The Washington Commanders cannot afford to keep surrendering explosive plays on defense. While the group has held up well in recent weeks, giving up big gainers through the air and on the ground make all the other work pointless.
Whether it’s a matter of lapses in concentration at the pivotal moment or communication breakdowns, the big play has plagued Washington for two years running with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio calling the shots.
Of course, only so much blame can be attributed to coaches.
On multiple occasions this season, defensive backs have been in position to make plays on the ball. Take Amon-Ra St. Brown’s touchdown in Week 2 for example. William Jackson III was positioned to intercept the pass or at least bat it down but he slipped as the ball arrived.
Kendall Fuller’s also been victim of a slippage at the defining moment and overall poor play to start the season.
With routine mistakes becoming routine for Washington’s defense, Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post believes head coach Ron Rivera could make major changes in the secondary, including benching Jackson and Fuller. Of course, Rivera took the initiative and benched Jackson in Sunday’s loss to the Titans.
Could Kendall Fuller and Bobby McCain join William Jackson on the Commanders bench?
Rivera hinted at making sweeping changes last week, telling NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay the following:
"“It’s something we have to address if it gets to that point, and we’re getting close. To be honest, we’re getting close. Why? Because the thing I have to make sure is when we get to this point — and I went through this in Carolina — when you get to this point, you have to determine if what’s going on is a liability.”"
We speculated Rivera hinted at benching Carson Wentz or potentially taking over play-calling duties on defense for Del Rio. But Jhabvala wisely noted that Del Rio is the only defensive assistant with play-calling experience. Rivera assuming that role would distract from his head-coaching responsibilities. And Scott Turner isn’t going anywhere as the offensive shot-caller after his offseason extension.
Per Jhabvala, the Commanders have surrendered 15 plays of 25 yards or more entering Week 5; the second-most in the NFL. A whopping eight of those plays have gone for 40 yards ore more. That brought Jhabvala to Jackson and Fuller, both of whom have been victimized by penalties and general poor play.
"” . . . Against the Cowboys, William Jackson III was flagged for defensive holding, which negated an interception, and also was called twice for pass interference for a combined 65 yards. Fellow corner Kendall Fuller was penalized twice against Jacksonville, for PI and holding. According to Pro Football Focus, Fuller has allowed the second-most receiving yards (328) among cornerbacks when targeted in coverage and has a passer rating against of 137.5 this season.”"
Conversely, Benjamin St-Juste and Darrick Forrest have caught the attention of Commanders fans for their strong starts to the year.
“There’s going to be a point where you’re not going to be able to hold them back just because they’ll take a next step,” Rivera said, per Jhabvala.
Of course, Rivera will have to consider more than just on-field performance before benching his two starting cornerbacks. Money (shouldn’t but will) play a factor, as Jackson and Fuller have cap hits of $13.8 million and $11.6 million, respectively. The team’s lack of depth at the position doesn’t make the decision any easier.
Benching Jackson and Fuller full-time likely isn’t feasible. But reducing their snap count while promoting St-Juste and Forrest into a more substantial role is a potential band-aid solution, as the Commanders have typically performed better under Del Rio’s tutelage when three safeties are on the field.
Whatever happens, changes are seemingly looming in Washington’s secondary if Fuller and Jackson don’t start performing to their potential and paychecks. We saw Jackson lose snaps to St-Juste Sunday against the Titans.
Might Bobby McCain join Jackson on the bench after his woeful Week 5? The 62-yard reception he allowed to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was embarrassing (he got turned around at least twice) and took all the wind out of Washington’s sails.
Could this be a sign of things to come for the Commanders? We’ll know soon enough. Fantastic reporting from Jhabvala to get to the bottom of this.