Commanders Corner: Soaring not high enough

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)(AP/Michael Conroy)
The Washington Commanders were a mere two-point conversion away from taking the NFC East lead. All they needed were 2 yards, and the way they had been moving the ball down the field, they were in position to get the necessary 6 feet of real estate.

Even if they didn’t make it into the end zone, they’d leave Philadelphia with their heads held high after doing everything possible to leave victory. And they’d be that much more rested heading into a tight turnaround for Thursday Night Football against Chicago.

Only instead of going for two (and in effect taking the chances of victory out of the hands of the Philly offense), the Burgundy and Gold kicked a game-tying extra point, sending the game into overtime. And even though they wound up losing anyway, the team that plays a Thursday night game was active longer than they wished Sunday afternoon. This won’t backfire against a very bad Bears team in a game Washington should win, right?

Howell About That — Sam threw for 290 yards and a touchdown, with the scoring strike coming at the end of regulation. That’s exactly what we were looking for as far as a bounce-back game. It’s likely we’ve seen his ceiling and floor already this year, and he showed the grit to be able to lead the team down the field again during the 2-minute drill late and come away with points.

Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood — Brian carried the ball 14 times for 45 yards with one touchdown (he lost a fumble at the goal line recovered by Terry McLaurin), representing 50% of the team’s 28 carries (not accounting for multiple Sam Howell scrambles that count as rushes). Antonio Gibson saw a season-high six carries after running the ball seven times over the first three weeks. And Curtis Samuel took a carry at the goal line into the end zone while tight end Logan Thomas took a direct snap for a third down conversion.

Run TMC — At least Terry’s over 10 yards per catch now. McLaurin caught eight passes for 86 yards (not including the OT pass that was questionably called incomplete), while recovering the Robinson fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Curtis Samuel added seven receptions for 51 yards (and scored on a 1-yard run to get things going).

Hold the Line — Sam Howell was sacked five times, and while that’s better than the previous week, he has still been dropped 24 times (most in the league). The ground game averaged 3.8 yards per carry but produced more 100 yards. Through four games, the five-man front has played together for all but four of the team’s 276 offensive snaps.

Third and Improving — They’re no longer in last place of the league at moving the chains. Washington went 8-16 on third down, calling 14 pass plays, one direct snap to Logan Thomas (he converted), and one quarterback keeper on third and 22. Howell completed 8-10 passes, with five conversions, while scrambling for a pair of first downs and getting sacked twice (both by Nicholas Morrow who’d tally three on the day). His top target? Terry McLaurin caught two of the three passes thrown to him for conversions. Yardage breakdown: 3-3 on short-yardage, 4-7 when needing 4 to 6 yards, 1-6 on long-yardage. Season totals: 6-9, 6-12, 4-26.

Disappointing Defense — The season is still rather young (only 23.5% elapsed) but the last three weeks have not been ideal for the Burgundy and Gold. While the D did limit Philadelphia to 4-12 on third down (two of those third downs were spent kicking field goals), they were held to three sacks and surrendered points on crucial drives. Kam Curl led the unit with 12 tackles and had one of the team’s three sacks. And after four weeks, the defense that has been a difference-maker has coughed up three 30-point games.

Special Situations — Tress Way averaged 42.6 yards on five punts, with a rare short one (29 yards) coming in overtime to deliver decent field position to the Eagles. Joey Sly connected on all four extra points and kicked a 27-yard field goal while all five of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Punt coverage allowed returns of 7, 11, and 20 yards. Jamison Crowder had a 14-yard punt return while Antonio Gibson returned one kickoff 29 yards.

Flying Flags — Washington was whistled nine times, with seven of those penalties accepted for 41 yards. Four were on offense (two false starts, a hold, and an illegal formation), and five were on defense (face mask, hold, roughing the passer, and illegal contact). Andrew Wylie’s hold and Kam Curl’s illegal contact were both declined. Offensive/special teams holding is the most commonly called penalty, with six flags over four weeks. This week’s most costly infraction? A tie for two that occurred on the same possession: Jamin Davis’ defensive holding turned a third and 10 at the Philly 26 in to a first and 10 at their 31 … and the Eagles would score three plays later. Montez Sweat’s roughing the passer on the TD toss would move Philly to the one-yard line — and make the two-point conversion a little bit easier in a game that wound up going into overtime.

Digesting the Division — Philadelphia (4-0) not only leads the NFC East but the Eagles are tied for the best record in the NFC (San Francisco currently has a better points differential). Dallas (3-1) after its nuking of New England stands in second place and holds down the No. 6 seed (Seattle has a better NFC record). Washington is one of five NFC teams that are off to a 2-2 start, while the New York Giants (1-3) should perhaps petition to play all of its games in the afternoon: They’ve now lost on Sunday, Monday and Thursday night by a combined 94-15 score.

Comparing the Quartets and Conferences — Seattle’s win over the Giants ties the NFC West with the East for the best composite mark at 10-6. The NFC North is the early trailer with a 6-10 record. Three of the four AFC divisions are off to 8-8 starts. The NFC holds an 8-6 advantage almost one quarter through the season.

Broadcast Booth — The Commanders got FOX’s No. 2 booth in Joe Davis and Darryl Johnston. Now prepare to be confused as that network carries postseason baseball, and the mangled broadcast teams that come with it.

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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