Commanders Corner: One Titanic struggle

Washington’s 21-17 loss to Tennessee was the Commanders’ fourth straight and makes them one of five 1-4 teams at this point of the NFL season (Houston is 1-3-1).

In a league where every team is engineered to finish between 10-7 and 7-10 (love the 17-game season), the Burgundy and Gold are already three games under .500 after five weeks. And this is not an isolated incident: they’ve started 2-3, 1-4 and 0-5 over the previous three seasons (one certainly misses the days when Jay Gruden churned out 3-2 starts from 2015-18).

But unlike previous 2022 defeats, this one wasn’t decided until the final play of the game, so there’s a different kind of hurt this week I guess.

On a Wentz and a Prayer: Quarterback Carson Carson completed 25 of 38 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns while tossing another interception. The two TDs were why he was brought here. In previous years, the Washington QB wouldn’t have been able to stretch the secondary in that manner. But the picks are troubling; last year, he threw only seven INTs while he’s already at six less than a third of the way through the season. And this week, the interception was rather critical as it happened on the final play of the game. Even if J.D. McKissic made the catch, he likely would have been tackled before the end zone.

Running in Place: Before we get inside the numbers, the fact that Brian Robinson is playing less than two months from being shot in the knee is something incredible. One hopes he continues to stay healthy with minimal effects of the gunshot wound. Robinson led the team in rushing in his debut, but gained just 22 yards on nine carries. Antonio Gibson ran three times for 6 yards to give the tailback tandem 28 yards on 12 tries (there were no carries this week for McKissic).

Pass Catch Fever: Dyami Brown caught only two passes, but one was for a 75-yard touchdown and the other was for a 30-yard score. Terry McLaurin caught five passes for 76 yards and was targeted just once on third down while Curtis Samuel made six receptions (he had six during an injury-riddled 2021) for 62 yards. McKissic continues to make most of his damage in the passing game, collecting five grabs for 37 yards.

Third Down and Out: Washington went 1 for 11 at moving the chains, not converting their first third down of the day until the final minute of regulation. Coordinator Scott Turner called 11 pass plays and Carson Wentz completed three of nine passes for one conversion while getting sacked once and recovering a fumbled snap for a loss of two yards. The top options were McKissic and Samuel: each was targeted three times and while McKissic had two catches Samuel’s reception led to the only conversion. Yardage breakdown: 0 for 2 on third and short, 1 for 4 when 4-6 yards were needed, and 0 for 5 on third and long.

D earns a B: Can we focus on what they did right first? Cole Holcomb made 15 tackles while Montez Sweat made six stops and had a pair of sacks. The pass rush was on point early, sacking Ryan Tannehill five times and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Unfortunately, the defense allowed one of those soul-sucking drives at the end of the first half, allowing the Titans to move the ball 81 yards on 15 plays over 6:57. On that possession were two of Tennessee’s four third down conversions (they went 2 of 11 the rest of the afternoon). The second half saw the defense start strong by allowing -6 yards on a pair of three and outs only to give up a seven-play, 75-yard march for the go-ahead score after the Burgundy and Gold took a 17-14 lead.

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 41.2 yards on his six punts, placing a pair inside the Tennessee 20. Joey Slye kicked a 50-yard field goal while converting both of his extra points and registered four touchbacks on his four kickoffs. Dax Milne had kickoff returns of 12 and 15 yards while Jonathan Williams had a 19-yard return. Milne had five punt returns for 29 yards after a hold wiped out a 29-yard return. Washington allowed zero punt return yards.

Flying Flags: Nine penalties for 71 yards. Ouch. The Burgundy and Gold have been flagged 26 times (tied for 13th most in the NFL) for 335 yards (fifth most). This week, six were on offense, two were on defense (not including one declined and one offsetting), and another was on special teams. Three false starts moves that infraction into the team lead with eight on the year (two ahead of defensive pass interference) while there were two offensive holds (plus a special teams hold that for accounting purposes is an offensive hold). William Jackson III didn’t get flagged this week, keeping him at four for the season, while Andrew Norwell’s hold and false start give the lineman three penalties for the year.

The most costly flag? Plenty to choose from: the special teams hold turned a drive starting at the Washington’s 44-yard line into one that would begin at their own 10, while two holds and two false starts would put the Commanders behind the chains and they’d wind up punting shortly thereafter. But Efe Obada’s roughing the passer in the second quarter turned a fourth and four at the Washington’s 36-yard line (risky field goal range) into a first and 10 at the 21. The Titans would score five plays later.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (5-0) is over halfway to its 2021 win total and is the last remaining unbeaten in the entire league. Dallas (4-1) owns second place and the No. 5 seed in the NFC thanks to its Monday Night Football win over the New York Giants (4-1), who currently holds down the No. 6 seed. Washington? At 1-4, how about last place in the division and the conference.

East is the Beast: After resembling the SBC more than the SEC of the NFL over the last few years, the NFC East is back thanks to a 14-6 start. The AFC East (12-8) isn’t far behind while the AFC North and NFC South are both off to 8-12 starts this fall. For those keeping track, the NFC has an early 9-7 advantage over the AFC.

On the Air: CBS sent its No. 5 crew to FedEx Field with Andrew Catalon and James Lofton handling the call, although in my opinion they’d be the No. 3 or 4 crew if they were paired together on FOX. Get ready for the No. 1 team for the second time in three weeks Thursday when Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit announce the game against the Bears.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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