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WFT Daily: Assessing The Defense Through 4 Games

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The Washington Football Team's defense celebrates after a play during a game against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 4, 2020. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

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.

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After months of buzz surrounding the Washington Football Team's defense, Jack Del Rio wanted to see his players produce. And through the first four weeks, at least statistically, the unit has done just that.

Entering Sunday's matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington ranks fourth in passing defense (208.5 yards per game) and seventh in total defense (338.3 yards per game).

"We're pretty much getting on the same page, understanding how we all fit together, playing with great energy, having the focus, understanding and teaching how different offenses are trying to approach the game and what we need to do to limit the effectiveness of their approach," Del Rio said. "I think the preparation has been pretty strong each week. I think as we look at it, we see some opportunities to do some things a little bit better. We'll continue to grow and work and continue to develop our guys."

Washington must improve against the run, which ranks 23rd in the league at 129.8 yards allowed per game. After an impressive season-opening performance against the Eagles, the group allowed at least 144 yards on the ground to the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.

These struggles opened up the passing game, allowing teams to connect on big plays through the air. Over the first four weeks, Washington has allowed seven plays of at least 30 yards.

Opponents have also been able to capitalize off turnovers, so much so that about one-third of Washington's points allowed this season has come off giveaways. That's largely why Washington has a top 10 total defense but ranks 22nd in points allowed, giving up an average of four touchdowns per game.

Washington faces another challenge Sunday, as the Rams' offense has the second-most efficient Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), according to Football Outsiders, and the eighth-most efficient passing offense. The schedule lightens up after that, though, as four of the next five opponents rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of yards per game.

"We're doing some good things and we're capable of doing even better," Del Rio said. "I like the way we've started the year. I think we've allowed ourselves to be competitive. We would like to make a stronger contribution to helping the team win games. We're going to continue to push to be one of the top defenses in the league. I think it's a solid start, and we're looking forward to the rest of the year and the challenges that are in front of us."

QUICK HITS

-- Rivera highlights Allen's skillset: Having coached Kyle Allen for most of his first three NFL seasons, head coach Ron Rivera understands what makes him a capable starting quarterback. Rivera brought up several of those attributes -- intelligence, preparedness, toughness, athleticism, consistency -- during Thursday's press conference.

With Allen being an undrafted free agent in 2018, Rivera said that he is a "little bit of an underdog." Still, Allen won six games with Rivera the past two seasons, and Rivera has put Allen in position to win some more with Washington.

"He's a game manager. He has the ability for the big strike. He's got good vision. The thing that he does is if he takes what's given to him and manages the game, he can be very, very efficient."

-- Players commend Smith's resiliency: Alex Smith, who was named the backup quarterback Wednesday, is one injury or poor performance away from playing in his first game since suffering a life-threatening leg injury in November of 2018.

Smith has both the support of his head coach, who has been impressed with him and said watching him the past couple of weeks "has been outstanding," as well as his teammates. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen is confident in Smith's ability and believes he is "more than healthy enough to take a hit." Running back J.D. McKissic expressed similar optimism and is excited for Smith to take the next step towards his ultimate goal of playing again.

"There are some crazy injuries in football, but I've never seen or heard anything like what happened to him. And for him to go through that -- those offseasons, I know, were very tough, just to walk around. To see him be able to scramble out of the pocket, fall and hop back up and do those things, I've got nothing but respect for a guy like that."

-- Where Gibson can grow as a runner: Antonio Gibson is coming off by far his best game as a pro with 128 total yards on 17 touches against the Ravens. But as a runner, Rivera said Gibson has plenty of room to grow. Rivera believes running backs coach Randy Jordan is a "perfect fit for coaching a young guy."

"[Gibson's] a heck of an athlete," Rivera said. "He's a heck of a football player with the ball in his hands, which we've seen. It's just a matter of learning and understanding when he's got the ball behind the line of scrimmage, how to press a hole, how to hit a hole in a certain direction, how to plant off that and how to anticipate certain things opening up. Those are the things that Randy's trying to teach him and trying to get him to have a feel for."

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