- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has, what he calls, a “Barry Sanders rule.”

It’s reserved for players like the Hall of Fame running back who can destroy defenses on game day. Del Rio’s directive for his unit is simple: Don’t relax until you’re on the bus.

The Barry Sanders rule was in effect for when Washington faced Kyler Murray, but the defense didn’t follow it as closely as Del Rio wanted. The Arizona Cardinals’ dual-threat quarterback ran free, carving up Washington en route to a 30-15 victory.

Now, two weeks later, the rule will apply again when Washington hosts Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Jackson, coincidentally, is coming off one of his worst games as a pro: He was held to just 98 passing yards and 83 rushing yards in Monday’s 34-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. But that poor performance is seen as an exception. After all, Jackson is still the reigning MVP — and his throwing arm and legs remain as threatening as ever.

Del Rio dismissed Jackson’s ineffectiveness against the Chiefs. When it comes to a player like that, he said, the coordinator doesn’t see any weaknesses in his game.

“This guy is tremendously talented,” said Del Rio, who ran practice Wednesday while coach Ron Rivera was getting treatment for his cancer. “To me, I see strength. The guy is an incredible athlete. He’s got a great arm.”

After facing Murray, Washington’s coaching staff determined that the defense was too tentative. Because defenders were aware of Murray’s ability to rush out of the pocket, Del Rio said his players weren’t as aggressive in trying to collapse the pocket and bring the 23-year-old down.

Del Rio knows the defense has to be better against Jackson. But when he looks at the tape from Arizona, he said he sees examples of them playing the right way. He called the game a great experience to learn from. “You don’t have to throw out everything we do or believe in because we didn’t have a couple good moments,” he said.

If Washington is going to improve, it will have to do so without a couple of key players. Defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis went on injured reserve Tuesday with a season-ending arm injury. And on Wednesday, the NFL Network reported that Chase Young is expected to miss Sunday’s game with a moderate groin strain. Young, who suffered the injury in Washington’s most recent loss to the Browns, is considered week-to-week.

Del Rio refused to confirm Young is out this week, but the rookie pass rusher did not practice Wednesday.

As for Jackson, defensive end James Smith-Williams said the key will be to contain the quarterback in the pocket. Smith-Williams may be a seventh-round rookie, but the North Carolina State product faced Jackson multiple times in college.

“The goal is just to limit him as much as you can,” said Smith-Williams, who will likely see an expanded role with Young out.

Through three games, Washington’s defense has been much improved compared to last year. Football Outsiders ranks them fourth in defensive DVOA, a metric that measures efficiency. In pure numbers, Washington ranks better in yards against per game (334.3, sixth in the NFL), passing yards allowed (125.6, fifth) and third-down percentage (37.8%, eighth). Last year’s unit ranked 27th, 18th and 32nd in those categories.

Perhaps, the most concerning part of Washington’s defense this year has been points allowed (27 per game, 18th). Even then, Washington has been put in poor positions thanks to the offense. Last Sunday, the Browns scored 24 points off turnovers.

The Ravens, though, have an explosive offense that can easily change Washington’s defensive rankings in a hurry. They have dynamic playmakers that add to Jackson’s threat. Marquise Brown, with his blazing speed, is an ideal deep threat for Jackson’s arm. Baltimore also has one of the best rushing attacks in football with veteran Mark Ingram and second-rounder J.K. Dobbins.

Washington is a 13.5-point underdog for good reason.

“We’ll have a plan,” Del Rio said. “Hopefully we execute it a little bit better.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide