Jack Del Rio is out as Washington Commanders defensive coordinator, a firing made Friday in the wake of another embarrassing loss.
Coach Ron Rivera dismissed Del Rio and defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer less than 28 hours after a 45-10 Thanksgiving Day drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.
“This was probably the thing that I felt was necessary to do to hopefully get out of this rut and get to a point where we can play to our abilities,” Rivera said on a video call with reporters. “It’s unfortunate, the situation and circumstances. But I did feel that a change was something that we needed to do going forward.”
The decision to make Del Rio and Vieselmeyer scapegoats for the season going sideways seems to ensure Rivera’s job is not in imminent danger despite the team being 4-8. The Josh Harris-led new ownership group is expected to make significant changes in January after the season is over.
Still, something had to give now after Rivera said things “snowballed” again at Dallas, leading to an eighth loss in 10 games since opening with back-to-back victories. He called Harris early Friday to make sure his boss was aligned with the decision and got the green light.
The Commanders have allowed 290 or more yards in 11 of 12 games this season and 30 or more points seven times. Their defense ranks 29th among 32 teams.
“The blame, we’re all culpable: players and coaches,” Rivera said. “We have to be better.”
Rivera is taking over the defensive play-calling duties, allowing him to defer even more to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Cristian Garcia is being elevated to DBs coach to replace Vieselmeyer.
Del Rio was 12 games into his fourth season with Washington after Rivera hired him in 2020. The two, each a former linebacker, had no prior working relationship before this.
A head coach for 12 seasons with the Jaguars and Raiders, Del Rio had a stint with Washington that was marred by a comment he made during offseason workouts last year, comparing the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“People’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem,” Del Rio said in June 2022. “And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal. I just think it’s kind of two standards.”
On the field, his unit was inconsistent from year to year and game to game. Washington’s defense ranked second in the NFL in 2020, 22nd in 2021 and third in 2022.
The Commanders had their moments defensively this season, mostly before trading pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. But the lack of results ultimately cost Del Rio and Vieselmeyer their jobs.
“It’s not an indictment of Jack and Brent,” Rivera said. “It’s just, for whatever reason, it wasn’t coming together. We haven’t played as well as we would have liked to this season.”
Time is now on the Commanders’ side. They get extra rest before hosting the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins on Dec. 3.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense isn’t the only issue. Washington’s offense was shut out in the second half at the Cowboys, and Sam Howell threw his league-leading 13th interception.
“We kind of struggled finishing drives and sustaining drives,” Howell said. “We’ve just got to find a way to get better.”
Bieniemy might have even more freedom now with Rivera running the defense. After taking this job to show his talent outside the shadows of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, Bieniemy has five games left to make his mark.
Rivera probably will get the chance to coach the rest of the season, but his long-term job security is not ideal. He has one year left on his contract, but that wouldn’t be an impediment to Harris firing him much like new Carolina owner David Tepper did in 2019.
Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (elbow) and pass rusher James Smith-Williams (hamstring) missed the game against the Cowboys.
0 — Fourth-down conversions in three tries against Dallas. The Commanders also punted twice on fourth down in Cowboys territory.
Rivera said the defensive coaching staff is all on the same page. The next challenge is slowing down Tua Tagovailoa and the high-scoring Dolphins, who opened as 7-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook.
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