Through three weeks, the Washington Football Team's defense has not played anywhere close to its enormously high preseason expectations. And it is the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young, who's been criticized the most.
Young has yet to record a sack this season, while Washington's loaded defensive front that features four first-round draft picks has notched just five sacks total (cornerback Kendall Fuller has one sack, too).
While Young has simply not produced the way he or his coaches would have hoped, head coach Ron Rivera defended his star player when speaking with the media on Monday.
"He's had some really good moments," Rivera said. "I believe he had a pretty good pressure rate yesterday and had a couple of chances at some pretty good plays."
Young's spectacular rookie season was among the many reasons why Washington's defense entered 2021 with loads of hype. But teams across the NFL took notice of what Young did as a rookie and have counteracted it this season.
So far, Young is still trying to figure out how to deal with the extra attention.
"It's just one of those things that he gets a little extra attention with a chipper to his side or the protection turning towards him," Rivera said. "He's just going to have to continue to learn to continue to cope with it. But at the same time, he's also got to understand what his strengths are and really attack with those strengths because he can be such a disruptive player."
While Young doesn't appear to have an arsenal of signature pass rush moves, he's got one of the best combinations of speed, athleticism and strength at his position in the entire league. Rivera wants to see his second-year pass rusher take advantage of his specific strengths and use them to his advantage against opposing offensive linemen.
More specifically, Rivera has noticed that Young occasionally stutters when he's rushing the quarterback, something the head coach wants No. 99 to avoid moving forward.
"When he's playing vertical and getting through to his third step before he decides what he wants to do, I think he's a very disruptive football player. Sometimes, he has a little stutter in one of his moves," Rivera said. "And that, to me, is not what he does best. With the stutter, he has to stop, start, then go again. I'd much rather just see him go vertical because when he's moving he's a force and he is difficult to stop."
It's not just Young that has struggled, though. Each member of Washington's defensive front has had their lapses at times -- with maybe the exception of Jonathan Allen, who's already notched three sacks this season and earned the respect of his opponents on a weekly basis.
Rivera cited a lack of communication among the defensive line as one reason the group has struggled as a whole to begin the 2021 campaign.
"One of the things we saw on tape this past Sunday was that the rush wasn't as coordinated as it needed to be," Rivera said. "We had a couple of instances where Daron [Payne] would win to whichever side he was with the [defensive] end. He'd win, but unfortunately, the end wasn't coordinated with it. They have to have a little more coordination. They have to work a little bit better together and just understanding where each other is going to be."
Additionally, Rivera said Monday that sometimes he believes his players are trying to do too much in order to make plays. Asked why, the head coach responded "because they want to win."
"As a football team right now, we're not playing to our abilities.," Rivera said. "That's the thing that I think right now is hard for all of us. We're better than what we've shown, and it's obviously something that has to improve."