Ron Rivera did something Monday he hasn’t done since he was hired as coach of the Washington Football Team. He gave his players the day off after a game.
Players still came into the team facility to get a workout in and get treatment for injuries, but Rivera said no one had to watch the film from Sunday, as is typical most Mondays. Rivera said he wanted the team to be able to celebrate Sunday’s 29-19 upset win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a little bit longer.
“It was a pretty emotional thing for our guys,” Rivera said. “It was a big win. They had a big week.”
Washington finally had the breakout performance that players and coaches insisted was coming when the team toppled the defending Super Bowl champions. But it came at a cost: Defensive end Chase Young indeed suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tampa Bay, Rivera said Monday.
Young tore his ACL and will require surgery — leaving Washington’s coaching staff the task of finding a pass rush without either Young or Montez Sweat, Washington’s other star edge rusher who is sidelined for at least a month with a broken jaw.
“We are going to have to blitz probably, we are going to have to do some different things,” Rivera said. “Move some people in and out. This will be interesting to see how this develops. I’m excited. I know Jack (Del Rio) and the staff will work on that come later (Monday) when we start focusing on our next opponent.”
With Young and Sweat, Washington relied on its front four defensive linemen to create pressure — giving the back seven more space to cover. The Burgundy and Gold could afford to do so, thanks to the speed and athleticism on the edge and the power and size up the middle. Though Young only had 1½ sacks this year, the team’s defensive line appeared to be finding a rhythm as the season went on. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen has been particularly impactful with six sacks.
Without the two injured starters, Washington will turn to James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill — two seventh-round picks from 2020 — to rush opposing passers. Each logged a career-high number of snaps on Sunday and that workload will likely continue. Rookie Shaka Toney is also an option.
In the offseason, Washington chose to go young at the position rather than re-sign Ryan Kerrigan or add another veteran behind Young and Sweat. And while some may second-guess that decision, Smith-Williams and Toohill have more tackles this year than Kerrigan does for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“For guys who don’t know them, I’m sure the fans were nervous, but I have seen what they can do on the limited opportunities they have gotten,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said after Sunday’s game. “Obviously, Chase Young is Chase Young, but I had no doubt they would be able to step up to the plate and play good football and that’s what they did.”
Smith-Williams and Toohill may not have the speed of Young and Sweat, but Washington’s defensive line should be able to generate pressure because of the line’s two interior starters. tackles Allen and Daron Payne, have both had strong seasons — leading Washington in total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Rivera noted how effective Allen has been by being physical at the point of attack.
Washington could also adapt to the injuries by dialing up more blitzes. After Young went down in the second quarter, the defense was still able to occasionally get to Brady by sending well-timed pressures. Two, in particular, on third down forced incompletions when Brady had to get the ball out quickly.
Beyond Young’s talent, Rivera said the team will miss the 22-year-old’s leadership. Young was named a captain last season and has served as a vocal leader, getting players fired up before and during games.
Rivera said talented players like Young and Sweat are “hard to find,” given their speed and size.
“Our hands are tied a little bit, but we’ll see,” Rivera said. “Guys will get opportunities and a lot of times, hopefully they’ll step up.”