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Washington's Defensive Line Is Up For The Challenge Of Containing Kyler Murray

Washington's defensive line celebrates during its game against the Philadelphia Eagles (Alexander Jonesi/NFL)
Washington's defensive line celebrates during its game against the Philadelphia Eagles (Alexander Jonesi/NFL)

The Washington Football Team's defensive line has already proven it can be one of the NFL's most dominant groups by recording a league-best eight sacks in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1.

Its next matchup will be an even tougher task, head coach Ron Rivera cautioned Monday, as they will face dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray -- last year's Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year -- on the road.

"He's a heck of a football player and you're going to have to have guys that are fresh," Rivera said of Murray. "Guys are going to have to understand that you have to be ready to rotate, you have to be ready to roll and, again, you've got to play high energy against a terrific football player like [Murray]."

After faring well against Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Washington's quintet of first-round picks will face its first running quarterback in Murray. He fueled the Cardinals' offense with his arm as well as his legs in their 24-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener, and Washington's pass rush will need to account for both Sunday.

"You don't want to give him an opportunity to extend plays," Rivera said. "With his athleticism and his arm, he can make plays. One of the things we've looked at is his ability to scramble and create downfield. You've got to keep that young man contained, you've got to keep him hemmed up and you can't allow him to get outside the pocket."

Murray was one of the league's best in Week 1 when it came to scrambling and executing designed runs. He was the third-most efficient rushing quarterback, per Football Outsiders, behind Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, with 91 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown that put the Cardinals up, 17-13.

Murray averaged nearly 13 yards per carry on seven scrambles. On run-pass option plays, he kept the ball five times and rushed for 25 yards. That kind of versatility presents a challenge, even for a defense that had the league's second-best sack rate (16.2%) in Week 1.

"It's a very big challenge," Rivera said, "but it can be done. He's a heck of a football player; we know who he is as a football player. He's a dynamic young man who's got a tremendous skillset, and we've got to be able to do our jobs, because if we don't, obviously the worst thing that could happen is we could lose."

No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, who had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his NFL debut against the Eagles, is set on preventing that.

"Mobile, he can throw, smaller guy," Young said, "so you gotta be aware of where he is at all times."

Young said he and the other defensive linemen must be disciplined and stay in their rush lanes, which he admitted can be difficult against a player with Murray's skillset.

"He's a shorter guy, so he'll be hard to see, harder to tackle," Young said. "He's real good in space."

Murray, who was sacked 48 times in his rookie year, was blitzed 12 times during his game against the 49ers. However, he was only brought down twice, and those sacks came from defensive tackles D.J. Jones and Kerry Hyder.

The blitz didn't appear to have an affect on Murray's passing numbers, either. He finished the game completing 65% of his passes for 230 yards and a touchdown.

On a conference call with Washington media, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Murray has a sense of awareness that "some of those greats" -- such as quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes -- possess.

"They can just feel the rush and they get out and avoid the big hits," he said. "Those guys, they don't have to be looking at it. They can feel it coming and they make a play. It's a unique talent that some of those players have. He definitely has it."

Still, Kingsbury is aware of how talented Washington's front is after watching cut-ups from its performance against the Eagles. After watching them bring pressure on 28% of Wentz's dropbacks, Kingsbury said "it definitely gives you anxiety."

"They're a phenomenal group and they play hard. They play tough-nose like Rivera is known for. Linebackers, they can run and hit. That front seven is as good as anybody in the league and we'll have a huge challenge trying to slow them down."

Washington's eight sacks against the Eagles came from seven players. All five of its former first-round picks recorded a sack including Ryan Kerrigan, who broke the all-time franchise record with two takedowns. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, the team's sack leader in 2019, also got in on the action with 1.5 sacks.

"Obviously, there's some freak athletes in there with Chase and Montez and Kerrigan, just his motor and his relentless style of play is contagious," Kingsbury said. "They get in your face. They can chase and run. It's just a fantastic group that plays really hard."

Kingsbury said Washington's defensive line can "wreak havoc really the entire game." As the team tries to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011, that's exactly what it plans to do against Murray.

"It's going to be a challenge," Young said, "but I feel like the entire defense is up for it."