There were questions surrounding the Washington Football Team heading into the 2020 season, but the overall performance of its defense was not among them.
With accomplished defensive minds like head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio on the coaching staff and No. 2 overall pick Chase Young joining an already stout defensive line, many expected Washington's defense to be drastically improved from last year.
The season has barely begun, but Washington now has the statistics to prove the unit is off to one of the best starts in the NFL.
According to the advanced analytics website FootballOutsiders.com, Washington had the most efficient defense in the league during its 27-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. After giving up 17 points in the first 23 minutes, a mixture of a dominant pass rush and stingy coverage rendered the Eagles' offense ineffective for the rest of the game and helped secure the win.
"I think the attitude and the philosophy going forward is championship caliber," Rivera said July 28. "Our attitude and philosophy, we are going to be physical. We are going to be aggressive and we are not going to sit back. We want our defensive line going vertical on their way to the quarterback playing the run. Our linebackers are going to be downhill, aggressive tacklers behind the line of scrimmage and our cover guys are going to be aggressive. We are going to tell them to be physical and make plays."
Football Outsiders measures efficiency based on Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). It's a method of evaluating teams, units and players by placing a value on every play they make in a game compared to others in the league. Offenses are more efficient when they have a positive DVOA; defenses, on the other hand, are better with negative percentages.
According to Football Outsiders, Washington had a Week 1 DVOA of -69.4%. The team with the second-most efficient defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had a DVOA of -39.0%.
Washington's pass defense, led by cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland, also sits atop the league with a DVOA of -81.2%. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz finished the game with 270 passing yards, but he also threw a pair of interceptions, both of which contributed to touchdowns for Washington's offense.
"Fabian's kind of practiced that way the last few weeks," Rivera said Monday. "Really, to see him step up and make the most of an opportunity, that was great. … As far as Jimmy's concerned, he has fun. He enjoys what he does. He works at his craft. He brings energy to it. He's an infectious-type personality."
Wentz's production started to fade near the end of the first half. Following a 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert, Wentz's next five passes resulted in eight yards and two interceptions from Moreau and Moreland. Moreau, who finished the game with no receptions allowed on three targets, also led all cornerbacks Sunday with a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 87.3.
After allowing Wentz to start 12-of-15 for 176 yards and two scores, Washington's defense held him to 12-of-27 for 94 yards for the rest of the game. He finished Week 1 with a league-worst QBR of 14.2.
"We used a lot of packages yesterday," Rivera said. "[Del Rio] was very active moving guys in and out. We're all rotating guys through, so we got a chance to see who can go out there and compete. What it does say about us is that we have guys that have the ability. That's a huge plus."
While the secondary was causing problems for the Eagles in the passing game, Washington's defensive front was wreaking havoc with a dominant pass rush and suffocating rush defense. The defensive front held the Eagles to 57 rushing yards -- the third-lowest total in Week 1 -- which was good enough for a seventh-best DVOA of -38.7%.
Washington forced a league-best eight sacks Sunday -- twice as many as the next team. Football Outsiders gave Washington an adjusted sack rate of 16.2%, which was second-best in Week 1.
"Our D-line is different, and we know that," Moreau said. "It allows us to play fast. It allows us to do better. We know what it can do. … When you put pressure in the quarterback's face, you know you have time to see routes."
Young, who led all rookies with a PFF grade of 86.5, feels like Washington's defensive line has plenty of depth, which could be a problem for the remaining teams on Washington's schedule.
"I feel like the technique is there. There's the best ever to do it over there with Ryan Kerrigan on my other side. I feel like when you have depth like we do, I feel like you definitely wear people down."
Washington has preached results over potential since January, and the defense came through in a big way Sunday. It's a good start to what Rivera wants the unit to become in the future.
"That was a lot of fun to see because we have a lot of good young players on this team," Rivera said after the game. "If we do it right and play it right, who knows where we can go?"