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Examining the impact of Chase Young’s return on Washington Commanders defense

Chase Young Washington Commanders
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Commanders edge rusher Chase Young is closing in on a return to the field, providing a massive reinforcement for a defense that is steadily improving as the 2022 NFL season unfolds.

Selected with the 2nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Young’s career got off to a fantastic start. He earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors in 2020, delivering on the promise as a generational pass rusher who can impact an entire defense.

  • Chase Young stats (2020): 12 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles

Washington loved what saw from Young in 2020 and anticipated another leap forward in 2021. Unfortunately, he struggled early in the season with just four quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in nine games.

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Before the 6-foot-5 edge rusher could turn things around, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the recovery timeline for ACL injuries ranging from 8-12 months, Washington realized it would be without Young for the start of the 2022 season.

The Commanders slowly pushed Young’s return back every few weeks. Ron Rivera announced in late July that Young would miss “a little bit of time” before he was medically cleared to play. Washington later placed him on the PUP list, ruling him out through Week 4.

While Young made steady progress, his return date still kept being pushed back. Ben Standig of The Athletic reported that the star edge rusher is expected back at practice this week, but a return in Week 8 seems unlikely.

It means fans will likely have to wait until Week 9 for Young’s return to the field. Once he is cleared to play, though, it’s going to be a massive boost for a defense that is rapidly improving.

Chase Young’s return and the rise of the Washington Commanders’ defense

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Football Team
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Things looked bleak for the Commanders’ defense early in the season. Even with significant investments made into the unit, with Washington among the leaders in cap-space allocation on this side of the ball, Jack Del Rio’s group was repeating its woes from the 2021 season.

  • Washington Commanders defensive stats (Week 1-3): 274 pass ypg allowed, 8-1 TD-INT ratio, 7.8 ypa, 104.6 QB rating allowed, 128.7 rush ypg, 5.4 ypc

There were calls for Del Rio to be fired. If the veteran defensive coordinator couldn’t even coach an average defense with the talent on Washington’s depth chart, especially for two consecutive seasons, a change felt necessary.

Related: 3 reasons why the Washington Commanders should be sellers at trade deadline

Benching cornerback William Jackson seemed to help and the Commanders’ defensive line started playing up to its talent level. Since that rough three-game stretch, we’ve seen a very different version of this defense.

  • Washington Commanders defensive stats (Week 4-7): 175.3 pass ypg allowed, 6-1 TD-INT, 6.9 ypa, 93.8 QB rating, 110.5 rush ypg, 4 ypc

While this is certainly not a top-10 defense in the NFL, it’s playing at a much higher level than fans witnessed early in the season. There are fewer blown coverages, Washington is starting to win more battles in the trenches and there are statistical improvements across the board.

Related: Best landing spots for Washington Commanders’ Daron Payne

Now add Chase Young into the mix. Washington can be conservative with his snap count, saving him for passing downs as he works his way back into shape. The Commanders’ coaching staff also knows he won’t be quite as dominant as before early on, but he can still be a difference-maker up front.

Soon, the Commanders will have the quarter of Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen on the field once more. It will likely push their ESPN Pass Rush Win rate from 43% (15th in NFL) into the top 10, making life easier for the linebackers and defensive backs.

While it certainly won’t be enough to turn Washington into a playoff contender, a much-improved defense paired with the young playmakers on offense taking a step forward will provide hope for the future and make the rest of the season easier to watch.