DETROIT — The first two games of 2022 revealed what the Washington Commanders offense can do. It features plenty of playmakers, a quarterback with an arm to threaten every part of the court, and the ability to score quickly. It showed why Commanders are optimistic this season.
He just needs the defense to do his part.
If the Commanders (1-1) are to fight for a playoff spot this season, they’ll also need more help from a defense that also struggled in 2021. After two games — and facing a powerful Philadelphia Eagles offense on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) — Washington’s defense continued to give up big plays and too many runs.
It nearly cost the team in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It cost them Sunday’s 36-27 loss to the Detroit Lions. And if they don’t solve their problems, it will also cost them dearly in the future.
“We have to lock it down and not panic, figure it out,” Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb said.
Yes, they do. After two games, the Commanders rank 27th in yards and points allowed. No team allowed more plays of 40 or more yards (four) in the first two games. They also gave up a 59-yard free kick return on a safety. Last season, the Commanders ranked 25th in points and 22nd in yards.
Commanders played without starting strong safety Kamren Curl, who is still recovering from a right thumb injury that required surgery in late August, and defensive end Chase Young, who is on injured reserve as he is recovering from a torn ACL last November. They also have three sophomores in key positions at linebacker (Jamin Davis), corner (Benjamin St-Juste) and safety (Darrick Forrest); they are an experienced defense in some parts but thrive in others.
They also lost depth along the defensive line. Commanders rookie backup Phidarian Mathis suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first quarter of Game 1. Replacement Daniel Wise was out with an ankle injury on Sunday, leaving Donovan Jeter, an undrafted rookie free agent signed earlier in the week, to play 18 snaps, according to Next Gen Stats. And reserve winger Casey Toohill, a key replacement with Young out, suffered a concussion in the first quarter.
That’s why head coach Ron Rivera said after the game that he had “a lot of concern” about the depth of the defensive line, especially after tackle Jonathan Allen played 52 snaps with pain. in the groin. He was supposed to be on a snap count, Rivera said, but they scrapped that plan due to the injuries.
The secondary must also play more regularly. Amo-Ra St-Brown’s 49-yard pass reception was the subject of blown coverage in the first quarter during which he was wide open in midfield. There was a lack of awareness in the secondary on St. Brown’s 58-yard sweep run in the fourth quarter. This play came just after Washington cut the lead to 22-15. Three games later it was 29-15.
“Nobody even knew I had the ball,” St. Brown told reporters afterward. “I don’t even think the security looking at me knew I had the ball, and all I hear from the defense is, ‘Oh s—‘, from everyone. And I knew – I knew in that moment that it was going to be a big game.”
The Washington secondary struggled with communication at the start of last season, in part due to the addition of three new players to its top five defensive backs. Commanders say communication is no longer the problem.
“We communicate very well; nothing has changed in that regard,” security Bobby McCain said. “We have to be better at the little things, be more detailed in practice and understand that everyone has to do their job. We are going to do it.
When asked what happened in the first half on Sunday, Forrest, starting in place of Curl, cited the ploy.
“It felt like they knew exactly what we were into,” Forrest said of the first half. “It was a great attacking game.”
Allen, however, refuted that claim on Monday afternoon, saying the players deserved the blame.
“I’m not a fan of putting a lot on coaches. We have to be the ones to execute,” he said.
Rivera said outages usually relate to a player not performing. Indeed, of Detroit’s 425 yards, 227 have come in six plays. For example, he said, on a 22-yard touchdown catch by D’Andre Swift in the third quarter, a defensive back failed to turn on Detroit’s back. Swift fell, got up and ran into the end zone – all intact. Ten players did their job; we didn’t – and it cost them.
“It’s not a group. These are not diagrams. It’s a failure to put us in a position to force things to happen,” Rivera said. “There were six plays they made that really gave us trouble. I don’t know if I would put as much on the schematics as I was on some of the things we need to do better.
Washington’s offense showcases explosive talent. Quarterback Carson Wentz threw seven touchdown passes in two games. The Commanders rank sixth in points and seventh in yards per game and are tied for second in most plays of 25 or more yards with seven — a quarter of what they did all last season. And they can score quickly, with all their points on Sunday after halftime.
Washington must correct its mistakes and knows it. Commanders will also focus on improving on third down (fifth in the NFL) and stopping Detroit on its first two trips to the red zone – forcing a field goal, then stopped them during the trials. But the Lions then scored touchdowns on their next four trips to the end zone. The defense looks good at times and in spurts – but lacks consistency. And inconsistency leads to points. The Commanders allow an NFL-worst 8.47 yards on first down — a stat improved by two plays that gained 108 combined yards.
But they remain optimistic.
“If we keep doing our best,” McCain said, “it will happen for us.”
It must. Otherwise, a season with the potential to be fun will be wasted. Still.