Washington’s defense, in its second full season under Greg Manusky as defensive coordinator, is vastly improved from a year ago. Washington still gives up a lot of big plays to opposing offenses, but they keep opponents out of the end zone (best red zone scoring efficiency in football and the fifth-best overall touchdown efficiency as well). Washington is fourth in the league with 21 turnovers (11 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries), eighth in sacks (32), and ninth against the run (just 100.3 yards per game).
The secondary has had its share of issues, mainly due to injuries. Quinton Dunbar, a starting corner, has been in and out of the lineup. Josh Norman has been hot and cold this year. The team traded for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline and he has been a bit inconsistent for them as well (which matches up with his film in Green Bay). But this is an aggressive, competitive group that will battle with receivers on the perimeter. The secondary has an enforcer on the back end with DJ Swearinger. The veteran safety leads the team with four picks and is one of the hardest hitters on the team.
This defense starts with the defensive line though. Washington has poured a ton of resources into the group overall, with three first-round picks in nose tackle Daron Payne, defensive end Jonathan Allen, and pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan. Former second-round pick Preston Smith starts opposite Kerrigan and former fifth-round pick Matt Ioannidis completes the group as one of the most disruptive interior pass rushers in the NFL. Let’s start with Payne, though, because I think he instantly makes that entire group better because of what he brings inside.
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In my opinion, Payne has the potential to be an elite defensive tackle in this league thanks to his combination of strength, power, quickness, range, and technique. He impacts the run and the pass game equally well, helps make others around him look better, and is a very disciplined player. He will match up mostly with Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo in this game. To me, he is the most impactful player of the front three.
The other player to be aware of on this defensive front is Matt Ioannidis. The starting defensive end, who lines up primarily on the offense's right side, will see a majority of his reps against Brooks. He mostly wins with quickness up front with a combination of inside and outside pass rush moves. Ioannidis is also extremely effective in the various stunts and blitzes up front. He ranks third in the NFL in sacks among defensive tackles with 7.5 (only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones have more). The Eagles must be aware of Ioannidis in this game.
Don’t take this as a slight to Allen, because I really like the former first-round pick out of Alabama as well. Like Payne, he’s a technician with his hands, can win with quickness off the ball, and has the stoutness to play at the point of attack. Allen’s versatility gives Manusky and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula plenty of flexibility up front.
Now let’s look off the edge where Ryan Kerrigan continues to terrorize opponents. A player who has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Eagles, Kerrigan is one of my favorite pass rushers to study in the NFL because of his motor and his hand use when attacking right tackles. One thing we’re seeing more of this year is that Washington is moving him around, so he’s getting more reps against left tackles this season. Lane Johnson is the primary matchup player to focus on here, but don’t be shocked to see Kerrigan line up against Jason Peters at times for the first time (maybe) ever this Monday night.
Preston Smith starts at outside linebacker opposite Kerrigan, and he’s a formidable player as well. His primary weapon is his length, as he uses that wingspan to get inside offensive tackles and either shocks them, so he can win with speed or so he can collapse the pocket. He’ll match up primarily against Peters on Monday night.
As a group, the most impressive thing about this Washington front is that it is very disciplined with the rush. Talk to defensive line coaches across the NFL and they’ll talk about creating "levels" to their rush, meaning that you have defenders attacking every area of the pocket. You rarely see edge rushers for this defense getting beyond the quarterback, running the hoop, and getting taken out of the play. They always have their eyes on the football, and that prevents quarterbacks from stepping up or sliding side to side to escape the pressure. Tomsula has this group well coached, and that’s why it is one of the most productive in the league.
Washington can get to the quarterback as well as anyone, and it is actually one of the leaders in the entire league with 19 (!) forced fumbles. A large majority of Washington's sacks has come from the four-man rush, but that doesn't mean that it won't blitz. In fact, watching this defense over the last few years, there’s one pressure scheme that stands out to me on film that it consistently uses, especially against the Eagles. I wanted to make sure it is included in this piece, and we had Greg Cosell talking about it this week on Eagles Game Plan.
Washington has run this blitz in each of the last three meetings against the Eagles, and it ran it last week against Dallas. I would be floored if Washington didn’t run it on at least one third down against the Eagles on Monday night.
It’s very tough to pick up for several reasons. First off, the linebacker has a great angle to attack the offensive lineman’s inside shoulder, so it’s easy for him to win upfield and pin the blocker outside, creating an alley for the looping defensive lineman. Secondly, as an offense, you have an offensive lineman passing off a looping defender to a running back in protection, which is not typical. The Eagles will surely be repping this in practice so that Josh Adams, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood are all prepared for it. Whether Washington is attacking a guard or a tackle in protection, everyone must be prepared. Most of Washington’s sacks come from a four-man rush, but this is a pressure scheme to watch out for on Monday Night Football.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.