Commanders defensive regression
The first major change Jack Del Rio instituted upon arriving was switching from the base 3-4 defense that the Washington Commanders had been using to a traditional 4-3. This made all the sense in the world because, for the most part, it put his defenders in their best positions.
Under previous coordinator Greg Manusky, Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat were playing outside linebacker. Daron Payne played nose tackle, with Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis occupying the 3-4 defensive end roles.
Other than Ioannidis, who was versatile enough to play anywhere along the line, this had every player essentially out of position. It’s not that Payne couldn’t play the nose or Sweat couldn’t play outside, but they weren’t best suited for those roles.
Del Rio moved Sweat and Kerrigan back to 4-3 defensive ends and shifted Allen inside to join Payne at defensive tackle. Kerrigan, who was toward the end of his career, went to the bench in favor of rookie Chase Young, who was an ideal candidate to play opposite his fellow first-round pick.
The team signed a classic weakside linebacker in Kevin Pierre-Louis and already had an ideal strong-side presence in Cole Holcomb. They did not have a good candidate to play the middle in a 4-3, so they settled on veteran Jon Bostic, who had played his natural 3-4 inside role in 2019.
Thus, by asking Bostic to play out of position, Del Rio was able to put the other six members of the front seven in their best positions. The results were immediate.
In 2019, Washington’s defense gave up 5.7 yards per play. In 2020, that number dropped to 4.9. Most importantly, they gave up over 100 fewer points in 2020. Late in the season, with virtually no quarterback to rely on, they rode that defense into the playoffs.
But that success would be short-lived. Though there were other factors involved, it’s hard not to see that Del Rio’s arrogance may have been a key factor in the subsequent decline.
I’m not overly concerned with his creativity - or lack thereof - or his individual play-calling. Nor do I care very much about his tone-deaf public comments on public issues. I have rarely known that to have much impact on how players perform on the field.