Because “when you’re an elite edge rusher, teams game-plan you,” former draft analyst and current Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock once said. “It’s very rare that a team will say, ‘We think our tackle can handle Von Miller by himself.’”
After a year together on the Washington Football Team’s vaunted defensive line, Chase Young and Montez Sweat have become focal points for offensive coordinators and with good reason. They are two of the most talented young edge rushers in the league, and together they are capable of wreaking havoc.
But this season, Washington’s star edge rushers have numbers that, while misleading on their own, still sit below expectations. Sweat has seven of Washington’s 32 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and two of the team’s six sacks. Young has four pressures but is still awaiting his first sack.
“The numbers are going to come. I’m not really tripping over that,” Young said. “Right now, my biggest focus — our biggest focus as a defense — is everybody just do their individual job, and at the end of their day, it should all come together.”
Part of that is due to the defense’s mistakes — mistakes Coach Ron Rivera and Young, among others, have described as fixable: missed assignments, miscommunication, poor reads and missed tackles. Part of it also is due to the game plans of the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants, who used more play-action and max protection up front.
Young and Sweat have experienced plenty of “chippers,” as Young calls them. According to PFF, Young and Sweat have faced two or more blockers on 20 and 16.9 percent of their snaps, respectively.
Against the Giants, Young was chipped or double-teamed at least seven times. One chip block, courtesy of 6-foot-6, 265-pound Giants tight end Kyle Rudolph, caught Young on his blind side and knocked him on his back. On most others, he has pushed through, but he has yet to reach the quarterback at a rate most expect.
Miller, now a 10th-year pass rusher for the Denver Broncos, was, like Young, a second overall draft pick and the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year. He faced extra attention his first season, in 2011, but it wasn’t until his second year in the league that offenses began to zero in on him with their game plans.
“Year 1, I was still flying under their radar,” Miller said in an interview. “I had a good rookie season. Then I think Year 2, right off the bat, I started the season with two sacks against Ben Roethlisberger on ‘Sunday Night Football,’ and it’s just been hell since then.”
Scheme adjustments, such as alignment changes or stunts that force an offensive line to change its protection, can sometimes help to counter the double-team blocks.
“Well, part of it is depending on what type of protection they have, there’s going to be some people that are going to be singled up. Those guys have to win,” Rivera said. “They really, truly do. Secondly, the guys that are getting doubled have to put it upon themselves to understand how to rush the doubles, how to attack them. That’s one of the things that we have been talking about, we’ve been working with in terms of getting both Chase and Montez to understand what’s going to happen.
“Part of it is understanding that if I’m going to get this action from this guy, will I attack it that way?” Rivera continued. “If I’m getting this, then I go ahead and do that? They have to understand exactly what is going to benefit them as far as attacking double teams.”
As offenses devote more resources to Young and Sweat, more opportunities are created for others, especially those on the interior of the line. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen has notched a team-high three sacks through the first two games, and Daron Payne has the sixth-best pass-rush win rate (20 percent) for his position, according to ESPN.
And Young and Sweat still rank well above the norm when they take on two or more blockers; over the past two seasons, the average win rate for an edge rusher against two or more blockers has been about 13.5 percent. Young and Sweat have combined for a win rate of 16 percent this year, per PFF.
“We feel like you only need four of us to really affect the game,” Young said. “How we look at it, where we go, that’s where the defense goes. That’s just how we take it on. So we know every game, we got to be at our best for everything to go.”
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who coached Miller for three seasons in Denver, including his 2012 season when he recorded a career-high 18.5 sacks, has described the extra blocks as normal.
“It was part of it for Khalil Mack, Julius Peppers, Von Miller, any of the guys that I’ve had,” Del Rio said. “That’s part of playing defensive end in this league.”
For Miller, his cost of doing business has become a badge of honor.
“When you don’t get chipped, it’s kind of like: ‘Ah, man, maybe I’m not doing something right. Maybe they don’t look at me as the number one pass rusher,’ ” he said. “Getting chipped and all that stuff is just a sign of respect. You just got to continue to push through the chips.”
Member of executive leadership team to leave franchise
Julie Andreeff Jensen, the Washington Football Team’s senior vice president of external engagement and communications, is leaving the team after only 11 months “to pursue some other opportunities.” Jensen, previously the chief corporate affairs and communications officer at investment firm Citadel, was one of the first hires made by team president Jason Wright and was a part of Washington’s executive leadership team.
Ashley Whitlock, who reported to Jensen as the team’s director of corporate communications, is expected to continue running point for business public relations.