Commanders Corner: Big L in Big D followed by a pair of fires

FILE - Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. The Washington Commanders have fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer. Del Rio was 12 games into his fourth season with the team. The moves made Friday, Nov. 24, come after the Commanders lost 45-10 at Dallas on Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)(AP/Charles Krupa)

Thanksgiving saw the Washington Commanders serve up yet another turkey, but instead of the “playing down to the opponent” kind of game we saw in losses to the New York Giants twice and Chicago, they got the “completely outplayed by a good team” sort of turkey that we saw in Week 3 against Buffalo.

The 45-10 loss was actually somewhat close for over half of the game as the Dallas Cowboys turned on the jets by scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter.

This loss came after a disappointing defeat to the New York Giants, where an undrafted rookie quarterback living at home (and not even making his own bed) named Tommy DeVito tore the secondary a new one. Somebody had to go, as the sacrificial lambs were defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer.

With all the high draft picks spent on the defensive side of the ball, it’s tough to justify a unit that ranks 29th overall and 30th against the pass (serving up the highest opposing passer rating at 104.0) while allowing the most points per game (29.2). They’re a little bit better against the run (17th best), but cough up the eighth highest yards per carry average (4.4) in the league. And based on how they have played this year, nothing leads you to believe they can stop teams when they need to.

Now that this team is 4-8, they need to take long hard looks at every player currently on rookie contracts and determine whether or not they’re worth keeping as building blocks for the new regime.

Howell About That: Quarterback Sam Howell threw for 300 yards while rushing for the team’s lone touchdown while getting sacked four times and tossing a pick-6. Barring injury, he’s going to cross the 4,000-yard threshold this fall. However, Howell’s 87.3 passer rating ranks 21st in the league, right behind first-year starter Jordan Love and right ahead of injured rookie Anthony Richardson.

Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood: Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for 53 yards on 15 carries while Antonio Gibson and Chris Rodriguez combined for 42 yards on 10 attempts. Gibson added three catches for 16 yards.

Pass Catch Fever: Curtis Samuel went off, catching nine passes for 100 yards while Jahan Dotson (five for 52) and Terry McLaurin (four for 50) contributed as well. It’s nice to see those three getting the bulk of the looks: 18 of 28 completions (64% of the catches) and 202 of 300 yards (67%) coming from their three best receivers.

Third and Deceiving: For scoring only 10 points, the Commanders fared quite well on the money down, moving the chains on 7 of 15 attempts. They called a pair of runs (Gibson made the marker while Rodriguez came up short) late in the game while Howell completed 9 of 13 passes for six conversions. His top option was Terry McLaurin: one catch for a conversion on four targets. Yardage breakdown: 4-7 on short-yardage, 0-1 when needing four to six yards, and 3-7 on third and long. For the season: 27-44 (61%), 11-31 (35%), 21-83 (25%).

D earns an F: After holding the Cowboys to one first down on their initial possession, Washington allowed touchdowns the next three times the Dallas offense got on the field. On those three drives, Dak Prescott and company faced only a pair of third downs, which they both converted. After bending in the third quarter, there was more breaking in the fourth quarter as Washington’s defense coughed up points the last three times they were on the field. The Commanders secondary surrendered completions of 24, 31, 31, 34, and 35 yards. It can’t get any worse, can it?

Special Situations: Joey Slye made his only extra point and kicked a 43-yard field goal while also recording three touchbacks in three kickoffs. Tress Way averaged 39.7 yards on three punts while punt coverage allowed one 5-yard return. Jamison Crowder had punt returns of zero and 9 yards. Neither team had a kickoff return.

Flying Flags: Four accepted penalties on five whistles, with two occurring on offense (false start and a hold) and three on defense (illegal contact, offsides, and encroachment). No repeat offenders on the afternoon this time while Charles Leno’s hold gives him a team-high seven penalties on the year, which is one more than Benjamin St. Juste whose illegal contact gives the defensive back six whistles on the season. Logan Thomas’ false start pushes that penalty to a team-high 13 on the year (offensive holding coming in second now with 11 flags). Most costly penalty? Jonathan Allen’s encroachment helped jump-start a Cowboys’ drive with under two minutes in the first half and Washington having just narrowed the gap to 14-10. Five plays and 70 yards later, Dallas had a touchdown and a 10-point cushion they wouldn’t relinquish.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (10-1) owns a two-game lead over Dallas (8-3) for first place in the NFC East and is also two games clear of Detroit and San Francisco for the top seed in the conference. The Cowboys have the first Wild Card at this time. The New York Giants’ win over New England puts Tommy DeVito and company into third place (and 12th in the NFC) at 4-8 thanks to their sweep of the Burgundy and Gold and a better conference record than Chicago, with Washington losing the tiebreaker with the Bears for 13th place in the NFC due to that 40-20 smackdown in October.

Comparing the Quartets: The AFC North (28-17) remains the bunch to beat, with the NFC East (26-20) not far behind. A 3-1 week puts the AFC South (24-20) on a bit of a heater while the division of depression remains the NFC South (15-29). The AFC owns a 36-25 lead over the NFC after splitting the four interconference games last weekend.

In the Booth: Jim Nantz and Tony Romo had the call with CBS carrying the national broadcast. This week’s game with Miami is on FOX as part of the doubleheader, so we could be getting anyone from Adam Amin-Mark Schlereth to Kenny Albert-Jonathan Vilma.

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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