<
>

Washington Football Team's defense shows signs of life in defeat

play
Heinicke stuffed on 4th down after premature Lambeau Leap (0:37)

Taylor Heinicke dives for the end zone and is originally awarded a touchdown, but the play is called back, and Washington turns it over on downs one play later. (0:37)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After the game, yet another loss for the Washington Football Team, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen stood on the podium and summed up the situation.

"Losing teams find ways to lose games," he said Sunday. "And right now we're losing."

But to escape the losing Washington will need to be led by its defense, and for a change, it can finally build on a performance that might allow it to snap its three-game losing streak. That is, if the offense can chip in a lot more than it has in recent weeks.

Considering Washington was 2-4 entering the game -- and Green Bay was 5-1 and still has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback -- a 24-10 loss wasn't surprising.

But Washington has needed to find a pulse in a season gone bad. After a rugged stretch in which it lost to New Orleans, Kansas City and now the Packers, the schedule eases up for one game as Washington (2-5) plays at Denver (3-4) in Week 8 (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). It still has quarterbacks such as Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys, twice) on the schedule, so tough games remain.

But Washington can't afford to exit this season worried about the defense, considering the work that remains on offense, starting with finding its quarterback of the future. Taylor Heinicke wasn't the reason Washington lost Sunday; he rushed for 95 yards and passed for 268. But he also had a pass intercepted and fumbled once. However, he's a limited quarterback thrust into action because of injury. He wasn't supposed to lead this team.

Rather, the defense, which was supposed to be the team's anchor, has not played well. It needs to finish the season strong to prove Washington's rebuild is headed in the right direction.

Washington now ranks 29th in yards allowed and 32nd in points. However, in a sign of how bad it's been, Sunday qualifies as its best game of the season. The defensive front has been playing better each of the past several weeks; the coverage still had its mishaps but did enough to help the pass rush at times. Washington sacked Rodgers three times -- once because it caused him to hesitate with a coverage rotation and another time because of corner Kendall Fuller's jam on receiver Davante Adams.

It wasn't enough to win, but considering the offense had the ball inside the Green Bay 25-yard line six times and came away with three points, the defense won't get the blame. Instead, the unit hopes it has started to find some answers.

"I would definitely say this was probably our best game to this point," Allen said. "We're, as a team, I think we're so close."

That's where Washington resides these days, seeking a foundation it can build upon. For six weeks, the defense was a mystery: What has gone wrong? And it's not as if a defense that was thought to be a top-10 unit can break out the champagne simply for playing better against a top quarterback. It still allowed six third-down conversions in 12 attempts. It still suffered discipline breakdowns.

On Green Bay's first drive, one big error led to a touchdown: A pass rush that failed to contain Rodgers in the pocket, when defensive tackle Tim Settle rushed inside rather than staying wide. That was the biggest issue. Then, nobody stayed with Adams, one of the NFL's best receivers. So Rodgers, rolling to his right, threw back to the middle, where Adams was uncovered, and he sped into the end zone for a 17-yard score.

As Washington coach Ron Rivera said, "If we’re disciplined and we do our job and finish it, we keep them contained."

But Washington allowed only 304 total yards, its best showing this season and Green Bay's second-lowest output. One of the Packers' touchdowns occurred after Heinicke fumbled at his own 27-yard line.

It wasn't great, but it was better. It was also necessary to see. That's why Rivera said he saw improvement.

"Yes, especially against this quarterback," Rivera said. "This is one of the elites, man, and he [Rodgers] showed it. He read us a couple times perfectly, and he threw the perfect ball."

Another sign of life: When Washington missed a tackle, it usually didn't lead to disaster as a teammate was there to help. That wasn't happening in past games.

"Swarming to the ball," said rookie corner Benjamin St-Juste. "We missed a lot of tackles last week. This week, we didn't want to miss any. That's something we worked on a lot this week, and we're going to keep working on [it] because we don't want to go back to bad habits."

Washington's defensive front has applied more pressure in recent games -- it sacked the Saints' Jameis Winston twice and the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes three times. For the season, Washington ranks 16th with 15 sacks -- 13 by the defensive line. The ends, Montez Sweat and Chase Young, have a combined 5.5 sacks, with four by Sweat, including one on Sunday. Allen also had two sacks Sunday and now has a team-best five.

"[It's] four rushing as one, not four one-on-ones," Allen said. "When you have four guys all doing their job at a high level, and when you have the athleticism of Chase and Sweat and [Daron] Payne and Matt [Ioannidis], it just makes for a more cohesive rush. So we've just got to continue to build on that."