Commanders Corner: Returning home mile high

Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. (8) runs against the Denver Broncos of an NFL football game Sunday August 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)(AP/Bart Young)
We saw this the entire way, right? After trailing 21-3 in the first half, the Washington Commanders rallied to reach 2-0 — the first time Washington has done that since 2011. And let’s be honest, Sam Howell feels a little bit better than Rex Grossman at quarterback.

The team hasn’t started 3-0 since the second season of Joe Gibbs, and this team’s quarterback’s best days are ahead of him (it seems). In an era where 2-6 starts have been the norm for the Burgundy and Gold, 2-0 is rather unfathomable.

Howell ‘Bout That? Sam Howell completed 27 of 39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns while using his feet strategically, scrambling for a first down. Zero interceptions. Even though he was sacked four times, he made a leap between games one and two, which is all you can ask for when he’s a virtual rookie (one game played last year).

Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson: Brian Robinson Jr. led the ground attack with 18 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns (both in the fourth quarter). Through two games, he’s been the main man with 37 carries (team has 51) and 146 yards (team has 214).

Run TMJ: Terry McLaurin was the top target with five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, a nice change after he was held to a pair of receptions in week one. Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson lead the team after two weeks with eight receptions apiece.

Hold the Line: Well, four sacks allowed is two better than the week before but still not ideal. What is nice is they averaged over five yards per carry against the Broncos.

Third and Not Awesome: Washington converted 3 of 10 on the day with nine pass plays being called (not including a sack wiped out by a Bronco penalty) and the other was a draw play on third and 11. Howell completed 2-5 passes for two conversions while scrambling for a conversion, getting sacked three times. His top option was Dotson (one catch/conversion on two targets). Distance breakdown: 0-1 on short-yardage, 0-2 when needing 4-6 yards, and 3-7 on long-yardage. So far this year, 15 of the 22 third downs have been with 7+ yards needed to move the chains.

Case for the Defense: After a few early stumbles to dig a 21-3 crater, the Commanders D earned an A. They sacked Russell Wilson seven times and held the Broncos to 4-12 on third down (2-8 after halftime). Chase Young, in his first game of the year, recorded 1.5 sacks, as did Montez Sweat. Linebacker Cody Barton tallied 10 tackles while Jamin Davis recovered a fumble. And 2023 first round pick Emmanuel Forbes notched his first career interception.

Special Situations: Joey Slye made field goals of 44 and 49 yards while missing 49 and 59-yarders. All six of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Tress Way averaged 56.3 yards per punt with a pair of those kicks landing inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line. Jamison Crowder had punt returns of three and six yards while there were no kickoff returns. Punt coverage allowed a 45-yard return by Marvin Mims Jr.

Flying Flags: Washington was whistled nine times, with eight penalties accepted for 69 yards (Kendall Fuller and his illegal use of the hands lucks out). Four were against the offense (two holds, a false start, and a pass interference), while four were against the defense (two roughing the passers, illegal use of the hands, and a neutral zone infraction) including all three fourth quarter flags.

After two weeks, offensive/special teams holding is the most frequent flag with five, while Young’s two penalties (roughing the passer and neutral zone infraction) tie him for the team lead with John Bates.

Sunday’s most costly penalty? Davis’ roughing the passer moved the Broncos from their 25 to the 40 where, on the next play, they hit on a 60-yard touchdown pass.

Dissecting the Division: Dallas is the best of the 2-0’s because of their division win over the New York Giants in week one, while Philadelphia owns the common opponents tiebreaker over Washington. The New York Giants are in last for the moment — one wonders if the NFL would have awarded them two losses if they fell at Arizona.

East is the Beast: The Commanders’ quartet is 7-1 to start the year, easily the best in all of pro-football. The NFC South is a surprising second at 6-2, while no division in the AFC has a winning mark after two weeks (small sample size I know, but still …). The AFC West is a league-worst 2-6, even with defending Super Bowl champ Kansas City in their midst. The NFC has won the first six interconference games.

Broadcast Booth: The duo of Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta (remember him?) handled the game for CBS, and it made sense despite the market size of Washington to have the No. 6 team on the call with Dallas-New York Jets going to most of the country as the national No. 1 game. We’ll see which crew comes to FedEx Field Sunday with five CBS games in that window (New England-New York Jets and Denver-Miami appear to be more compelling matchups).

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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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