Green Bay Packers v. Washington: Behind Enemy Lines

Sep 16, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) gestures to fans against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) gestures to fans against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers have won their last five games and are now back at home to take on a 2-4 Washington Football team who has lost back-to-back games.

In terms of points per game allowed, this was a Washington defense that was one of the best in football last season. However, in 2021, they’ve surprisingly been the worst in football, even with a stout defensive front. The offense, led by Taylor Heinicke, ranks in the bottom half of the league in many key statistical categories.

To help provide us with some insight into this uncommon opponent, Jerry Trotta of Riggo’s Rag, where they cover anything and everything about the Washington Football team, was kind enough to answer five of my questions.

Here is what you need to know and what to be on the lookout for when the Green Bay Packers and Washington take the field on Sunday.

This was a Washington defense that hasn’t lived up to expectations early on this season; what has been the big issue(s)?

Jerry: Where do I even start? The secondary has been the main culprit. William Jackson has been a bust signing. Kendall Fuller seems to have lost some of his touch. Landon Collins is so inept in coverage that he’s been moved from safety to a box linebacker.

Three players on big contracts continuing to underperform is a recipe for disaster, and Washington’s defense has suffered the consequences.

Takeaway: Despite the overall struggles, the Washington defensive front can still leave their mark on a game. Washington ranks 10th in pressure rate and ninth in yards per carry allowed.

But as Jerry mentioned, the pass defense has really struggled. Washington is allowing almost 310 passing yards per game — the most in football — and they rank 28th in pass defense by DVOA. This could be a big day for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams.

What is the strength of this Washington team—where have they found success?

Jerry: The strength of this Washington team is their defensive front, and they’ve lived up to expectations this season. Jonathan Allen is living proof that not all players mail it in after signing a life-changing contract. He’s been Washington’s best player on defense.

Beyond Allen, Chase Young has rebounded after a slow start, Montez Sweat has made some big plays and Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis have been handfuls along the interior.

Takeaway: As I just discussed, the Washington defensive front is still finding success, despite the overall defensive numbers. Edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat both rank in the top-24 in pressures generated, according to PFF ($$).

Along the interior, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne both rank in the top-10 in pressures, with Matt Ioannidis ranking 22nd. In addition to Washington ranking ninth in yards per carry given up, they also rank 12th by run defense DVOA.

With more movement coming along the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, they will again be tested this week against another stout defensive front.

On the flip side, what is their weakness—what do they struggle with?

Jerry: Washington’s most vital flaw, as mentioned earlier, is their secondary. The lack of continuity excuse is no longer applicable. We’re almost two months into the season, and we’re still seeing breakdowns and miscommunication lead to big-play touchdowns.

Beyond that, though, it’s the quarterback position. Taylor Heinicke is a great story, but his limitations as a pocket passer become increasingly apparent as more film becomes available.

Takeaway: In reference to the big-plays given up, Washington has allowed 22 pass plays this season of 20 or more yards, according to Sharp Football, which is the seventh-highest total in football this season.

When it comes to Heinicke, he’s had some impressive moments, but he has his limitations. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns to six interceptions and a passer rating of 86.9. Under pressure is where he has really struggled, and with Washington being without both Samuel Cosmi and Brandon Scherff, this is something that the Green Bay Packers defense could take advantage of.

Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Packer fans may not be familiar with but could impact the game?

Jerry: JD McKissic is definitely an overlooked player on offense that could impact Sunday’s game. He’s one of the best third-down backs in the league. Period. With Logan Thomas on IR, McKissic has emerged as Heinicke’s security blanket. Look for him to be a potential difference-maker.

We mentioned him earlier, but Matt Ioannidis is as underrated as they come at the defensive tackle position. He’s Washington’s fourth-highest graded player through six weeks, per Pro Football Focus, and for good reason.

He won’t blow you away in the box score and he doesn’t play every snap, but trust me when I say you’ll know when he’s out there.

Takeaway: McKissic has 25 carries this season for 100 yards, but where he has left his mark is in the passing game. He’s been targeted 28 times, hauling in 21 of those passes at 10.2 yards per catch along with a touchdown, and as Jerry mentioned, he’s been very effective on third downs.

Ioannidis is PFF’s 16th highest graded interior defender this season along with tallying 13 pressures, six stops, and 15 total tackles. Although his presence may not always show up on the stat sheet, Ioannidis’ teammates are often benefitting from him being on the field.

The Packers are favorites, but if Washington is going to pull off the upset, what does that blueprint look like? 

Jerry: It sounds obvious, but if Washington stands any chance at pulling off the upset, they must establish the run and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands as much as possible, because he’ll torch this secondary if given the chance.

On the defensive side, don’t just get pressure, get home. We all know that Rodgers is a menace when he gets outside of the pocket, so Chase Young and Co. need to be precise when they generate pressure. If they aren’t, well, it could be another long day at the office for Washington.

Takeaway: The key for the Green Bay Packers is that the offensive line continues to hold up well. Although it won’t be an easy task, this will allow them to lean on the run game, which as we all know by now, greatly benefits the passing game, and with time in the pocket, Rodgers should be able to pick this Washington secondary apart. If the Packers can do that, I don’t see how the Washington offense will be able to keep up.