Washington Football Team

Washington Football Team

Are We Expecting Too Much from This Defense?

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Any number of things could have derailed the 2020 season for the Washington Football Team, a franchise that has been no stranger to cultivating a circus environment. The organization was finally in the midst of changing the team's racist nickname, settling for the simple and temporary (or potentially permanent) "Washington Football Team," and that might not have made the top five of wild stories from the season.

Owner Dan Snyder and the franchise were hit with sexual misconduct claims in July from current and former cheerleaders, as well as other women around the organization. In August, new head coach Ron Rivera announced he had cancer, which caused him to receive chemo treatments until his final session at the end of October. In December, benched-then-reinstated starter Dwayne Haskins was photographed maskless in a strip club during a pandemic season. He started the following week against Rivera's old team, the Carolina Panthers, but was benched mid-game and released the following day. Yet this team won the NFC East, albeit with only seven wins thanks to an awful division, and hung close with the eventual Super Bowl champions in the wild-card round.

Expectations couldn't have been much lower going into the 2020 season for Washington. In last year's Almanac, Washington had the lowest projected DVOA, second-lowest projected win total, and second-lowest odds to make the playoffs. Much of that stemmed from a projected league-worst offense that lived down to those expectations. Instead, the catalyst for the playoff appearance was a massive defensive turnaround in the first year under head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Defensive improvement was always a possibility. Last year's Almanac even hinted at it: "The defense is rich with talent so that Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have a chance to find immediate success." So a potential Year 1 leap was in the cards under a new coaching staff, but immediately turning into one of the league's best defenses wasn't the expectation. That's what happened as a defense that ranked 27th in DVOA during 2019 jumped to third in 2020...