SNIDER: Commanders defense scuttles playoff hopes


The Washington Commanders finally built a potent offense. Too bad the defense formed over coach Ron Rivera’s four seasons has fallen apart.

While quarterback Sam Howell became the third Washington passer with three straight 300-yard games, the defense surrendered another late opposing comeback in the 29-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Seattle gained 489 yards, including 48 yards on five snaps in the final minute for the game-winning field goal.

Washington’s defense was long gone before Seattle, after trading ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young on Oct. 31. But, the Commanders have managed just one sack and six quarterback hits in two games since, while the interior line has been regularly gashed for big plays.

Overall, Washington has allowed the NFL’s second most points. It’s 28th versus the pass and 25th against the run. It’s 26th in interceptions despite drafting a “ballhawk” cornerback in the first round, 20th in sacks and 27th on fourth downs.

Forget collapse – this is a black hole of defense.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s solution is just playing zone, keep falling back and watch opponents attack without fear. A five-lineman package (Cinco) allowed six yards on a fourth-and-one up the middle.

Granted, officials called two awful penalties on Washington. Emmanuel Forbes should not have been ejected early on a helmet-to-helmet hit. We see these all the time, especially against Washington tight end Logan Thomas. The fourth-down interference penalty against Benjamin St-Juste was garbage that allowed Seattle to soon lead 26-19.

But the Commanders defense has played cluelessly for most of the season. It was supposed to be the strength. The season was supposed to hinge on whether Howell could produce with one game of experience.

Well, Howell is balling like few past Washington passers. He is the team’s biggest hope for a turnaround in coming years. Howell has thrown six touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season and has 2,783 yards, 17 touchdowns and a 91.5 rating overall. There’s not much more he can do, especially given 47 sacks.

No, the blame on this season lies with coach Ron Rivera and Del Rio. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy hasn’t been perfect in his first season calling plays, but at least he has adapted throughout the season and finally figured Howell’s strengths.

The sad part is Washington will need to spend a high draft pick on a defensive end next spring after losing Sweat and Young. It just can’t be a first-rounder because that goes for an offensive tackle or the Burgundy Revolution in the stands will return. New owner Josh Harris wants no part of a revolt by fans used to hating predecessor Dan Snyder for years.

But Washington needs to completely rebuild the defense. If your name isn’t Jon Allen, Daron Payne or Kam Curl, please see HR on your way out. Of course, they’ll keep first-rounders Jamin Davis and Emmanuel Forbes, but anyone else is just a guy.

Rivera and Del Rio are just waiting for pink slips and paid retirement. Players are renting, not buying. Holidays will soon distract the fans.

And come January, remaking the defense starts anew.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images