When Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith turned on the tape of Washington’s 27-10 win last week over Oakland, he saw a fast, aggressive defense that got after Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who was sacked a league-low 18 times last season.
Washington sacked Carr four times in the victory, the most he’s been sacked in a game in nearly 20 months. And if you’re the Chiefs, who have surrendered 12 sacks this season –– third-most in the league –– it was hard not to take notice of Washington’s throttling of one of the league’s best offenses.
“That doesn’t happen –– it doesn’t happen often at all,” Smith said of Oakland’s offensive dismantling. “That is a really good unit, run and pass, that just got completely suffocated. They got behind and became one-sided and they still weren’t able to get much of anything going. I think this defense is playing really good football as a unit all across the board. On the back end, the front end, run and pass. Big test for us.”
Washington ranks 12th in the league in sacks with eight, but it is fifth in the league in quarterback hits with 20, behind only the Falcons (23), and Chiefs, Packers and Colts (22 each).
“They’ve got a very good pass rush –– their defense is playing very well, it starts up front for them,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They’ve got a very strong front seven, period. Their linebackers are good, too. Then I mentioned this to you after the game, we’ve got to do a better job up front. There are some plays that we’d like to have back there, but we’re capable of doing it, we just need to make sure we do it.”
Fortunately for the Chiefs, they’ve seen plenty of aggressive fronts already this season. The Chargers and Eagles, particularly, feature strong pass rushes. Eric Fisher being questionable for the game with a back injury
“The last three weeks we’ve seen some pretty aggressive defensive lines and linebackers, so we have been tested,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said.
Too often last week, the Chiefs failed the test. Despite a 24-10 win, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was sacked five times as the Chargers were able to limit the deep ball by harassing him constantly.
“Offensively we had too many of those, and we can’t dig ourselves in a hole because when you do that, you almost become one-dimensional and now generically speaking, you’re letting the defensive line just tee off,” Nagy said. “As you saw last week we got into some third-and-long situations where the defense can just sit at the sticks and play everything in front of them. We really need to focus on eliminating the penalties and the sacks.”
Fixing it, however, is easier said than done. Nagy couldn’t point to one specific reason for the pass-protection issues.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Nagy said. “You see some guys are getting home, one-on-one battles, but then you also see on our end just the timing aspect of it isn’t there.
“So our guys are in there Monday morning checking out the tape, understanding what’s going on, seeing where we went wrong and trying to fix it.”
They had better be. Outside linebacker Preston Smith leads Washington in sacks with three, recording one each week. He’s joined forces with veteran Ryan Kerrigan (2 1/2 sacks) to wreak havoc on Washington’s first three opponents.
Philadelphia managed to topple Washington in Week 1, but quarterback Carson Wentz’s ability to slip past pressure and be elusive in the pocket played a role in that.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, Smith has that skill set, too –– at least when he’s not being suffocated by pressure like he was last week.
Smith is currently playing at a high level. His 132.7 passer rating is tops in the NFL, and he’ll clearly need to continue playing that way against an amped up Washington defense looking to make a statement. But Smith may not have tackle Eric Fisher to help protect him. Fisher is questionable for the game because of a back injury.
“It is a big test for us, national stage,” Smith said. “Any time you get these opportunities, you have to go out there and reprove yourself. It doesn’t matter what you did three weeks ago, it doesn’t matter what you did the week before. It is a brand new challenge.
“These guys present specific challenges for us, from a personnel standpoint, scheme. We have to find a way as coaches and players to find a way and go out there and execute it and find a way to win.”