Why Stephen A. doesn't like the Commanders' firing of Jack Del Rio (1:32)Stephen A. Smith explains why he is not a fan of the Commanders' decision to fire Jack Del Rio. (1:32)
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Commanders have fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, coach Ron Rivera announced Friday, as the Washington defense has plummeted to the bottom of the NFL rankings after entering the season with high expectations.
The Commanders (4-8) have lost three in a row -- including their 45-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday -- and eight of the past 10. They had hoped the defense would be a consistent force, given how many new options they had on offense. But instead the defense became an albatross.
As the losses mounted, so did pressure for the organization to make a move.
Rivera, who also fired defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer, will take over the defensive playcalling for the rest of the season, he said during a video conference call Friday afternoon.
"If you don't change things, can you expect things to change?" Rivera said. "So that's what I'm doing, to see if things will change."
The Commanders' defense ranks worst in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed -- one year after ranking seventh and third, respectively, in those categories. The Commanders consistently gave up big plays and failed to make many of their own.
Washington has allowed a league-high 49 pass plays of 20 or more yards. The Commanders haven't intercepted a pass in the past six games or caused a turnover in the past three.
Rivera said that he had thought about these moves "for a little bit" but that after processing Thursday's loss to Dallas -- when Washington's defense allowed 38 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter -- he decided to act, letting team owner Josh Harris know about the moves Friday morning.
"I mean it's not an indictment of Jack and Brent because those guys worked their asses off trying to get things right and trying to do things for us," Rivera said. "It's just, for whatever reason, it wasn't coming together. We haven't played as well as we would like to have this season. We're all culpable, believe me. We all are, coaches and players as a group."
Rivera, who last called plays with Carolina in 2019, said there are some things he will do differently, saying they might "play some guys differently." But he didn't specify what other on-field changes might take place, saying he was "brought up in coaching from a different perspective" so there would be some natural differences.
Commanders coach Ron Rivera, after the firing of DC Jack Del Rio
Harris said he accepted Rivera's recommendations to dismiss Del Rio and Vieselmeyer.
"I feel exactly how our fans feel today: disappointed and frustrated. It's how our players and staff feel as well," Harris said in a statement. "I knew our first season of ownership would include challenges along the way, and we will not shy away from hard work, nor will we be deterred by adversity. As Coach Rivera and I discussed, all of our energy for the remainder of the season will be focused on playing better, more consistent football and developing our players while intently evaluating the areas in which we need to improve this offseason. Our fans deserve a team that can compete with the NFL's best and win sustainably over the long-term. I will not waver from that mission."
Cristian Garcia will become the interim defensive backs coach. He had been elevated to assistant defensive backs/nickels coach this season, his third in the NFL and with Washington. Richard Rodgers will remain as a senior defensive assistant/safeties coach.
In Del Rio's first three seasons with Washington, the defense was inconsistent. In 2020, the Commanders finished fourth in points allowed and second in yards allowed but followed that the next season by ranking 25th in points and 22nd in yards.
Washington had invested in its defense, which is why more was expected. The Commanders opened the season with a defensive line considered one of the best in football; all four starters had been first-round draft picks. But that group failed to produce to the team's liking, and it ended up trading both defensive ends, sending Montez Sweat to Chicago and Chase Young to San Francisco.
Defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jon Allen, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last year, have regressed this season. In 2022, Allen had a pass rush win rate of 13.8% and 7.5 sacks, while Payne was at 12.7% and 11.5 sacks. This season, Allen has a pass rush win rate of 10.9% and 5.5 sacks, and Payne has a win rate of 6.1% and two sacks.
The overall defense struggled from the start and, by Week 4, ranked 29th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed.
"It was one of those things that just kind of started, it's hard to get out of it, and this [was] the thing I felt was necessary to do to hopefully get out of this rut and get to a point where we can play to our abilities," Rivera said, "It was hard because we got some good guys and we did some good things, but unfortunately something bad would happen and it just kind of escalated."
Del Rio has coached in the NFL since 1997, serving as a head coach in Jacksonville from 2003 to 2011 and with the Raiders from 2015 to 2017. He also was a defensive coordinator for one season with Carolina and three with Denver.
He caused a stir in June 2022 when he referred to the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as a "dustup." He also tweeted earlier that year, in response to a post about upcoming hearings on the events of Jan. 6: "Would love to understand 'the whole story' about why the summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property is never discussed but this is??? #CommonSense."
Rivera fined Del Rio $100,000 at the time, saying his comments had caused a distraction for the team.