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.
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Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likely don't pay much attention to where Pro Football Focus ranked the Washington Football Team's defense. But if they did, they would probably say it's not good enough.
Washington's defense is the 11th-best unit in the NFL, according to PFF's rankings ahead of Week 6. Despite matching up against the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals, both of which have top 10 offenses, the coverage unit has surpassed PFF's expectations by allowing the fourth-lowest expected points added (EPA).
Rivera and Del Rio are always trying to tweak and shake up Washington's personnel to become a top-tier defense, though, and based on the shifts at linebacker and free safety during Thursday's practice, they aren't done making moves yet.
"Conversations about trying to find the right combinations and the most productive combinations are constant," Del Rio said Thursday. "We're looking for the right combination, we're looking for production. So we'll roll guys if we need to, and settle when guys have earned it."
One player Del Rio has already identified as someone who deserves more playing time is Deshazor Everett, who has been rotating in with Troy Apke at free safety. After playing a combined 8% of the defensive snaps in the first four games, Everett's usage bulked up to 31% against the Rams. Everett has mostly been a special teams contributor this year, but Del Rio thought he gave the defense "a little juice" in Week 5.
"I would like to continue to get him involved," Del Rio said. "[Everett] has earned his way to get a couple more looks, so that's kind of where we are.
"At this point, [Everett] gives us something that we covet, and so he's going to play more."
But if Rivera had to name one position that needs to improve, it would be linebacker. Although the group has put up solid numbers -- Jon Bostic and Kevin Pierre-Louis are leading the team with 42 and 35 tackles, respectively -- he wants the position to be more consistent and productive.
"We've given up some plays, and in my opinion, it could be directly related to that position," Rivera said. "I would like to see that position play better for us."
According to The Washington Post's Sam Fortier, Washington has allowed 22 plays of 20 yards or more, eight plays of 40 yards or more and four plays of 50 yards or more. Those plays simply can't happen, Rivera said, so the team is rotating more players at linebacker. Cole Holcomb, who has been out since Week 1 with a knee injury, is someone Rivera and Del Rio are expecting to make his return against the Giants.
"Hopefully, we'll get Cole more involved," Del Rio said. "I think Cole's got a chance to be a good player for us."
There have been positives for Washington's defense. The team is 12th in stopping teams on third-downs, but that's not good enough for Del Rio; he wants the defense to crack the top five. In order for that to happen, it needs to get more stops, and he'll make whatever changes he can to make that happen.
"We have high expectations," Del Rio said. "We believe we can play at a higher level, and we're going to strive to do that."
The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team & Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
-- Rivera explains what "Rivera Strong" means to him: Washington has made the extra effort to support Rivera as he undergoes treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. In Washington's home game against the Ravens, he was surprised with hundreds of cutouts from coaches, former players and Washington employees. His current coaching staff has also started to wear "Rivera Strong" t-shirts, which Rivera said meant a lot to him.
"Having folks support you has really been a great thing for me, personally. It really has. I get notes every day, and it truly does mean something. It really does lift your spirits. When you see those things as an individual, I see those things and it really does help me. I can't explain why as much as I just know there's folks behind me and praying for me. I'm in their thoughts, they're wishing the best. That's really cool."
-- Saahdiq Charles getting action at guard: Fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles is in the middle of his third week of practice, and Rivera wants to find the right place for him. He said Charles has an opportunity to play this week, and he is giving the former LSU tackle some time at left guard in order to get him more snaps and see how he plays at the position.
"Saahdiq, at the point of attack, is a little bit more stout. This is a move to see what happens and how he handles it. Do I think he could play tackle? Yeah, I do. But, right now I think this is a move a little bit out of need."
-- Rivera gives a scouting report on James Bradberry: Rivera's Carolina Panthers drafted New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, so he has a good idea of what to expect from the former Samford Bulldog. In four seasons with the Panthers, Bradberry recorded 279 tackles and grabbed eight interceptions. He's already off to a solid start in his first season with the Giants, recording 17 tackles and an interception, and Rivera knows Washington's wide receivers will be facing a physical player Sunday.
"He gets his hands on guys, and he can stone them at the line of scrimmage. He can reroute them and get them off of their routes. That's one of his strengths. His other strength is he plays with good vision, he's got good anticipation and he's physical with the ball. When the ball's in the air, he's going to fight whoever's going for it. That's the kind of football player that you really do appreciate."
Check out the injury report for Washington's game against the Giants, HERE.
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