As much of a fiasco as the Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne skirmish was on Sunday night, it’s not as unsettling as a bigger takeaway that crystallized in Washington’s mortifying loss to the Cowboys.
Here’s the takeaway: The franchise’s defensive line, which was supposed to be the club’s best strength and one of the league’s most dominant groups, is just not worth building as it is. ‘it is currently being built.
The half-punch Allen threw at Payne was just one of many mistakes the team forward members made in Week 16. It could also be interpreted as the least expensive. of all the errors, since it took place on the (custom-made, temperature-controlled) inspection benches and not in actual shooting.
For another game, Allen, Payne and the others weren’t in sync with their rushes. It’s a trend Ron Rivera often criticized as Washington began year 2-6 and now reappears as the organization stumbles to another record under 500 in the form of free yards for opponents:
However, at least the line had all of their players ready to play in the streak above before the Cowboys smacked the ball. This was not the case in back-to-back second quarter games, where James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill were still running to their places as Dak Prescott initiated the offense:
Also, don’t forget the penalties. Payne and Toohill both bounced offside in the first half, but those flags were picked up after the Cowboys finished throws deep in the seam. The early jumps didn’t even help Washington put pressure on Prescott either way.
By the way, is now a good time to bring up that during the exit before the disaster in Dallas, that defensive line was bullied to the tune of 238 rushing yards in Philadelphia?
Because it must be remembered that, during the exit before the disaster of Dallas, this defensive line was brimmed up to 238 yards on the ground in Philadelphia.
So, within a matter of days, Washington’s collection of cutting edge threats and racing executioners were mutilated by the Eagles and worked on by the Cowboys while showing a disturbing lack of organization and discipline. And aside from a four-game winning streak that increasingly feels like a mirage, that theme has been present for the entire 2021 campaign.
This is of great concern for several reasons, the first being that Washington has invested so much in this unit lately and is simply not getting satisfactory returns on this strategy.
Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young (who hasn’t been part of the recent wave of trouble but has been very calm in his healthy eight starts) are first-round picks, while Matt Ioannidis is a well paid veteran.
Of course, to be completely fair to Rivera, no, he wasn’t the one who drafted Allen, Payne or Sweat to open those respective draft. The only main contributor to the squad the coach is tasked with acquiring is Young, which means Rivera was not the main architect of Washington’s defensive approach in the first place; instead, he just continued it.
Still, Rivera, along with his hand-picked reception and coaching staff, have failed to maximize what should, in theory, be a talented threat room.
It is certainly possible – and perhaps probable? – that the previous regime overestimated what these premium pieces could do together, but Rivera’s regiment had essentially two full seasons to turn the D line into a more efficient operation. They failed to do so.
Equally concerning is that this core will remain in Washington for a few more years, unless Rivera decides to do something drastic in the commercial market.
Over the summer Allen signed a contract extension that will take effect from 2022 (punches aside, it was the right call to secure him as he goes up after getting paid). Payne, meanwhile, got his fifth-year option and is also slated to be available in 2022, as has Ioannidis. Sweat and Young have also been linked with the team for several seasons beyond this one.
Now, does it sound absolutely crazy to complain that a defense has five productive linemen locked up for varying lengths of time when looking to the future? Hell yeah, it does.
Truth be told, that sounds like a seriously ridiculous position to take. A story with an angle like this shouldn’t even exist!
That said, this mix of players has had the opportunity to blend into all sorts of combinations and lineups and that just isn’t happening. The individual accolades – Young won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, Allen was named to the Pro Bowl last week – do not represent widespread success for the defense as a whole.
Overall failures of the over-publicized defensive line fall on everyone, but doing something drastic enough to mend the front falls only on Rivera. This will most likely come via an exchange once the Super Bowl comes and goes, and no one should be off limits in Rivera’s eyes.
Rivera has tried to center his Washington recovery on the basis of defensive ends and tackles, but 2021 should serve as proof that there is a need to stop this project once and for all. How’s that for a punch?