The Washington Commanders will be heading in a different direction in the last leg of their 2023 season.
On Friday, following the team's 45-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Commanders head coach **Ron Rivera** announced that he had relieved Jack Del Rio and Brent Vieselmeyer of their respective duties as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. The move came after Washington fell to 4-8, including three consecutive losses from Weeks 10-12, and the defense had given up the most points in the league (350) by a decent margin.
The decision has been on Rivera's mind for "a bit," but with five games left, it became apparent that something needed to change. Rivera will take over as the team's defensive play-caller with input from Senior Defensive Advisor/Safeties Richard Rodgers in an effort to show some improvement going forward.
"Just unfortunate [with] the situation, circumstances," Rivera told reporters on Friday, "but [I] did feel that change was something that we needed to do going forward. Really to see if we can shake some things up and get some things started."
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium for their Week 12 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Slow starts have been the norm for Washington's defense since the 2020 season. In the previous three seasons, the unit followed a similar path; it gave up yards and points in large chunks in the first half eight games before looking better -- and occasionally like one of the league's best -- for the rest of the year.
But such a bump has not come on that side of the ball for the Commanders. They are 29th in yards allowed and 32nd in points allowed, and during the Commanders' three-game losing streak, they have given up 404 yards and 35 points per contest.
The secondary, which looked to be one of the team's biggest strengths in the offseason because of the returning players plus two drafts picks adding depth, has struggled the most. They rank 29th in yards allowed, and they have given up 49 pass plays of at least 20 yards.
To Rivera, watching the Cowboys game unfold was like a "snowball" effect. "We're all culpable," Rivera said, but it was clear that something needed to be done.
"We have to be better," Rivera said. "We know that. I think shaking it up now gives us an opportunity to do some things differently and play some guys differently and see what's going on and see if we can do things to make some things happen, in a positive sense."
In a statement released by the team, Managing Partner Josh Harris said, "I feel exactly how our fans feel today: disappointed and frustrated."
"I knew our first season of ownership would include challenges along the way, and we will not shy away from hard work, nor will we be deterred by adversity. As Coach Rivera and I discussed, all of our energy for the remainder of the season will be focused on playing better, more consistent football and developing our players while intently evaluating the areas in which we need to improve this offseason. Our fans deserve a team that can compete with the NFL's best and win sustainably over the long-term. I will not waver from that mission."
Rivera has taken this approach before. In an effort to break a four-game losing streak with the Carolina Panthers back in 2018, he took over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Eric Washington and let go of defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura.
Rivera had already begun diving into his play-calling duties prior to Friday's press conference, which will take up most of his time for the rest of the season.
"I've already talked to all the defensive coaches, talked to the entire coaching staff, and then I talked to the defensive staff, then I talked to each defensive coach individually and talked about what I was looking for, what I want, what I wanted to get accomplished," Rivera said.
Rivera did not delve into how things would look from a personnel standpoint with him taking on a larger role in the defense, but he did say "we're going to do things differently though. I will tell you that much."
As for how those changes are going to be implemented, Rivera said he will work with the staff, particularly Rodgers, on how to put the players in the best position to succeed.
"Richard will work with the defensive backs, but he'll also work with me on some of the game planning issues as well," Rivera said. "And then everybody else will remain in their positions as we go forward and see how these things go. We're going to work today, we'll work tomorrow, and we'll talk about how we're going to do things as a defense, and we'll go from there."
Whatever the changes, Washington's last five games are going to be a challenge. They return home to take on the Miami Dolphins before heading to Los Angeles to play the Rams. That's followed by the Jets on Christmas Eve, the San Francisco 49ers on New Year's Eve and a home matchup against the Cowboys to wrap up the season.
"If you don't change things, can you expect things to change?" Rivera said. "So that's what I'm doing, to see if things will change."