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WFT Daily | Rivera wants Washington to hold itself accountable on making third down improvements

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Chase Young tackles Javonte Williams during the Washington Football Team's game against the Denver Broncos. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team have had about a week to look at what they can do to bounce back from a 2-6 start to the first half of the season, and they have some answers.

There are several areas that Washington can clean up, based on the evaluations that Rivera and his coaches gave of the first eight games, but the defense's performance on third downs was one of the most glaring. And for those wondering, Washington is allowing teams to convert on 56.5% of their third downs, which is 32nd in the league.

The team is on the same page. Everyone sees the same thing and believes they can do certain things to improve. That's a good first step; now Washington needs to put those things into practice.

"It's a matter of taking those things and making sure we're implementing them," Rivera said, "making sure that we're following through on all the things that we talked about."

It's tempting to say a defense that finished last year with the second-fewest average yards allowed and sixth in third down conversion rate just needs to play better to get off the field. The reality is that it's a little more complicated than that, although there are some immediate things the unit can do with its talent, which has been brought up countless times, to alleviate those problems.

Having better performances on first and second downs, Rivera said, is one of those things. Too often did Washington allow third-and-short opportunities and make life easier for opponents. Rivera said that's going to allow a lot of attempts, and the numbers back that up; when the defense is presented with third downs of four yards or fewer, opponents have converted 65% of their attempts.

In recent weeks, Rivera has seen the defense start to take advantage of third-and-medium-to-long situations and "pin our ears back." The game against the Broncos was a prime example of that. Denver faced third downs of five or more yards seven times and failed to convert on five of them.

The same could be said against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Washington got the Packers' offense off the field in six of their seven third downs with medium-to-long distances and even got a 13-yard sack from Jonathan Allen.

The Washington Football Team exits the bye week and begins preparations for its Week 10 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Washington will need to rely on its playmakers like Chase Young to continue that progress. Young also needs to put himself in a better position to make plays. Young has been diving inside a little too much, Rivera said, and offenses have exploited that. Rivera knows he wants to make plays, but his advice to the second-year player is to be patient.

"Be disciplined and let the plays come to you," Rivera said. "One thing that was really prevalent [last year] was you could see him sticking to the edge a little bit longer before he ducked inside. That's one of the things I'd love to see him get back to."

There are still nine games left, five of which are division matchups, for Washington to shore up its third down issues. The second half of the season has also historically been the time when Rivera's teams tend to play better, the most recent example being last year's playoff run. That hasn't always been the case, though, with Rivera saying the biggest reason for that was teams' inability to build on their successes. It should serve as a cautionary tale for the current iteration of Washington's roster.

"You can't win two in a row until you've won one," Rivera said. "I've been through those and I understand that, but if you can get just the right win at the right time and build on it and one becomes two and you build from that then who knows what happens."

Rivera said the right things in his first press conference. He acknowledged the problems on third down and discussed realistic ways for the defense to get back on track in that area.

But as the head coach alluded, it's one thing to talk about it. The next step is for Washington to be about it.

"We have to hold ourselves accountable to what we said, and I thought those meetings went well."

There are still nine games left, five of which are division matchups, for Washington to shore up its third down issues. The second half of the season has also historically been the time when Rivera's teams tend to play better, the most recent example being last year's playoff run. That hasn't always been the case, though, with Rivera saying the biggest reason for that was teams' inability to build on their successes. It should serve as a cautionary tale for the current iteration of Washington's roster.

"You can't win two in a row until you've won one," Rivera said. "I've been through those and I understand that, but if you can get just the right win at the right time and build on it and one becomes two and you build from that then who knows what happens."

Rivera said the right things in his first press conference. He acknowledged the problems on third down and discussed realistic ways for the defense to get back on track in that area.

But as the head coach alluded, it's one thing to talk about it. The next step is for Washington to be about it.

"We have to hold ourselves accountable to what we said, and I thought those meetings went well."

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