Limited time-of-possession helping fuel Washington's defensive woes

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Adding to WFT's defensive woes is limited time-of-possession originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Football Team's defense was supposed to be a major strength this season and so far it has been far from a positive. They are 29th in points allowed and 31st in yardage, and it doesn't get much better when you survey the details. They are bad against the pass and also against the run. And let's not even talk about third down.

Another problem they have, and it's related, is that they are on the field a lot. Washington is getting slaughtered in time of possession and, though there are a myriad of factors for why, it has created a situation where their defense is having to work a lot harder than most.

Entering Week 4, Washington is 30th out of 32 teams in average time of possession (25:32). Last season, they were 17th (29:50) when their offense had the ball for an average of four minutes and 18 seconds more per game.

You see a pattern when you look at the season before, in 2019, when Washington was 32nd in TOP (27:11). Not surprisingly, their defense struggled that year, ranking 27th in points and yards allowed.

That translates to many more defensive snaps, which means more chances for the opposing team to score and a greater likelihood Washington defensive players get tired. This season, Washington's defense has had the second-most scrimmage plays (73/g) in the NFL. They were 16th last season, averaging 10.25 fewer plays per game (62.75).

Both the quantity and the quality of their defensive drives are problems so far this year. Washington is 29th in average time per defensive drive (3:14), 30th in plays per drive (7.2), 29th in yards allowed per drive (40.5) and 30th in points allowed per drive (2.91). Last season, they were fourth (2:34), second (5.5), second (25.8) and third (1.69) in those categories.

Put another way, Washington is allowing opponents to gain 14.7 more yards per drive and take 40 more seconds on average than last season.  

Controlling the clock doesn't always equate to wins, as some of the best teams with the most potent offenses score quickly. The Kansas City Chiefs are a perfect example. But for a team like Washington, without a superstar quarterback and that relies heavily on their defense, it arguably carries more importance.

If you are among those who have wondered why Alex Smith had the best record (11-5, .688%) of any Washington quarterback in the Dan Snyder era despite rarely throwing touchdowns, time of possession likely had something to do with it. While Washington was 17th in TOP last season at 29:50, they had the ball for 31:54 on average in Smith's starts. That would have ranked second in the NFL.

Similarly, in 2018 when they were 19th overall in TOP (29:37), with Smith they had the ball 31:24 on average, which would have been sixth in the league that year. And if you look at Smith's 16 total starts with Washington, they went 8-3 (.727) when they won time of possession. Smith was a master at milking the clock.

The offense has so far shown signs of improvement from last year. But perhaps there would be benefits to slowing the game down by running more or taking more time off the clock before snaps. It would ask less of their defense while also keeping the other team's offense off the field. Until this Washington defense plays up to its talent level, they need to find a better balance.