The Washington Commanders’ defense is on an absolute tear. Over the last five games, the Commanders rank third in points allowed and sixth in total yards. While the defensive line has spearheaded that turnaround, the secondary has quietly made notable strides since the benching of William Jackson III.
That’s not to say Jackson was the lone problem with the defense, but his benching and eventual trade allowed Jack Del Rio to get more creative with his personnel.
Initially, the defensive coordinator experimented with Rachad Wildgoose in the slot, and Benjamin St-Juste joining Kendall Fuller on the boundary. That experiment eventually flamed out. Since then, Washington has tried out Danny Johnson in the slot with Kam Curl, Bobby McCain, and Darrick Forrest rotating at safety.
With Curl and Forrest performing like two of the NFL’s elite safeties, Ron Rivera confirmed a permanent realignment on Friday. Moving forward, McCain will be the team’s full-time slot cornerback.
While McCain has performed well in the nickel, the change allows more playing time for Forrest, who pulled off an incredible interception of Jalen Hurts in Washington’s upset of the Eagles on Monday Night Football in Week 10.
The Commanders will start Bobby McCain in the slot, allowing Darrick Forrest to play more snaps at safety.
What a genius move by Rivera and Del Rio. Entering Week 11, Forrest is Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded safety. Only teammate Kam Curl has a higher player grade, and Forrest actually flaunts the highest coverage grade at the position with a sublime 84.8 mark.
Forrest was responsible for two of the Commanders four turnovers — their most in a game this season — against the Eagles. Forrest showed off tremendous ball skills and patience on the interception, sitting on the dig route over the middle before exploding on the deep post intended for A.J. Brown.
In the fourth quarter, Forrest gobbled up a fumble forced by St-Juste. The game marked the second time all season the 2021 fifth-round pick logged a 100% snap share — he hovered between 44% and 72% in the seven games in between — and giving him more reps appears to be the plan moving forward.
The realignment also allows McCain to go back to his roots. McCain did wonders as far as solidifying Washington’s free safety position last season after Landon Collins was moved closer to the line of scrimmage, but he came up as a nickel cornerback, and 31 of his 50 snaps against the Eagles came in the slot.
Of McCain’s 598 defensive snaps this season, 154 have come in the slot, 315 have come at safety and 123 have come in the box. Last season, McCain lined up in the nickel on just 9% of his defensive snaps (99 of 1,031) compared to 77.7% at free safety (802 of 1,031), per Pro Football Focus.
The Commanders’ defense is firing on all cylinder right now and this realignment should only result in more improvement given it gets players in their preferred positions and allows Forrest to play an expanded role at safety.
What a fantastic call by Rivera, Del Rio and the entire coaching staff.