- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2021

A day after his team’s 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Ron Rivera broke out another one of his pithy aphorisms: “What you allow is what you accept.” And for the Washington coach, that means a change in approach.

“The response that I have,” Rivera said, “has to be different.” 

With Washington sitting at 2-4, Rivera said Monday he’ll examine ways he can get his team to be more disciplined on the field. Though he was light on details on how he wanted to alter his approach, Rivera indicated that this year’s group lacks a “little bit of discipline” — which, he said, “falls on me.” 

Through six games, it’s not hard to see what Rivera means.

Penalties have been a big problem for Washington this year as the Burgundy and Gold have drawn 39 flags — tied for 10th-most in the league. Against the Chiefs, a pair of back-to-back offsides penalties in the third quarter helped Kansas City keep a drive alive that ended with Patrick Mahomes throwing the go-ahead touchdown. 

The team’s issues extend beyond the officials, as well. Missed tackles were again costly for Washington. While Washington entered the weekend with only 30 missed tackles — eighth-fewest in the league — the timing of those missed tackles has hurt. Two weeks ago against the Falcons, Atlanta running back Mike Davis evaded multiple lunging defenders as he ran to the end zone. A week later, Saints running back Alvin Kamara steamrolled through safety Bobby McCain for a touchdown.

Over the past few weeks, Rivera said Washington has had to “slow” its practices down in terms of tempo and length due to the mounting number of injuries. Last Wednesday’s session, for example, was around an hour and held without players in pads. As a downside to that shift, Rivera said teams “don’t get an opportunity” to practice tackling. 

“That’s an unfortunate detail we got to fix,” Rivera said.

Despite the talk of changes, there’s at least one move Rivera said he won’t make: Benching Taylor Heinicke. Washington’s starting quarterback threw for only 182 yards against the league’s lowest-ranked defense on Sunday, but Rivera said he’s not contemplating a switch to backup Kyle Allen.

Last year, Rivera often backed Allen publicly — even suggesting that the team could have still won the division with the 25-year-old in place of Alex Smith, if Allen (foot) had stayed healthy. But in Monday’s press conference with reporters, Rivera didn’t seem eager to abandon Heinicke.

“I’ve been very confident in what we’ve done with Taylor,” Rivera said. “I know last week he had his moments, this week same thing can be said. Not every week’s going to be as productive as people want it to be or as we want it to be.”

Rivera attributed Heinicke’s struggles to the lack of experience. The 28-year-old was making just his seventh NFL start, including playoffs, and there are moments that Heinicke’s inexperience shows itself. 

Rivera pointed to a play from Sunday’s game in which Heinicke failed to recognize the all-out blitz on third-and-two that resulted in a loss of four yards on a short throw. If Heinicke had thrown the ball to the outside sooner — and not pump fake the way he did — perhaps the team would have converted the first down, Rivera said. 

Heinicke’s misread hurt even more once kicker Dustin Hopkins missed the 42-yarder. 

“That goes and speaks to the experience that you’d like to have,” Rivera said.

Like the Chiefs, Washington’s next opponent — the Green Bay Packers — is a team that will likely pounce on a lack of discipline. The Packers are 5-1 on the year, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has returned to dominating defenses following his Week 1 clunker against the New Orleans Saints. The reigning MVP has posted a 116 quarterback rating over the last five games.

In that same span, Washington’s defense has given up at least 29 points in each of those contests — the longest such streak in franchise history (contained to one season.) 

“As far as coaching is concerned, there are certain ways to approach (lack of discipline) and maybe I need to change my approach,” Rivera said. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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