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Washington Football Daily 9/23: Matt Ioannidis Has Been Learning 'A Whole Different Play Style.' It's Challenging, But It's Paying Off.

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It's not easy to learn a new defensive system with different techniques in the NFL, but it becomes even more difficult during a pandemic that forces the league to implement a virtual offseason program and restructure training camp.

That's the challenge that was in front of defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, who is playing in a brand new system. After playing in a 3-4 defense for his entire professional career, Ioannidis is now part of a rotation in a 4-3 front that emphasizes rushing the passer.

The style is certainly different than Ioannidis has been used to for the past four seasons, but it's a system that he has grown accustomed to throughout training camp and the first two weeks of the season.

"It's a whole different play style. It's been challenging," Ioannidis said Wednesday. "But I'm confident that it's coming along."

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has made it clear since he was hired that he wants his pass-rushers playing less coverage and creating more pressure on quarterbacks. Ioannidis is more of an interior defensive tackle, but no one was better at harassing signal-callers for Washington in 2019 than him. He led the team with 8.5 sacks and had 35 pressures (a sum of hurries, quarterback knockdowns and sacks).

The virtual offseason program was better than having no organized team activities at all, but some things, like learning techniques for the new scheme, were harder to translate over Zoom meetings. One thing that was clear to Ioannidis was how different playing style is.

"This is more of a vertical, penetrating style as opposed to what we were doing with [former defensive coordinator Greg] Manusky, and even [2016 Washington defensive coordinator] Joe Barry" he said. "It's just more of a penetrating to more of a lateral style."

Ioannidis has played fewer snaps in the past two weeks than he did during the same span last year, but he has already been more effective. He has 1.5 sacks on five pressures. He can't pinpoint a specific example of how the style is different, but he does notice the way he plays has sped up.

"Your reaction time shortens now," he said. "The reaction time is cut into milliseconds. What block am I getting? What are they running? Where is this ball gonna end up? What gap do I have to get to now? Everything just happens faster."

Playing fast is exactly how defensive line coach Sam Mills III wants his players to operate, which is why it was so important for them to be engaged in Zoom meetings over the summer. Once they learned their responsibilities, they could play at the speed Washington needed from them.

"A big component of our defense is penetrating and attacking," Mills said Aug. 3. "We're going to put pressure on offense and not just sit back and let them dictate to us what's going to go on. I think part of getting after the quarterback is going to be is just our approach to it and being more aggressive."

Washington has invested heavily in its defensive line; four of its last five first-round picks have been dedicated to bolstering the position. Collectively, they lead the NFL with 11 sacks. The group is still adjusting to the new scheme, but Ioannidis is not worried about its progression.

"I think we've got the right tools in the room."

QUICK HITS

-- Ron Rivera doesn't want to rely on one position to win: Washington's defensive line will have a tough test Sunday when it goes against the Cleveland Browns' offensive line. Per Football Outsiders, the unit ranks first in second-level rushing yardage and fifth in open-field rushing yardage. Head coach Ron Rivera thinks looking at individual matchups are "cool" and fun to talk about, but he doesn't believe in putting the outcome of a game on one specific position group.

"It's still the 11-on-11. I don't ever want to try to create that perception that it's all on this group and they're the only guys, if they don't play well we don't win. No, because you don't want your guys coming and saying, 'We're getting our butts kicked up front.' Well, what about what's happening in the back? So, is it a good matchup? Yeah, it should be a good matchup. I'm not necessarily sure if it's just about the offensive linemen. They've got two quality running backs. I can tell you right now, if we don't stop the run, their play-action game becomes very dangerous."

-- Washington wants its offense to start faster: Starting slow has been an issue for Washington's offense. They have been outscored, 37-7, in the first half of games through two weeks, and offensive coordinator Scott Turner said that has stood out to him in both games. He said there are a multitude of factors that attribute to that, and the team is looking at everything to fix it.

"We want to get the ball to [WR] Terry [McLaurin]. We have plays where he's considered the number one option and there's progressions. The pass game isn't like the run game where you choose who to give it to. You have options. The defense, they have coaches and they know that, too. We try to find ways to get him the ball. He's eighth in the league in receiving, so he's getting the ball. Then everyone talks about tempo; we look at that as well. We do tempo where that's another thing we were eighth in the league in first0half pace. So, we're running a play about every 24 seconds. The difference between eighth and second I think is about one second. We look to explore all options. Anything we can do to be successful. I think it comes down to just making plays or me putting guys into the right situation. It's never just one thing."

-- Dwayne Haskins Jr. sees a chance to build on the offense's late success against the Cardinals: After getting off to a 20-0 start against the Cardinals, the offense came alive by scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter. Dwayne Haskins Jr. believes the unit can build off that late success, particularly when it comes to understanding the tempo of the game.

"Just having an understanding of time of the game, scenario of the game and when to strike tempo and not tempo and when it's right to do certain things out there on the field when we needed to make things happen. So, understanding situational football is something that us as a young offense is continually trying to get better at and growing at, myself in particular and understanding what Rivera and Turner want in every situation and every scenario throughout the game."

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