Commanders Corner: Feeling the Draft?

On the first day of 2023, Washington Commanders Coach Ron Rivera was surprised to learn that his team could be eliminated that day (and they were).

On the final day of the year, a team that had long been eliminated lost 27-10 to San Francisco in a game that was notable because it wrapped up at 3:47 p.m.

But even with the early finish, there was a lot to be left desired.

No matter, because with the defeat, Washington moved into the No. 2 spot for the 2024 NFL Draft. Even with a loss to Dallas in Week 18, they could slide back to the third spot (the tiebreaker is the fluid strength of schedule), but Washington at this time has an excellent chance at bringing in a franchise-altering quarterback. Just like 2020, when they passed on Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa, and just like 2012 when they took Robert Griffin III.

Here’s to getting that QB this time and protecting him with linemen chosen in rounds two and three.

Howell About That: Sometimes the quarterback carousel spins right back to where it started. Sam Howell, four days after being benched, was pressed into duty when Jacoby Brissett’s hamstring wouldn’t cooperate, throwing for 169 yards and a touchdown. But he was also sacked once and tossed a pair of interceptions while averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion. Now, before you go crazy about his league-high 19 interceptions this fall, take a peek at the other quarterbacks giving chase: Josh Allen (16 INT) has Buffalo on the precipice of the playoffs, Patrick Mahomes (14) and Jalen Hurts (14) have their teams playoff-bound one year after they met in the Super Bowl, and Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence (12) have been the major reasons why their teams are contenders instead of pretenders.

Robinson Returns: After missing a big chunk of the month with a hamstring injury, Brian Robinson Jr. returned to the lineup and led the team with 44 yards rushing on nine carries while also making four catches for 32 yards. Antonio Gibson added 19 yards rushing plus a pair of catches.

Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin led the team with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown (he’s now within 60 yards of 1,000 for the season), while Curtis Samuel added three for 33 and Jahan Dotson had just one target.

Third and Forgettable: Washington moved the chains on 3-9 attempts, including 0-4 in the second half. Howell completed 2-7 passes for a pair of conversions while getting sacked once and tossing one interception on the money down. His top option? Terry McLaurin with both catches and conversions (including a touchdown reception) on four targets. Brian Robinson had one run for a two-yard gain and a first down. Yardage breakdown: 3-4 when needing fewer than four yards, 0-5 when needing more than six.

Defensive Indifference: Washington allowed points on three of four San Francisco possessions in the first half, followed by a pair of scoring drives to begin the second half. Sustained drives was the catchphrase, as four of the five scoring drives were 10+ plays and four of those drives were for 60+ yards (average was 11 plays for 71 yards). Cody Barton tallied 12 tackles while Khaleke Hudson added 11 stops. The one sack was credited to the team so Montez Sweat remains the team’s top pass rusher two months after his departure. And once again, zero takeaways.

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 52 yards on his three punts, one of which was returned for 17 yards. Joey Slye kicked a 47-yard field goal while converting his lone extra point attempt. Two of Slye’s three kickoffs went for touchbacks and one was returned 28 yards. Jamison Crowder had a two-yard punt return and the Commanders had no kickoff returns.

Flying Flags: Five penalties for 40 yards, with all three offensive infractions charged to lineman Trent Scott (two false starts plus an illegal use of the hands). The two defensive penalties were holding (Tariq Castro-Fields) and a face mask (Cody Barton). With one week left, your leaders for the season are false starts (18 over 14 offensive/special teams holds) and Benjamin St. Juste (nine, or one more than Charles Leno’s eight for the season). The most costly penalty? Barton’s face mask moved the Niners from what would have been a 3rd & 3 at the Washington 33 into a 1st & 10 at the Commanders’ 18. They’d score five plays later to give the visitors a double-digit lead for the rest of the day.

Digesting the Division: Dallas (11-5) is in first place thanks to owning the division/conference/common opponent/TV rating tiebreaker over Philadelphia. The Cowboys have the No. 2 seed in the NFC while the Eagles as the top Wild Card are No. 5. The New York Giants (5-11) are assured of third place thanks to their sweep of Washington (4-12), as New York is in 13th place of the NFC at this time while the Commanders are 14th thanks to a Week One win over Arizona.

Elimination Island: Add Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Denver and Chicago to the non-playoff party. While it might sound cool that 11 teams are competing for five playoff spots in Week 18, there’s a chance we still have a division winner with a losing record (NFC South).

Comparing the Quartets and Conferences: The AFC North (41-23) remains the class of the league, and with everyone playing division foes next week, they’ve secured the best composite record for 2023. The NFC South (25-39) secures the division of depression for this season, while the NFC East’s disastrous December (5-13) has the division 31-33 with one week left. Wins by Pittsburgh and Jacksonville give the AFC a 46-34 edge over the NFC.

In the Booth: Adam Amin and Mark Schlereth worked their third and fourth games, respectively, and with FOX broadcasting the Week 18 game with Dallas, this duo might draw the Burgundy and Gold one more time. Condolences …

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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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