Pete’s Post Office: Can the Commanders defense get it together this year?

Pete's Post Office: Can the Commanders defense get it together? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Every Tuesday, Pete Hailey will answer questions from Washington Commanders fans about their favorite and always-interesting team. From inquiries about the depth chart to random ones about what life’s like on the beat, he hopes to provide insight into whatever is on the mind of those who care so much about the organization.

In this edition, Pete touches on the side of the ball that everyone’s got thoughts on: Jack Del Rio’s defense.

You know things must be really dire if a Commanders fan is asking — after two weeks, by the way — whether a group that features four healthy first-round picks (and a fifth on PUP), cornerbacks with the second and fourth-highest cap hits on the roster and an experienced coordinator at its helm can get to a “decent” level.

Well, my answer — which I type with gritted teeth and a pit in my stomach — is yes, I do believe there’s a path for Washington to develop into a functional defense. I won’t go any further than that, but I do think what was a putrid afternoon in Detroit is causing a bit of an overreaction about the direction of Jack Del Rio’s bunch.

Look, that first half versus the Lions was a cataclysmic calamity — and that goes for all aspects of the Commanders. Neither the offense nor the defense could come up with a play to generate a shred of momentum, and the special teams was a liability as well. 

Now, the concerning part is that, once Carson Wentz and his half of the club got their act together, Del Rio’s charges continued to cede explosive plays, including one where D’Andre Swift temporarily found himself on all-fours and still ended up scoring six points. 

So, thanks to that game and an average-at-best outing against Jacksonville in Week 1, Washington currently ranks 27th in points allowed and 30th in yards-per-play allowed in 2022. Essentially, the defensive disorganization that was present for so much of 2021 is back thus far this season.

Why do I predict an uptick, then?

Better health is one reason why. There’s optimism that Kam Curl, who has yet to suit up, will make his debut in Week 3 versus the Eagles. Getting Curl back into the rotation in the secondary will give Del Rio a chance to use more three-safety sets, which was a look that was featured often in 2021 when his operation was at its (not that great, but satisfactory) best.

The defensive line was also shorthanded at Ford Field, as depth pieces Daniel Wise and Casey Toohill both exited with injuries in the middle of the action. Daron Payne is off to a fantastic start and Jonathan Allen (who’s nicked up himself) is a difference-maker, but those two can’t do it all on their own in the interior, and this past Sunday, they were forced to try and do that.

Lastly, whenever Chase Young returns — and that may still be a month or more away — he’ll be an asset. No, he won’t be the elixir for all the woes, since he’ll be dealing with rust from his ACL rehab and must show more maturity as a rusher than he did in his second campaign, but Young will help to a certain extent. If he doesn’t, then the franchise will be in an uncomfortable spot with No. 99.

Beyond those reinforcements, I’m banking on — some of you will laugh at this, considering he’s the target of such ire among the fan base — Del Rio coming up with adjustments to at least mitigate the defense’s most pressing flaws.

What will those changes be? That’s a question for Jack’s Post Office, unfortunately, and I don’t know if he’s accepting submissions. However, this is his show and he has to have a few tweaks he can deploy, from using Curl or Darrick Forrest in that Landon Collins-type role that produced positive results last year to upping his blitzing to… something else…?

I’m not denying that Del Rio’s crew is in trouble, and I’m also not attempting to tell the many, many folks who are upset with him specifically to calm down.

Furthermore, the fact that no major investments were made on defense in the offseason is borderline malpractice, and the lack of contributions from guys like Jamin Davis and William Jackson III is worth scrutinizing. The run-stopping strategy, meanwhile, is failing.

Even so, I’m willing to hold out hope that a bump in performance — albeit a potentially small one — is coming. That might have to wait until after the Eagles visit FedEx Field in Week 3 because that matchup could be another ugly 60 minutes for the Commanders, but I am insisting that brighter days are ahead.

It’s disappointing that decency is all people are asking for, yet that’s where we are already — and that’s, somehow, where I think Washington will be soon, too.

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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