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.
Jack Del Rio is used to spearheading major turnarounds in his first year as a defensive coordinator. In 2002, he inherited the Carolina Panthers' league-worst total defense and made it the second-best unit. A decade later, the Denver Broncos went from 20th to second under his watch.
Del Rio has produced similar results so far with the Washington Football team, which ranked 27th in total defense a year ago. Through seven weeks, Washington is fourth in that category and has the top-ranked passing defense, giving up just 185.9 yards per game through the air.
"The guys are giving great effort," Del Rio said before the Cowboys game. "I think we have a great understanding of the things we're trying to accomplish. I think the principles and the techniques and the things we're looking to do are getting better and better. Our guys are working really hard, and they have great spirit. We should continue to improve as we go throughout the season."
Washington (2-5) skyrocketed up the rankings after a pair of smothering defensive performances. It allowed just 108 net passing yards against the New York Giants, and nearly a quarter of those came on Daniel Jones' 23-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. That is the only score Washington's defense has allowed over the past two games.
Del Rio's unit was even better Sunday, holding the struggling Dallas Cowboys' offense to 113 gross passing yards. Add in six sacks for a combined loss of 55 yards, and the Cowboys finished with 59 net passing yards -- their fewest single-game total since 1976.
Linebacker Cole Holcomb, coming off perhaps his best game as a pro, attributed the group's recent dominance to being more accountable and consistent. Not only do players know their assignments, but there have been less of the breakdowns that plagued Washington through the first five weeks. A big reason for that, Del Rio explained, has been the team's improved play in practice.
"Our preparation has been outstanding the last three weeks or so," Del Rio said. "They feel it. The players feel it. We're building confidence because of the way we're working at it. To me, when a group of men come in every day with great energy and a great focus and desire to improve and go out and put in the work, I think they should expect to improve. We are improving. As a football team that's something that we are doing. We're practicing well. Now, it's beginning to carry over into the game and we're playing better."
-- Rivera completes final cancer treatment: Head coach Ron Rivera typically addresses the media Monday mornings to talk about the previous game, but this week Del Rio and offensive coordinator Scott Turner spoke about the team's win over the Cowboys.
That's because Rivera was at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute to receive his final cancer treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, which is a form of skin cancer. Since announcing his diagnosis in August, he has missed two practices but coached in every game.
"[The doctors] both are very positive about the progress I've made," Rivera said Friday. "So, [it's] so far, so good. I've got follow ups, check ups and scans still left to do. What I've been told is it's headed in the right direction."
Players, coaches and reporters flooded social media to show support for Rivera and his family. Later that morning, Del Rio and Turner were asked about Rivera continuing to coach while battling cancer.
"His strength is unmatched," Turner said. "I'm happy for him that that stuff is over. I know these next couple days are going to be tough, just recovering from that. We're here for him and really happy for him that he's pushed through that."
"We all admire his toughness," Del Rio added. "He's obviously in a big battle, a personal battle. We all feel for him. We pray for him a lot. ...His toughness and his determination, it really stands out."
-- Del Rio explains Kerrigan's uber-efficiency: Ryan Kerrigan is the franchise's all-time sack leader, but he has never been as efficient taking down the quarterback as he has this season. Kerrigan is only averaging 22.7 defensive snaps per game, yet he ranks second on the team with four sacks. That equates to one sack every 39.8 snaps, which is among the best ratios in the NFL through seven weeks.
Even in a reserve role, Kerrigan is on pace to record more than nine sacks, which would be just under his career 10-sack average.
"He's fresher when he's able to go in in small doses and do what he does well," Del Rio said. "He's our sack leader, our all-time sack leader here in this organization and he knows how to rush the quarterback. He does a great job taking advantage of his opportunities. We love making sure he gets his opportunities. It's not about how many snaps you take. It's what you do with the snaps that you take."
-- Turner praises Gibson's second effort: Fans will remember Antonio Gibson's 40-yard jet sweep and his 12-yard touchdown burst, but Turner liked how the third-round rookie fought for yards, even when the play was not blocked well. Gibson was able to turn one-yard runs into four- or five-yard pickups, Turner said, which put Washington in better positions throughout the game.
"That just makes it so much easier for us as an offense being in a 2nd-and-5 situation, or let's say we were in 2nd-and-10 and we get into a 3rd-and-5 situation. Those are the runs that don't necessarily show up on the highlights, but those are the ones that enable you to get a first down and then get more of the big plays."
Check out photos of the Washington Football Team during its Week 7 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. (Photos courtesy of Alexander Jonesi/NFL, Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team and Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
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