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WFT Daily: The Defense Is As Good As It's Been In 2 Decades

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Washington Football Team defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93) causes San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens (4) to fumble the football during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. Washington recovered for a touchdown. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

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Jack Del Rio has a history of completely turning around defenses in his first season as coordinator, and he has done it again for the Washington Football Team.

With just three weeks left in the regular season, Washington ranks ninth or better in the four major statistical categories (total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense). The last time the franchise finished in the top 10 in every area was 2008.

Table inside Article
Category Total Defense Passing Defense Rushing Defense Scoring Defense
Rank 4th (313.5 ypg) 3rd (206.3 ypg) 9th (107.2 ypg) 6th (21.2)

Digging even deeper, the average of these rankings (5.5) was the second lowest since the turn of the century. The only year in which Washington performed better was in 2004, when it ranked third in total defense, seventh in passing, second in rushing and fifth in scoring for an average of 4.25.

Washington has not finished with a top 3 passing defense since 2000.

"The thing I would say is we establish high standards everywhere I've been as a D-coordinator," Del Rio said. "I've kind of laid out a road map in terms of where we're going. Then we're just working toward going there. It takes a combination of players and coaches and working hard together. It's all of us. We're all in it together. I want to establish right away high expectations wherever we are and then fight like crazy to live up to them. We're working at it."

Even more encouraging is that in theory, Washington should be able to sustain this success. Cornerback Ronald Darby and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are the only starters who will be free agents next season, and five current starters are under contract through the 2022 season. That's not even including two of the team's biggest playmakers -- safety Landon Collins and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis -- who are still recovering from season-ending injuries.

"The sky is the limit," rookie phenom Chase Young said about the long-term potential of the defensive line. "I feel like if we continue to come to work every day and pay attention to detail and just continue to play hard, I feel like the sky is the limit."

As for this season, the unit's biggest test will come Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The Russell Wilson-led attack is the sixth-best in the league, which is much better than Washington has faced during its four-game winning streak. Containing the Seahawks will go a long way towards cementing this group as one of the franchise's best in recent memory.

"This week is a great challenge because this is a really good football team with a great offense. We've got our challenges set out in front of us, and we're looking forward to competing."

QUICK HITS

-- Yin and yang: When Young first arrived in Washington as the No. 2 overall pick, second-year edge rusher Montez Sweat was the first player he leaned on. Several months later, they are one of the best young pass-rushing tandems in the NFL, combining for 12.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and two touchdowns.

"He's playing crazy good," Young said of Sweat. "Out there, it's like yin and yang. If I don't make the play, then Tez is making the play. If Tez ain't making the play, shoot -- on our D-line, everybody making plays -- but in terms of [defensive] end. He's just been a real big help to me."

-- Containing Jamal Adams: Jamal Adams, who is in just his fourth season, is already one of the best pass-rushing defensive backs in NFL history. That is not even an exaggeration considering he just broke the single-season sack record for the position with 8.5 sacks -- in nine games.

Reading safeties is one of the primary responsibilities of center Chase Roullier, so he'll be keeping a close eye on Adams throughout the game.

"We're always going to know where he is on every play," Roullier said. "Literally one of our jobs this week is to make sure we understand where he is because he is a very good player, and we've been putting together a great game plan in order to combat some of the things he does very well."

-- Team success > individual statistics: One of the biggest headlines to come out of Washington's win over the San Francisco 49ers was wide Terry McLaurin becoming the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since 2016. Even more impressive was that he did so in 13 games, something a Washington pass-catcher has not done since 2012.

But when asked about the accomplishment Thursday, McLaurin remained even-keeled. He would rather talk about the team's recent success.

"It felt good," McLaurin said. "It felt better to win, so I didn't really make a big deal of it. A lot of people were like, 'That's a big deal, that's a big deal,' but I'm just kind of focusing more so on just continuing to try to help us get into the playoffs and take it a day at a time and a game at a time. It's the first time I've ever had that in my football career -- 1,000 yards -- so that part's cool, but it's even better that we're on a win streak right now."

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