Washington's defensive line was assembled for games like the Bucs matchup

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Peter Hailey
·3 min read
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Washington's D-line was built for games like Bucs matchup originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When Washington drafted Jonathan Allen 17th overall in the 2017 draft, then took Allen's teammate, Daron Payne, 13th the year after that, then traded back into the 2019 first round to nab Montez Sweat with the 26th choice, and then capped it all off by bringing Chase Young back to the area with the second pick last April, they did so with a goal in mind.

To build a rotation of linemen — featuring Ryan Kerrigan, Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis as well — that could overwhelm opponents in an increasingly quarterback-centric sport.

Come Saturday night, the franchise will get to see if all that investing can generate a playoff victory.

There aren't a lot of reasons to believe that the Burgundy and Gold will sink the Bucs when they duel on Wild Card weekend, but the one factor everyone will cite when discussing how the hosts can upset the visitors is that they possess a pass rush that can ruin Tom Brady's evening the way a tomato can ruin his meal.

And while Ron Rivera was only with the organization for the addition of Young, he sure is glad that the previous regime stocked up the way they did when they welcomed on Allen, Payne and Sweat.

"Games like these... That’s why you have the front that you have," he told the media on Monday.

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When Rivera was with the Panthers and Carolina was at its best, he built a roster that could produce the ideal mix of interior pressure along with edge pressure. In his old division, the NFC South, he was forced to face Drew Brees and Matt Ryan a combined four times every season, so he made sure he picked up pieces that could impact those elite pocket passers.

Then, when he became Washington's new leader, Rivera reflected on how the 49ers amassed stud after stud to fortify the lead unit on their defense. As he scanned through whom his new club already had under contract and surmised that Young would be available, too, he realized he might just be able to create a similar sort of attack in the NFC East.

"Just looking at that youth and the potential of that youth and knowing that, if we developed the youth properly, we’d develop something good," Rivera said. "I think we’re starting to get that. I mean, we’re still developing. They’re still learning. They’re still growing. But their potential is most certainly on display."

For Washington to extend their first campaign under Rivera, the D-line's talents better be on display in the brightest of letters on Saturday. Alex Smith and Co. were ragged in Week 17, and the odds of them visiting the end zone on four or five occasions versus Tampa's excellent group are long. 

Therefore, just as they have for most of the season, Jack Del Rio's charges, specifically up front, will need to be the difference.

"It’s Tom Brady," Rivera said. "Let’s be realistic about who we’re playing. The dude is having another phenomenal year again. He’s been hot. Maybe we’ll get lucky and catch him down."

Of course, the more likely path to victory for Washington will involve causing Brady to go down as opposed to hoping they merely intersect with him when he's off. 

Fortunately, while they only have a week to prepare for the meeting with him, in one respect, they've truly been gearing up for the matchup for years now.