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Commanders look for solutions to allowing explosive plays


Jonathan Allen didn't have much to say after the Washington Commanders' 29-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He answered one question during his availability with the media, and the answer had nothing to do with the game itself.

"I heard something interesting from the Boston Celtics coach," Allen said. "He said that 'People love to shoutout God when things are going great, but you never hear when things are going bad and you're in the middle of something.' So, I would like to take this time and shoutout God."

There wasn't much the 2023 team captain could say about how the Commanders lost their sixth game of the season. The defense had its chances -- several of them -- to make a more meaningful impact. Even in the final minute, when the Seahawks needed to get in field goal range, there was an opportunity to force overtime. 

Instead, the only thing the Commanders left Seattle with was disappointment. It follows a frustrating trend for a defense that has habitually underperformed with stats near the bottom of the league in yards (380.9) and points (27.4). And with seven games left, there are more questions than answers as the Commanders try to salvage their season.

"Collectively, we have to be better overall," said head coach **Ron Rivera.**

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders during their Week 10 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

It would be accurate to describe the defense's struggles as a degree.

All offseason, the belief was that Washington would be carried by its defense, which was heading into the fourth season of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system. Sure, there were new additions to the secondary like **Emmanuel Forbes Jr.** and Quan Martin, but the personnel was largely the same. What's more, the unit was coming off a strong end to the 2022 season, putting it third in yards allowed and fourth in passing yard.

The slow start in 2023 was frustrating, but not unexpected. The Commanders have done that every year since 2020 before having a game near the middle of the year that jumpstarted the defense. In 2020, it was the 25-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7; in 2021, it was the 29-19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and last year, the ugly 12-7 victory over the Chicago Bears started a 6-1 run from Weeks 6-12.

Up to now, a similar moment has not come for the Commanders. Despite holding the Seahawks to 4-of-14 on third down attempts, the Commanders gave up 489 yards -- a season high for Geno Smith and Co. -- and allowed 20 points in the second half.

"We got to be better on first and second down situations," Rivera said. "We put ourselves in a couple of really good third down situations and we were able to convert ... But there were some first and second down things that we've got to get better at."

At the center of it all is the Commanders' lingering problems with containing explosive plays. The Seahawks, who rely heavily on explosive plays to move downfield, had 10 plays of at least 15 yards. The most brutal was a 64-yard touchdown from Kenneth Walker III off a three-yard pass. Danny Johnson slipped, forcing him to take a bad angle; Percy Butler had poor form on a tack at the 50; and Kendall Fuller got covered up on a block.

"I have to get off the block, make a tackle to where a running back, even out of the backfield doesn't score," Fuller said. "Things like that, controlling little situations that we can control. A three-yard pass shouldn't go 64 yards and that's something in zone coverage we have to be able to break to the ball better, get off blocks, and allow our defense to line up."

On Monday, Rivera had some coaching points for Butler.

"He's got to understand he's the topper," Rivera said. "He's the guy that's got to put a lid on it and kind of allow a play to continue. So, he'll continue to work at that and understand and learn his angles."

Later in the game, just seconds after the Commanders had tied the score, the defense gave up two explosive plays that directly led to Seattle getting in field goal range. The first was a 17-yard catch by DK Metcalf on a third-and-4, and the second was a 27-yard catch-and-run, also by Metcalf, that put Seattle at the Commanders' 25-yard line.

After the game, Benjamin St-Juste, who was covering Metcalf on those plays, said he feels like "I cost my team this win."

"I've been on the positive side of making some clutch plays at the end," St-Juste said. "And it happened on this one that I wasn't. It just speaks to the fact that I need to put more work in and understand where I'm at. I'm trying to make the plays that I need to be there."

The defense does know that it's been a problem. Just last week, Del Rio said the explosive plays are what has kept the unit back from being a better unit.

"I think what really means the most is give your football team a chance to win, play complementary football and make sure we're getting the ball back for our offense as often as possible," Del Rio said.

So, what's next for Washington? The short answer is a slate of playoff-caliber teams. After playing the New York Giants this weekend, the Commanders play the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins. If Washington has any hope of making a push for the playoffs, it will need to go through some of the NFL's best to do it.

As challenging as that will be, the defense is only looking at it from one perspective.

"You just go watch the film and learn from it and focus on going 1-0 next week," Fuller said.

With the second half of the season looming, it means the Commanders have seven more opportunities to get it right.

"That's what's keeping me going," St-Juste said. "There's always one more opportunity for me to get better, to fix what I need to fix and end up on that positive side instead of the negative side like today."

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