Nov 5, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA;  Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) throws the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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Commanders plan on-the-fly defensive fixes with Giants up next

How the Commanders’ defense went from No. 3 in yards allowed in the 2022 to the fourth-worst entering Week 11 remains one of the questions Washington is actively working to answer with seven games to play in 2023.

Identifying reasons for the freefall isn’t easy. The unit, guided by the same coordinator, Jack Del Rio, was bolstered by first- and second-round selections in the 2023 draft and has remained relatively injury free.

But here sits Washington (4-6), a loser of six of its last eight games and all fingers pointing at its defense, heading into a date Sunday at home with the New York Giants (2-8).

“I’ve been disappointed. It’s unfortunate, but it’s happened,” Rivera said of allowing big plays and big points.

New York has lost seven of its last eight with the lone win coming at home over Washington, 14-7, on Oct. 22. Despite that defeat, the Commanders are a double-digit favorite for the first time since 2017.

The margin says more about the state of the Giants than the Commanders. They are down to their third quarterback, Tommy DeVito, and injuries have eliminated several other starters.

But if there is a defense DeVito can riddle, it might be Washington’s. In a 29-26 loss Sunday at Seattle, the Seahawks scored on their final three possessions to eke out the win.

Geno Smith carved up the Commanders for 31 completions in 47 attempts for a career-high 369 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve got to be better on first- and second-down situations,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re playing a number of different guys now, especially after last week and there’s some cohesion that has to come.”

Rivera was speaking about deadline day deals that sent starting defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young to the Bears and 49ers, respectively, in return for draft picks. Those moves elevated backups to starters.

“The mindset of the team more than anything else is the opportunity that’s in front of us — focusing, preparing and doing the things we need to do to prepare ourselves to win,” Rivera said.

The struggles of the defense have left the Commanders wondering what might have been. Sam Howell, who leads the NFL in passing yards (2,783), may finally be the answer at quarterback.

But some of his best performances have come in losses in which the defense collapsed. The Commanders twice put up 31 points against the Eagles and dropped both games.

“I feel good about the direction our offense has grown. The guys are playing faster. They are playing with more confidence. They have a better grasp for what we’re doing,” Rivera said.

When Washington fell to New York four weeks ago, the Giants sacked Howell six times, exposing his primary flaw. Howell has been sacked 47 times, putting him on track to break David Carr’s single season record of 76.

DeVito has risen to the starting job after the loss of Daniel Jones (torn ACL) and Tyrod Taylor (rib injury), who passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns when the Giants beat the Commanders four weeks ago.

New York has struggled with DeVito at the controls. In a 49-17 loss at Dallas last week, DeVito completed 14 of 27 passes for 86 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The two touchdowns came in the second half and the first was after the Cowboys were already up 28-0. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line, DeVito has been sacked 11 times the last two weeks.

“You make no excuses about it,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “We are at where we are at and that’s where we’re meant to be right now, relative to what we’ve done.”

Commanders who missed practice on Wednesday include cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (illness) and running back Antonio Gibson (toe). WR Curtis Samuel was limited.

Giants starters missing practice include cornerback Adoree Jackson (concussion), offensive tackle Evan Neal (ankle) and linebackers Bobby Okereke (hip) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (concussion). Limited participants were offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (knee), cornerback Deonte Banks (ankle), safeties Xavier McKinney (rib) and Jason Pinnock (thumb/ankle), RB Saquon Barkley (ankle) and DeVito (left shoulder).

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
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