Jonathan Allen has never been one to dance around a question, and on Thursday, after the Washington Commanders dropped a disappointing 40-20 loss to the Chicago Bears, he laid out exactly where he feels the defense is at so far this season.
"We just played like s---," Allen told reporters. "We are not a good defense right now. We gotta own that. We gotta take that and we gotta get better. That's what's causing us to lose games right now."
Allen wasn't the only player to share that sentiment. Three straight losses, two of which were at home, have made it feel as if the Commanders, who started the season with such promise, are now at a crossroad. Yes, the Commanders have talent, but as Allen pointed out, "It doesn't matter how talented you are." All that matters is how well the players work together, and right now, the execution is not where it needs to be.
There is still time for the Commanders to fix their problems with 12 games left, but the players feel the sense of urgency to get back on track.
"We definitely need to get back in the lab and see what's going on," Montez Sweat said. "Everyone needs to look in the mirror and move forward from there."
For the first two weeks, it seemed like the Commanders were off to the fast start that has eluded the team for the last four years. The wins against the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos weren't pretty, but the team showed enough resiliency to recover from sluggish first halves and even, at times, looked as if it was on the cusp of showing enough development to realistically compete for a postseason spot later in the season.
Since then, the Commanders have underperformed for most of the time they have been on the field. In the three games following their come-from-behind victory over the Broncos, Washington has been outscored, 111-54, and outgained in yardage, 1,252-983.
"Perplexing" might be the most accurate word to describe the Commanders' defensive issues. Aside from a few tweaks like the return of Chase Young and new additions like Emmanuel Forbes Jr. and Cody Barton, the personnel is largely the same. And yet, despite that consistency, Washington is giving up an average of nearly 70 more yards and 12 more points per game.
"I think every single player on this defense needs to take a good hard look at themselves and see what they gotta do to improve," Allen said.
Adding to that is the struggle to create turnovers, which the players and coaches insisted was a priority this offseason. Granted, players have managed to get their hands on the ball; there have been several occasions where Washington's defensive backs have put themselves in position to get interceptions. Finishing those plays has been an issue, though, and as a result, Washington only has five turnovers through as many games.
"I think part of it's just ball awareness, first and foremost," coach Ron Rivera said. "We have an emphasis on it every week as far as the takeaways are concerned. We go through a circuit. I think it's something that we got to continue to focus on because when they do come, they're going to be very helpful."
All the problems the Commanders had came out against the Bears. DJ Moore averaged 29 yards per catch and gashed the secondary on gains of 58 and 56 yards. Washington got out to another slow start by giving up 17 points on the Bears' first three drives, and Chicago's offense, which is tied for the third-most giveaways this season and has allowed at least one turnover in 20 of their previous 21 games, didn't cough up the ball once all night.
Rivera said he was "disappointed" with the defense's early struggles.
"I just think that some of the things that we have to do is we have to play with a little bit more discipline. We're going to stop trying to do more than we need to and do our jobs. Probably the basic thing that goes to it, and...we're taking a look at some of the things that we're doing with them."
There weren't many positives for the Commanders as the Bears put up 451 yards and scored their most points in a single game since the 2021 season, but there are opportunities for the Commanders to get the bounce back that they hope for. Four of their next five opponents are in the bottom half of offensive production.
The Atlanta Falcons, the Commanders' next opponent, do have the tools for a dynamic offense, but thanks to up-and-down performances from Desmond Ridder, they're only 20th in yards per game (316.7). They also score the sixth fewest points per game (16.6).
Still, the Falcons do have talent at wide receiver and running back -- particularly Bijan Robinson, who is tied with James Conner for eighth in rushing yards -- cannot be overlooked. After taking the weekend to reflect, it's time for the Commanders to move on and put all their focus towards getting back to .500.
And make sure that the defense is playing up to expectations.
"We got no time to be dwelling on the past," Darrick Forrest said. "We got a lot of football left and it's about getting better and improving each and every week."