A tendency that hurt Washington’s defense in 2021 is popping up again in 2022

An issue that hurt Washington's 2021 defense is popping up again originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Washington’s broken preseason defense has Ron Rivera sounding like a broken record. 

On Saturday, the Commanders had no answers for Patrick Mahomes, and while they certainly aren’t the first and definitely won’t be the last to experience struggles against him, they looked particularly helpless at Arrowhead Stadium — especially on third downs.

And as he assessed the starting defense’s performance versus the AFC title contenders, Rivera identified one cause of the shortcomings that he also harped on throughout a disappointing 2021.

“We’ve got to understand our responsibility of staying in our pass rush lanes, not giving him an opportunity to escape the pocket and extend the play,” Rivera said.

Mahomes’ second touchdown pass summed up the defensive line’s discipline problems to perfection, per the coach.

“That was the big disappointment,” Rivera explained. “We had great pressure coming off the backside and the defensive end gets upfield, doesn’t get to his level, washes up and over and Mahomes just steps where he was, buys time and he’s able to stretch it a little bit.”

Here’s the sequence that Rivera was referencing.

Just after the snap, Casey Toohill puts pressure on the left tackle by racing out wide, so Mahomes has to scoot forward in the pocket.

However, instead of running into another Commander, Mahomes is welcomed by a large swatch of grass and a very clear throwing window. That’s not how it’s supposed to go.

Based on Rivera’s comments, the blame here belongs to Toohill for going too far around Mahomes. Because Toohill wasn’t able to stay on “level” with Mahomes, the superstar easily evaded him and found his tight end for a score before Montez Sweat could notch the sack. 

“This is team defense,” Rivera said. “This isn’t just you run around the edge or you jump out, you have to be disciplined, we have to make sure we coach them up to be disciplined.”

When Rivera’s squad was having similar trouble stopping opponents and getting off the field in 2021, he expressed displeasure with how Jack Del Rio’s front was operating. To Rivera, the D-line was too interested in hunting for big plays as opposed to sticking with what they were taught and allowing plays to come to them.

“They need to stop pressing and trust their teammates,” Rivera said last November. 

Well, after another subpar effort in Kansas City, Rivera emphasized a similar message.

“You have to stick to the process, you have to do your job,” he said.

Earlier in training camp, Rivera made the choice to fire Sam Mills III, who had been the defensive line coach for the organization since 2020. Mills III was replaced by Jeff Zgonina in hopes that Zgonina would better reach a unit the club has invested so much in the past few campaigns.

Despite that adjustment — and yes, it’s early in Zgonina’s tenure — and some personnel changes on the depth chart, too, the results are still similar. The frustration from the Commanders boss is as well.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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