After coming off a surprising division championship in his first year in Washington, Ron Rivera's squad has begun 2021 with a disappointing 2-3 record, now leaving the head coach with the unenviable task of trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube on fan expectations.
Giving up 407.8 yards per game, Washington has the NFL's 27th-ranked defense, coming in 27th against the pass and 18th against the run.
On Sunday, Washington allowed 369 yards offense from the Saints in a 33-22 defeat.
"We're trying to get past these things. We're trying to focus in on what's truly the development of this football team for the long run, not an overnight fix," Washington's head coach said during The Ron Rivera Show, which airs Tuesday mornings on 106.7 The Fan and is presented by F.H. Furr.
"I mean, you almost want to say, 'Man, I wish 7-9 last year wouldn't have been good enough to win the division. That way the expectations would have been much lower and been a little bit easier,'" he said. "This is hard. This is the way it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be hard. It's because it's the only way you learn."
During the interview, Rivera repeatedly preached the importance of teaching his young defensive corps — led by defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat — how to develop and grow the right way, an effort he insists will require patience.
"We have a long ways to go to be consistent," Rivera said. "Again, everybody sees unfortunately the two bad plays. I get it. They were two bad plays. They were two bad plays that really, truly impacted this game. But don't take away from what the guys have done. Don't take away from the improvement that's being made."
"This is about growing and developing," he continued. "And if every time, all we want to do is remember the negative, we're not gonna go anywhere. We're gonna keep getting pulled backwards, guys. We're trying to develop, we're trying to get better, we're trying to become a football team that can win on a consistent basis.
"And this is about teaching a bunch of young guys, teaching a second-year and third-year defensive end how it's done. Trying to make sure that the rookies that we're trying to develop get more opportunities. Give them a chance to grow and develop, guys. Again, if stuff like this happened overnight, then Rome would have been built overnight. But we are going through this. We're developing and growing, guys. Again, understand we see what's happening. "
With the second best defense in the league last season, Washington's regression to the bottom of the barrel has yielded wild disappointment of fans who expected to see them take a leap forward in 2021, not backwards. Rivera was asked if he'd considered expectations for his defense might not match reality coming into this year.
"Well, I do know that we've got some maturing to do," he said. "I do know that we've got some development and growth still to be made. That much I know. That much I said. So again, guys, this is about growing and developing."
"We don't start where we finished each year," he said. "You have to start somewhere, and I believe you always start from the basics and work your way back up to the top. If you always think you can start at the top and just pick up where you left off, you're gonna forget the things that are important, and that's the base fundamentals of what you do.
"That's what I talk about when I talk about maturity, growth and development, is making sure that our basis, our base fundamentals are solid and sound. And that's what we're working on, guys. We're trying to develop that and make sure it's as good as it can be, so it can withstand and sustain over a period of time."
Listen to Ron Rivera starting at the 19-minute mark below.