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  • Erica Blackburn

Washington's defense has a bit of a concern after losing their first game of the season

Washington knows they need their vaunted defensive line to take over in order to win games.

This summer, defensive end Montez Sweat announced he and Chase Young’s goal for the year was to break the NFL single-season sack record by teammates. But in the 2021 season debut against the Los Angeles Chargers, the defense left a lot to be desired.

This was a Chargers team who completely rebuilt their offensive line. They also lost veteran starter Bryan Bulaga during the game with an injury. It seemed like a perfect match-up for the defensive line to feast.

It was an ugly start to the game for Washington as Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert moved the ball down the field with ease to give the Chargers an early 7-0 lead. Jonathan Allen had a sack for Washington. But, the duo of Young and Sweat combined for one sack and one hit on the quarterback. Sweat did get pressure on Herbert, forcing a fumble where the ball went into the back of the end zone for a touchback for Washington. But for the most part, Washington’s pass rush was nonexistent for much of the game on Sunday.

“When you got a guy rushing from one area and somebody should be inside, he makes a move outside, you got a couple of guys rushing from the same areas,” said head coach Ron Rivera. “A couple of times he got the ball out quickly. They chipped their way out a couple times. They max protected a couple of times, which does slow us down. That’s unfortunate because again, it's one of those things that we've gotta be better to give ourselves an opportunity.”

Rivera explained the reason for the inconsistent play was because Washington couldn’t get a beat on how Los Angeles would attack them.

“They didn't play pretty much any of their starters, so trying to get an understanding of where we were going to find their guys, that was difficult,” said Rivera. “What type of protections they were going to use, that was difficult. . . you gotta give them credit. This is a good football team that came in with a good plan that they weren't going to show anything specific during the preseason.”

Not only was there minimal pass rush, there were missed assignments too.

We saw guys that weren't in the gaps that they should be in,” said Rivera. “We saw guys jumping gaps. Again, it's one of these things that when you play this style of defense, there's an accountability to it. Okay. Everybody's responsible for a specific gap. You have to be in your gap. You've got to trust that the guy next to you is going to be where he's supposed to be. You’ve got to do these things in order for this team defense to be successful.”

“The hard part is to give up as many yards as we did, but yet to only give up the points that we did,” said Rivera. “We had a chance to win. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the game, we had a chance to win.”

If Washington is who they believe themselves to be, the defensive line has to dominate. It’s especially important now that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is out and Taylor Heinicke is in. A dominant defense and strong running game is key in order to keep Washington afloat in a challenging NFC East.

Washington has a short week to get ready for the New York Giants as the division rivals meet on Thursday night at FedEx Field.

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