Commanders Corner: Beginning the season by finishing with a flourish

The Washington Commanders didn’t look like world-beaters or even a playoff team if we’re being honest. But the Burgundy and Gold made plays when they needed to rally past Arizona, 20-16.

Keep in mind that this is a Cardinals team many thought might be tanking heading into the season. It’s a long way to the playoffs, but at least they didn’t lose an opener to an underwhelming opponent.

A smelly 1-0 is much better than a well-played 0-1, even though playing well and losing to Arizona sounds impossible.

Play it again, Sam: Sam Howell threw for 202 yards and a touchdown while running for another score. But he lost a fumble, tossed an interception, and got sacked six times. His Week 1 passer rating was 77.6, which was 23rd best ahead of Patrick Mahomes’, while his QBR was 45.4 (18th best behind Josh Allen).

Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood: Brian Robinson Jr. tallied 19 of the Commanders’ 28 carries and 59 of the team’s 92 yards on the ground without a fumble. Antonio Gibson’s propensity for turnovers might decrease his snap count eventually. Chris Rodriguez Jr. produced on his legit third down carry (we’re not counting third-and-13s).

Run TMC: Terry McLaurin caught two passes for 31 yards, which is less than half of his opening day average of four catches and 77 yards. Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson each notched five catches while tight end Logan Thomas had the most targets (eight) and finished with four receptions.

Third and Out: Washington converted 4 of 12 on the money downs and was 1 of 6 after halftime. Howell completed all five passes but only two moved the chains (passes to Dotson and McLaurin) and he was sacked three times. One of those sacks resulted in a lost fumble that gave the Cardinals their only touchdown of the day, but the quarterback did atone for his turnover by scrambling for the go-ahead fourth quarter score. Distance breakdown: 3 of 3 on short yardage, 1 of 1 on medium yardage (4 to 6 yards needed), and 0 of 8 on long yardage. That last number is concerning, needing seven-plus yards on 67% of their third down situations.

D earns an A: With a QB potentially making career starts No. 2 through 18 this year, one knew the defense would have to do a lot of heavy lifting. They did just that, holding the Cardinals to 4 for 13 on third down while turning them over twice in the fourth quarter (generating 10 Washington points) and keeping their offense out of the end zone. Kam Curl paced the team with 10 tackles while Jamin Davis made six stops. Montez Sweat notched five tackles that included 1.5 sacks.

Special Situations: Tress Way set the tone by averaging 44.3 yards on six punts, three of which landed inside the Cardinal 20-yard line (with zero touchbacks). Joey Slye connected on both of his field goals (30 and 33 yards) and all four of his kickoffs reached the end zone. Antonio Gibson had a 21-yard kickoff return while the recently signed Jamison Crowder had a fair catch plus two five-yard punt returns. Punt coverage allowed four returns for 24 yards with a long of 13 yards.

Flying Flags: Washington was whistled nine times with eight of those penalties accepted for 69 yards. Five were on offense with three holds, 12 men on field, and pass interference the infractions. One was on defense: a declined illegal use of hands on Kendall Fuller. Three were on special teams: one illegal block above the waist on punt protection, one illegal block on a punt return, and a delay of game (to burn clock in the final minute) on a punt. Tight end John Bates was flagged twice (hold, PI) to take the early infamous lead. The most costly flag? Bates’ pass interference that turned a first-and-10 at their 35 to a second-and-21 at the 14-yard line. Two plays later, Howell threw an interception that Arizona turned into a field goal.

In the Booth: Washington drew FOX’s No. 3 team of Adam Amin and Mark Schlereth, former Washington offensive lineman. It’s a good sign after years of getting the network’s lower-tier broadcasters. We’ll keep an eye on who does their games this fall.

Dissecting the Division: Dallas leads the trio of 1-0 teams thanks to the division tiebreaker while Philadelphia is in second place because of the common games tiebreaker, even though Washington has a better conference record. The 0-1 New York Giants are in last place for now.

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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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