There are many teams that have tried — and failed — to stop Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles Rams’ All-Pro has been a two-time defensive player of the year for good reason, and appears to be headed for a third.
But acknowledging Donald’s dominance doesn’t completely absolve the Washington offensive line of its ineptitude in Sunday’s 30-10 loss. The team gave up eight sacks — the most since 2011. Donald himself had four, tied for his single-game career-high.
Over Washington’s first five games, coach Ron Rivera said he’s found himself most frustrated with the team’s inconsistency. Nowhere is that unpredictably more acute than on the offensive line, which ranks as one of the league’s best run-blocking units and one of the worst at protecting quarterbacks.
According to ESPN, Washington is the eighth-best run-blocking offense in the league with a 72% win rate — meaning 72% of the time a lineman holds his block for 2.5 seconds or longer. By contrast, Washington is a bottom-five pass-blocking team as it has just a 47% win rate — ranking 29th.
“We’ve got guys that are physical football players,” Rivera said. “They’ve got to play physical, but they’ve got to play consistently physical.”
Rivera specifically pointed to the guard position as a group that “didn’t play as well as we would have liked” against the Rams. Washington, however, stands to gain a major boost at guard if Brandon Scherff makes his return Sunday against the New York Giants. Scherff, who is recovering from a knee injury, practiced for the first time since going on injured reserve three weeks ago, and Rivera said there’s a possibility the three-time Pro Bowler could make his return.
The bigger question is if Washington will keep the status quo at left guard with Wes Martin upon Scherff’s return. Veteran Wes Schweitzer has done an adequate job in filling in for Scherff, and Schweitzer has experience playing on the left. The coaching staff could swap Schweitzer for Martin once Scherff is healthy, potentially boosting the group. According to Pro Football Focus, Martin has allowed four sacks this season — the most out of any guard in the league.
In the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to reporters, Washington seemed to be experimenting with its combinations on the left side. For a few reps, Washington used Cornelius Lucas at tackle and rookie Saahdiq Charles at guard in place of Geron Christian and Martin.
Charles’ audition at guard is especially intriguing given the fourth-rounder has yet to play this season — and has been seen as Washington’s possible left tackle of the future. Charles protected Joe Burrow’s blindside at LSU and Washington drafted him in hopes he could replace Trent Williams, who was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in April.
Charles’ development has been slow as he missed most of training camp with a calf injury. That put the fourth-rounder behind and through five weeks, Charles has yet to be active on game days.
That could soon change.
“There’s an opportunity for him this week,” Rivera said, “and we’ll see what happens.”
In terms of growth, Washington’s offensive line has significantly cut back on its number of penalties this season. So far, the unit has been called for only four penalties in 2020 — tied for fifth-fewest. Last year, Washington’s line was called for 32 penalties — tied for sixth-most, according to NFL Penalty Tracker.
Washington’s line still isn’t doing a good-enough job of protecting the quarterback. Sacks aren’t solely an offensive line’s fault, but Washington has surrendered the second-most in the league with 21. According to Pro Football Reference, Washington’s quarterbacks have been pressured on 25.1% of their drop backs, tenth-most.
“We’re going to take our lumps,” Rivera said, “but there’s going to be a time where we’re going to have to stop taking lumps and give them out ourselves.”