Commanders Corner: Washington not ready for prime time

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera addressing members of the media after an NFL football game against Chicago Bears, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Landover, Md. Chicago won 40-20. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(AP/Andrew Harnik)

So, have we recovered from Thursday night?

The 40-20 loss to Chicago was another splash of cold water on the face of the Washington Commanders faithful. It’s one thing to get boat-raced by Buffalo (a Super Bowl contender), but losing the way they did to one of two winless teams in the NFL? A team in chaos that is coming to your stadium on a short week?

Thursday’s loss may have been the best thing to happen to this franchise from a big-picture standpoint. It was such a loss that even the usually pleasant Magic Johnson went off on social media about the lack of heart and fire, which no doubt serves as notice to the new ownership group that the current coaching staff will not work long-term.

In year four of the Ron Rivera regime, they’re losing games like this to teams like that.

If ownership were to move on, no reasonable person would have any objection. But there’s plenty of football to be played, and as we’ve seen during the Rivera era, seasons can turn on a dime. Will that happen this year, and would it be enough to get a fifth year on the sidelines?

Howell About That: Quarterback Sam Howell threw for 388 yards but on 37 completions in 51 attempts. He was also sacked five times, lost a fumble and tossed an interception. His first-half numbers (when the game was in doubt): 9 of 13 for 71 yards and an interception, one sack and one scramble.

Running Aground: Howell also led the team in rushing with 19 yards on four carries. Brian Robinson Jr. carried the ball just six times for 10 yards as the Commanders abandoned the run during the second half.

Pass Catch Fever: Logan Thomas tallied nine catches for 77 yards while Terry McLaurin made four grabs for 49 yards (TMC on pace for 85 catches and 887 yards), and Jahan Dotson added three catches for 30 yards.

Third Down and Out: The Commanders moved the chains on 6 of 12 attempts, running just once (Robinson lost 1 yard on a third and one to force a punt on their first possession. Howell completed 6 of 8 passes for six conversions. His top target? Logan Thomas, who caught both passes aimed his way and made it past the marker. Yardage breakdown: 1-3 short-yardage, 1-2 when needing four to six yards, 3-7 long-yardage. For the season: 7-12, 7-14, 7-33.

D earns an F: The defense that helped Washington to its most recent playoff berth in 2020 and the one many expected to lead this team to respectability this fall allowed points on all five of Chicago’s first-half possessions. The Bears moved the chains on 6 of 9 third downs before intermission, and the Washington secondary was unable to contain wide receiver D.J. Moore all evening. The ex-Maryland Terrapin made eight catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. The defense has coughed up 30+ points now for four straight games. Does it look like things will get better anytime soon?

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 51.5 yards on his two punts while Joey Slye made two of three field goals (32 and 51 yards) while missing a 46-yarder. Slye also delivered five touchbacks in five kickoffs. Jamison Crowder had a 20-yard punt return, but there were no kickoff returns. Punt coverage allowed returns of 6 and 11 yards.

Flying Flags: Just one accepted penalty, a first-quarter false start by Byron Pringle. The infraction turned a 2nd and 7 into a 2nd and 12, expediting a punt two plays later. An illegal shift that was declined was called in the second quarter as an incomplete pass was going to force a punt.

Dissecting the Division: Philadelphia (5-0) stands atop the NFC East as well as the entire conference and league, while Dallas (3-2) is in second place, while the Commanders (2-3) are in third place only because the New York Giants (1-4) are in a much worse place at this moment.

Comparing Quartets and Conferences: The NFC West owns the best division record at 11-8, thanks to San Francisco’s Sunday Night victory over Dallas, as the NFC East is half a game behind at 11-9. Monday Night Football decided the weakest foursome with Green Bay’s loss giving the NFC North an 8-12 mark. Monday’s game also gave the tied up the two conferences with 10 wins apiece.

In the Booth: Thursday Night Football meant the Amazon crew of Al Michaels & Kirk Herbstreit were on the call. Last year, the TNF games gained a bad rap of being unwatchable, and Michaels earned the rep of hating on the poor play. That’s what you get when you don’t give teams a bye the previous weekend. But then again, the NFL is now being okay with teams playing the week after their London trips (we saw the Falcons sleepwalk this past Sunday against Houston).

The Week 6 game in Atlanta will be on CBS on a light day for that network (they don’t have the doubleheader either) so it’ll be interesting to see which announcers get the game.

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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