murray or he could burn it on the back end.
Past years saw a rare good defensive effort by Washington often followed by a poor one. Seems players thought too much of themselves and didn’t work hard during the week. Certainly, that’s not happening nowadays under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Rivera. The pressure to remain among the NFL’s best, especially needed given a modest offense, remains high.
“We’re not even close to where we should be,” Rivera said, “or where we can be or where we’re headed.”
Read Rick: Rivera's Faith in Coordinators Shows!
Things won’t get easier for Washington in coming weeks. After Murray, Washington faces Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield and then Baltimore passer Lamar Jackson, who was the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player. Then there’s the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, New York Giants’ Daniel Jones, Dallas’ Dak Prescott, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Indeed, there’s not a breather on the entire schedule. Murray will show whether Washington can truly handle the league’s big guns because there’s a whole arsenal awaiting.
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Rick Snider is an award-winning sports writer who has covered Washington sports since 1978. He first wrote about the Washington football team in 1983 before becoming a beat writer in 1993. Snider currently writes for several national and international publications and is a Washington tour guide. Follow Rick on Twitter at @Snide_Remarks