3 ways to fix the Commanders defense after woeful start to 2023 season

Jack Del Rio
Jack Del Rio / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2 of 4

Commanders must rethink Cody Barton's role

A collapse so complete cannot be blamed on any one player. But more than a quarter of the way into the season, Cody Barton does not appear to be able to do what coaches are asking of him.

He is an undersized, active linebacker. Barton should be able to cover as a traditional weak side or should be able to man one of the inside spots in a 3-4 front. But the Washington Commanders do not play either of those defenses.

With their standard two-linebacker set, they essentially ask him to cover half the field. Barton has to step into running lanes and pick up crossers. He has to drop into coverage on passing downs. So far, he has looked lost doing all of that. The proof is in the numbers.

Barton has been on the field for every defensive snap this season, yet he has zero tackles for loss. That’s almost inconceivable for a linebacker.

More than 300 NFL defenders have at least one tackle for loss through four games. The Commanders have about 10 players who have done it - which is right around the league average. But Barton simply does not make plays at or behind the line.

That may be one reason why his Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranking is the worst in the league amongst regular starting linebackers. The only two with lower ratings are Drew Sanders and Chad Muma, both of whom are backups who became starters in Week 4 due to injuries.

With Barton unable to consistently make tackles near the line, it has forced safeties Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest to cheat toward the line, thus leaving the corners vulnerable. This is not surprising. I wrote about how this was likely to happen in the preseason, and we have seen it play out so far this year.

So now the question becomes what does Jack Del Rio do about it? Does he simply continue to run Barton out there play after play assuming things will improve with time? That is not an insane strategy.

I think Barton has played slightly better over time. Perhaps he will make a bigger leap forward if given the chance.

But I don’t think the Commanders can wait too much longer. There are several other scheme and personnel options that they need to consider.