Washington’s starting defense looked helpless on third downs in Kansas City

Washington’s starting defense was helpless on third downs in K.C. originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Third-down defense was an emphasis for Washington heading into its second preseason game against the Chiefs. In the exhibition opener, the Commanders allowed a middling Panthers offense to triumph on their first trio of third-down attempts, a development that coordinator Jack Del Rio admitted he “didn’t like.”

Del Rio must’ve hated what he saw in Kansas City then.

The visitors at Arrowhead Stadium didn’t force the hosts into a fourth down until a little more than four minutes remained in the second quarter of Saturday’s tilt — and that occurred after Patrick Mahomes had exited the action.

Mahomes and his unit opened the afternoon by moving the chains on the first five third downs that they encountered. It’s not like they all spanned short distances, either; four of the five required a conversion of at least six yards.

On a third-and-6 early on, Mahomes was able to dance around in the pocket before unloading a lofted pass to Jerick McKinnon, who scooted by Kam Curl to keep their opening drive going.

Washington answered that by stuffing a run and forcing an incompletion, meaning Mahomes and Co. faced a third-and-10. A Commanders blitz didn’t get to the quarterback in time, however, and a 39-yard completion set the AFC contenders up deep inside the red zone. A Jody Fortson touchdown soon followed.

Next time out, Mahomes succeeded on another third-and-6, and then on third-and-goal at the seven, he found Fortson once more in the end zone. After speeding out to a 14-0 advantage, Mahomes and many of his first-string peers were permitted to stand down.

And yet, Shane Buechele — the backup for Mahomes’ backup — scrambled for 13 yards on the initial pick-it-up-or-punt scenario he experienced.

When he was asked this past week at training camp for his opinion about his squad’s problems on third down, Ron Rivera stated that he and Del Rio’s charges have to improve on the snaps that precede it. To that end, the coaches are probably somewhat pleased by Saturday, since that area of their performance was at least solid.

At the same time, those improvements don’t resonate when everything comes apart when it matters most. In fact, it might just be even more perplexing and, ultimately, more maddening.

Now, that Mahomes fellow is somewhat decent at his job; all the touch and various arm angles he can throw with is borderline unfair.

But still, the lack of consistent pressure and contesting at the point of the catch on Saturday’s third downs will make every signal-caller the organization sees on Sundays in 2022 rather comfortable regardless of whether they’re awesome or average.

And in turn, Washington’s supporters will continue to feel quite uncomfortable watching Del Rio’s group in clutch situations until there are drastic and persistent changes in the results — if they ever come at all.

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