Diagnosing what’s wrong with the Washington Football Team’s run defense

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Sep 13, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (91) celebrates in front of Washington Football Team defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93) after a sack against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Washington Football Team fix their run defense?

Coming into the 2020 season, it seemed pretty clear that any success the Washington Football Team would have would be dependent on a strong defense. The franchise has invested heavily in building up a potent defensive line. They revamped their secondary in the offseason. And they brought in a defensive-minded head coach in former NFL linebacker Ron Rivera. Rivera, in turn, hired another former NFL linebacker and head coach Jack Del Rio to run the defense.

In Washington’s two wins in 2020, that defense has played according to plan, recording a combined 14 sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. But both dominant performances came against offensive lines that had been wracked by injuries, missing more than half of their projected starters and relying on young, lightly-regarded replacements.

In the last two games – both losses to teams with sub-.500 records – Washington’s vaunted defense has been pedestrian at best. They have not produced sacks or turnovers, though the New York Giants and Detroit Lions had been prone to giving up both this season. But perhaps most glaringly, Washington’s defense has looked largely helpless against the run.

Neither New York nor Detroit came into the Washington game with particularly effective ground games. New York sits in the middle of the league in rushing offense and that stat is skewed by the off-script runs of quarterback Daniel Jones. The Lions are in the bottom quarter of the league in rushing. But whether it was talented-but-unproven rookie D’Andre Swift, or journeymen backs like Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris, both teams were able to run on Washington at will.

Who is to blame for this breakdown? Is it talent or scheme? Is it one weak link or a group of potentially overvalued defenders? Is it simply bad luck?

Answering those questions will be critical, not only for the remainder of 2020, but in terms of figuring out how to build in the coming off-season.

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