What changes should the Washington Commanders consider making to their defense after a surprisingly woeful start to the 2023 season?
After the 2005 season - the last time the team now known as the Washington Commanders won a playoff game - management made several questionable personnel moves. None proved odder than kicking their solid young veteran safety Ryan Clark out the door in favor of free agent Adam Archuleta.
Not only that - they shocked the league by handing Archuleta the biggest contract ever given to a safety. If you’re old enough, you know what happened.
Archuletta was so bad that he was benched midway through the season - reduced to playing only on special teams. The team’s record went from 10-6 to 5-11. The second Joe Gibbs era was nearing its end.
Of course, it is ludicrous to place the blame for all that on Archuleta. And it would be equally ludicrous to pin the Commanders' current defensive woes on free agent Cody Barton. But there are some similarities.
Archuleta was a good player early in his career for the Rams. They understood his strengths and weaknesses. Though he had good straight-line speed, his best attributes were physicality and toughness.
He was good playing close to the line, blitzing and blowing up running plays. Archuleta would probably have thrived as a hybrid buffalo nickel, had such a thing existed back in 2006. But when asked to cover a lot of the field, he struggled.
This offseason, the Commanders essentially brought in Barton to replace Cole Holcomb. He was cheaper and faster. Maybe it would work.
So far, it has not.
Washington’s defense, which by reputation and draft capital spent, should be the strength of the team, has not played up to its potential. They can look truly dominant during certain stretches of a game, but they have not played consistently. And it is getting worse.
Coming into Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears, the Commanders were allowing their opponents to score three points - more than their season average. That may not sound like a lot, but when your defense is supposed to be a strength, you should holding your opponents below their season average.
Then, in the total collapse against Chicago, the Commanders allowed a Bears offense that was averaging under 20 points per game to drop a 40-piece on their heads. That pushed the points-above-average-allowed to just under a touchdown per game. That’s a number that the league’s worst defenses flirt with.
Washington has also given up 34 “big plays” through their first five games - defined as runs of more than 10 yards and passes of more than 20. Over the last four weeks, this vaunted defense has given up an average of eight big plays per game. That’s abysmal. That gets players benched and coaches canned.
How can the Commanders' defense be fixed? Here are three suggestions.