SNIDER: Why is Commanders defense faltering?


The Washington Commanders looked like a 2-2 team when the schedule was released in May. Probably win the first two versus Arizona and Denver, then fall to Buffalo and Philadelphia. It wasn’t exactly played as scripted, but it’s still the 2-2 team everyone expected.

What happens now? October is when coach Ron Rivera’s teams excel. Usually, the Commanders are digging out of a deep hole when fall arrives. This time, the Commanders are good enough to still be a contender.

But, that means avoiding a trap game on Thursday when the Chicago Bears visit FedEx Field. The 0-4 Bears saw quarterback Justin Fields throw four touchdowns in a 31-28 loss to Denver on Sunday. They have a pulse and burning desire to get into the win column.

That better scare Washington.

The Commanders have enough offensive moxie to mess with anyone. Toss the Buffalo loss as a bad day - quarterback Sam Howell learned enough to go from four picks versus the Bills to a scrappy 290 yards against Philadelphia, with his sole touchdown coming with time expiring. It will grow him into a baller.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s play calling was solid after a spotty Bills game. The running game provided enough balance, the offensive line largely gave Howell enough time, and receivers and tight ends made plays. It was a game effort.

But, what is happening with this defense? The line was manhandled by the Eagles offensive line from the very start. The first-round cornerback was schooled by a Pro Bowl receiver. The back seven were never on the ball in allowing 319 yards passing.

Ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat seldom made an impact. Even more bizarre was Young twice dropping into coverage. What was that? Young’s sole talent is running down quarterbacks, not filling space. The Eagles devoured yards on those plays.

After a solid opening victory over Arizona, Washington's defense allowed 33 points to Denver, 30 to Buffalo and 34 to Philadelphia. It’s remindful of 2021 when, after winning its opener, Washington allowed at least 30 points in four straight losses.

This just can’t continue. Not with the schedule rarely providing a breather. After Chicago, Washington faces Atlanta and the New York Giants, then a Philadelphia rematch, New England, Seattle, and the Giants again before the Thanksgiving game at Dallas, with Miami afterwards.

Either the defense rises to expectations seldom matched from four first-round picks or Washington slumps to another sub-.500 mark that will be tough to escape. The Eagles loss showed some moral victories, but they were all by the offense. The defense once again withered when most needed.

Chicago is not a must-win by Washington, but it’s awfully close. With the offense showing it can throw counterpunches in a slugfest, the defense needs to prove it can deliver the final blow. Until so, Washington is vulnerable.

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