When much of the chatter after the Washington Commanders' latest loss was about whether Chase Young or Montez Sweat — or both — had played his final game for the team, the pass rushers were eager to deflect the trade talk to football.
“My job is to play football, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do," Young said.
Problem is, for the players who stay, it hasn't been good football for a while. The Commanders have lost five of their last six games, and their 38-31 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles that dropped them to 3-5 this season exposed flaws in the team's makeup, particularly on defense.
“There’s enough potential in that locker room to be a better football team," coach Ron Rivera said.
That potential has not translated to results, which is why Washington could sell before the trade deadline Tuesday. The D-line, which was supposed to be the backbone of a defense expected to be among the NFL's best, has not been enough of a difference-maker, and young defensive backs have experienced some tough growing pains.
The Commanders have allowed 33 or more points five times this season. That's not a recipe for success with a young quarterback in Sam Howell learning a new offense.
“We fight hard every time, but until we stop allowing big plays and letting teams get a jump on us, we aren’t going to win," defensive tackle Daron Payne said.
After allowing a league-high 40 sacks through the first seven games of the season, the Commanders did a much better job keeping Howell upright against the Eagles. Philadelphia's first sack came with just over two minutes left, on fourth down.
"I thought the protection was outstanding,” Rivera said Monday. “We had a couple little glitches, and unfortunately, we did give up one sack. That was a tough one, too, just because of the situation.”
Two big personnel changes played a role. Chris Paul replaced injured left guard Saahdiq Charles, and veteran Tyler Larsen took over for Nick Gates at center. Washington added Gates and right tackle Andrew Wylie in free agency to remake the offensive line, but that has, until now, not worked out.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Washington's defense allowed four more plays of 20 yards or more to the Eagles, including a touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to a wide-open DeVonta Smith that tied the score in the fourth quarter. Rivera said it was a communication blunder that caused the blown coverage on Smith's TD.
Howell threw for a career-high 397 yards and had four TD passes against Philadelphia. He completed 24 passes in the first half, the most of any QB in franchise history.
“Sam Howell has played two really good games against us,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “(Eric) Bieniemy has done a good job as offensive coordinator in these games.”
Maybe it's as simple as giving Howell time to make throws. But the 2022 fifth-round draft pick also got the ball out of his hand quicker, which helped avoid the sacks and hits that piled up in previous games.
Rookie defensive backs Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin, Washington's top two draft picks, got torched by Eagles receiver A.J. Brown on his second touchdown. It was the latest bump in the road for Forbes, who was benched earlier this season and continues to struggle.
“You watch the young man try to compete and do the things we’re asking him to do, and he’s going to get better,” Rivera said. "He’s got the skillset. We’re going to continue to work with him, continue to push him to help develop him and get him ready to play.”
Receiver Curtis Samuel will have further testing and treatment on his injured toe, Rivera said. Rookie offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg is set for an MRI on his injured right knee.
52 — Drop-backs by Howell compared to 16 rushing attempts, a similar ratio to the loss at the New York Giants, which Rivera defended in the name of development.
First, Rivera and the front office have to deal with the trade deadline. Rivera was unwilling to address the situation when asked about it repeatedly Monday, deferring comment until afterward.
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