Commanders tried to fit square pegs in round holes
This insistence on using players in roles that they are not best suited for led to disaster. High-value free agent cornerback William Jackson III had been a quality man cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, but he struggled in Jack Del Rio’s zone schemes.
He was eventually benched. This year, free agent linebacker Cody Barton - who had his best success playing in a 3-4 defensive front with the Seattle Seahawks - has been asked to play in the Washington Commanders' two-linebacker set, and he has been lost for most of the season.
Barton probably would have been benched had the Commanders ever addressed their glaring hole at linebacker. Percy Butler is not a deep safety. He does not read and react in space well. He has the potential to play in the box, but due to Darrick Forrest’s injury, he is being to play a different role.
These things happen, and I don’t mean to say the players bear no responsibility for what happens. They clearly do. But Del Rio has at times seemed dead set on shifting people to new roles and I don’t understand why.
But I do understand this much - it has almost never worked.
So, as Del Rio departs, his defense is arguably the worst in the league. All of their key numbers - points allowed, yards-per-play, penalties, turnovers - are not only toward the bottom of the league. They are all worse than they were in 2019, the year before he took over.
With Chase Young and Montez Sweat now gone, an enormous black hole at linebacker, and no reliable young cornerbacks in the fold, Del Rio leaves a defense in worse shape than it was when he arrived. That is true despite the fact Washington has spent three first-round draft picks, two second-rounders, and one third-round pick on defense in his four years.
When Ron Rivera and Del Rio arrived in 2020, the task was to ride the defense for a few years while they rebuilt the offense. That offense - despite several crucial remaining problems - is making progress. The defense has witnessed a rather shocking regression.
That’s why Del Rio is no longer coaching in Washington.