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Packers vs. Washington Matchups: Is Washington’s defense really this bad?

The Green Bay Packers are heavy favorites, but is Washington’s defense as bad as the stats indicate?

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Football Team Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers host the Washington Football Team this Sunday, and while the home team is the heavy favorite, it’s surprising to see Ron Rivera’s squad struggling so much defensively.

Washington has given up 423 yards of offense per game through the first six weeks, the second-most yards allowed in the NFL. Their 31.0 points per game allowed are also the most given up, a whole 1.4 points per game more than the Atlanta Falcons, who rank 31st.

Advanced metrics don’t case the Football Team’s defense in a much better light. Football Outsiders has Washington as the 29th-ranked defense in terms of DVOA, while Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has them as them graded as the 19th-best defense.

The steep decline in Washington’s defensive play has been staggering. Just last season, the Football Team ranked third in defensive DVOA while giving up just 20.6 points per contest.

So what’s changed? Not much on paper. The defense fields relatively the same squad, particularly up front, and even added a first-round linebacker in Jamin Davis. Jack Del Rio took over as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2020, and still holds that role this year.

However, some issues have started to pop up for Washington’s defense, particularly on third down. The defense is dead last in third-down defense, allowing a first down on 57.78 percent of those plays.

Poor pass defense plays a big factor in those struggles to get off the field. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 7.9 adjusted net yards per attempt with a league-low minus-94.43 expected points contributed by the pass defense.

Miscommunication has played a big factor in their struggles to defense the passing game. NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger did a nice job breaking down an example of those communication issues earlier this season after their game against the New Orleans Saints.

The secondary seems to feature a number of talented individual players who don’t fit together. Landon Collins is a physical box safety, William Jackson excels in press coverage, and Kendall Fuller is a slot cornerback who is comfortable playing in zone. That makes it almost impossible for Del Rio and the defensive staff to put their talented defensive backs in position to consistently succeed.

So while the defensive front still features plenty of talent up front in Chase Young, De’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat, the secondary has been exposed as a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately for Washington, things might get worse with an upcoming matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Despite facing the toughest schedule of defenses in the NFL to date, and without multiple key starters, the Packers have the fifth-ranked offense by DVOA. Rodgers is having a quieter season by his standards, but has still thrown 12 touchdowns to only three interceptions with a passer rating of 104.6.

Sunday is the perfect opportunity for Rodgers to carve up another secondary, especially one that struggles communicating and getting off the field on third down. His ability to make pre-snap adjustments to get Green Bay’s offense in the best possible play is one of his best assets, and one that Dan Orlovsky did a great job of breaking down this week.

A Hall of Fame quarterback and a bright offensive-minded head coach going against a secondary that is struggling to stop the passing game is a recipe for a massive game from Rodgers, Davante Adams, and the Packers offense. If they can get it going early, Sunday’s game could be over quickly.