For a team that finished 7-10, running Taylor Heinicke as their starting quarterback, it might be hard to remember a time of giving the Super Bowl bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers a run for their money in the playoffs. I can assure you, Washington did put up a fight in their 2020 season, but much has changed in the capital after that promising playoff push. They got a new name, new quarterback, and are trying to remake that amazing defense that carried them to the 2020 playoffs. So far, the Commanders did start off with a win with many bright spots, but this came against the Jaguars-and as a Texans fan I can’t take anything accompanied with that team for a legit measure.
Washington has made significant investments into the offense as a whole, and for better or worse we are going to see how that pans out. The biggest splash of the season is, obviously, the addition of Carson Wentz. I would lie if I was to say that I wasn’t surprised by this move, but in the context of the move there is some sense. Wentz did play well over the middle portion of the season, and if he can find that form again he would make the entire offense dangerous. They have a solid offensive line paired with a running game, and have found some good playmakers to add to the offense. Overall, Wentz is an upgrade over Heinicke but his ability to push the needle will really depend on his supporting cast. Starting with the ground game, the Commanders already had a solid line with Charles Leno and Samuel Cosmi, but made an even bigger investment with Trai Turner. This line will be able to give Wentz a clean pocket, and also open up lanes for the rushing games. The thing about this running back room is that it would be a lot more dangerous if not for the tragic injury to Brian Robinson. He would have paired perfectly with Gibson, and given the team a one-two punch. It’s not like the entire team is in shambles though, because the aforementioned Gibson can still carry the load, and periodic mixing of J.D McKissic will keep the running attack functioning. The biggest improvements on this team can be seen directly in the receiving corps. What was a one headed monster with only Terry McLaurin to provide a solid option, has now turned into a diverse group of receivers who can all impact the game. The return of Curtis Samuel from injury plagued season in 2021 and the addition of Jahan Dotson in the first round has really rounded this group out. It can be said that Washington made improvements across the board, but in order to be successful(make the playoffs) they will need Carson Wentz to step up and utilize all the offensive improvements.
Last year, Washington was ranked 25th in total defense. The year before, they were 4th. For a team that relied on their defensive identity to win games, their struggles last year could be squarely shouldered by the floundering defense. Sure they lost Chase Young, but the team was built with multiple 1st round picks on the defensive line and the addition of Jamin Davis in the first round was supposed to make this defense even scarier. In the first game of the season, they did give up 22 points to the Jaguars, but the improvements were there. There were moments that you could see a top-5 defense, but there were also moments when the Jags just diced up the defense. With Young missing at least the first four games of the season, the reliance will lie with Montez Sweat and the interior pressure from Jonathen Allen and Daron Payne. Outside of the line, Davis has been showing improvements and if he can tap into that potential then he could be really special in the middle of that defense. Another bright spot from the first game is the production of Darrick Forrest, who is showing up in coverage as a big time defender. Overall, this defense is good. The question is going to be if they are good enough to keep the offense in games, and at some points is this defense going to dominate enough to win ball games. The potential is there, but it’s up to the coaching and personnel to unlock that potential and create the most dangerous version of this team.
Top Image: Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images