After going up 17-0, it looked like a blow-out was unfolding in favor of the Philadelphia Eagles. However, a monstrous performance from the rookie Chase Young and the Washington Football Team defense created enough opportunity for the offense to score 27 unanswered points. What looked like a surefire win for Philadelphia quickly turned into the largest comeback Washington has mustered since the infamous 2016 Kirk Cousins “You Like That” game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Washington has spent five first-round selections on its defensive line. They need the unit to be one of the best in the NFL if they expect to win games. However, they didn’t just get a strong performance against Philadelphia, the defensive line is arguably the sole reason Washington was able to pull out the win. So how did the defense perform as a unit, and how good can Young and this Washington defensive group be?
Washington’s defense started out slow in Week 1
In the first quarter, things got off to a poor start. Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense came out firing on all cylinders, marching down the field to the tune of six plays for 60 yards and a touchdown. A scary sign, considering Philadelphia was missing three starting offensive linemen. The offense moved without any resistance from the start, and the game felt tremendously one-sided.
Philadelphia’s second drive didn’t start out much better for Washington, as they committed two penalties for 20 yards. However, the defense was able to force Philadelphia into a third and 22 after back to back sacks from Ryan Kerrigan and Matt Ioannidis. Sadly, the secondary wasn’t so dependable, as they gave up a 55-yard bomb to Eagles’ first-round selection Jalen Reagor that felt like an insurmountable blow. However, Washington’s defensive line showed resilience, forcing Philadelphia into a third and five where Young registered his first career sack on a strip of Wentz. Philadelphia, however, recovered the ball and kicker Jake Elliot put it through the uprights to put his team up 10-0.
Despite one sloppy drive, the defense got into its groove in the second quarter
Philadelphia’s third drive stalled out quickly thanks to a Montez Sweat sack, and the defensive front stuffing two run plays for a total of four yards. After showing life in the previous two drives, mental errors from the secondary continued to plague the defense. A 15-yard penalty from free safety Troy Apke and a deep Dallas Goedert touchdown made a Philadelphia win seem almost certain. Midway through the second quarter and the Eagles were already up 17-0.
However, there was a turning point for Washington midway through the second quarter. The defense started to play with aggression, and after already collecting three sacks, the defensive line was warmed up and ready to wreak havoc. For the next 38 minutes and 55 seconds, Washington would keep the Eagles off the scoreboard completely and accumulate five more sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. It was the kind of dominant defensive performance that leaves us with one question. Just how good can this defense be?
How good can Washington’s defense be in 2020?
Looking at the unit objectively, Washington’s defense will not play many games where the defensive line completely takes over a game at the level they did this past Sunday. However, this game showed that it is possible to win games through an elite defensive line. The secondary is not good, and it likely won’t be better than average for the entire 2020 season. However, with the pressure Washington can put on the opposing quarterbacks, it will help make the job of the secondary much easier. We saw it against the Eagles where pressure forced two, nearly three, errant passes from Wentz that led to two interceptions. These takeaways then led to 14 points for the Washington offense. This is a great example of how an elite pass rush can truly take over a game.
With players like Kerrigan who is the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks in addition to Jonathan Allen, Sweat, Ioannidis, and the rookie phenom Young, the defense has a chance to truly dominate. They’re already a top-three unit in football, with the intent of taking the number one spot. After recording eight sacks and 14 hits on the quarterback in their Week 1 match-up, expect this unit to come out hungry for more against a Cardinals’ offensive line that on paper is not a strong unit. How will the team fair against an elite athlete like Kyler Murray, and will they be able to sustain their success?