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2022 Washington Commanders Team Preview

commanders team preview

The Washington football team has been stuck in the middle for most of the last half decade. Will the acquisition of quarterback Carson Wentz push Washington into playoff contention? Or will the newly-named Commanders remain on the outside looking in? Let’s take a closer look at the Commanders:

Opening Win Total: 7.5

Current Win Total: 8 to 8.5

Schedule Difficulty: Medium

Offense

Washington’s 2021 offense would have looked different with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Instead, Fitzpatrick sustained a hip injury on opening day that cost him the rest of the campaign. The team overachieved at times with Taylor Heinicke under center, but they were ultimately a below average offense. I’d even call Washington’s 7-10 record from last season a little inflated. 

Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Commanders offense was:

  • 21st in net passing yards.
  • 12th in rushing yards.
  • 24th in points per game. 

Rich Gannon isn’t so sure that newly acquired quarterback Carson Wentz is a significant upgrade over Heinicke. Wentz may have won the 2017 MVP award if he didn’t miss the final three games due to injury. That 2017 campaign shows Wentz is capable of playing at an elite level. But that was five full seasons ago. Wentz has never been quite the same since that season-ending knee injury that cut his 2017 campaign short. Last year, Wentz’s 2017 offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, acquired Wentz to take over at quarterback for the Colts. Reich has seen the very best of Carson Wentz first hand, yet Reich’s Colts traded Wentz after one year. I had some measure of optimism about Wentz resurrecting his career with Reich in Indianapolis. I’m far less optimistic about that possibility now.

On the bright side, Wentz is supported by a young, talented group of wide receivers. The recently extended Terry McLaurin headlines this group. McLaurin has breached 900 yards receiving in each of his three seasons as a pro. Fantasy managers would rejoice if McLaurin could one day benefit from stable quarterback play. Hopefully he doesn’t have to wait as long as Allen Robinson has. Former No. 40 overall pick Curtis Samuel has struggled with injuries his whole career and has never had a true impact season. That said, when he’s at his best, Samuel is an explosive athlete that makes Washington’s offense harder to defend. No. 16 overall pick Jahan Dotson rounds out this group as a rookie receiver with considerable potential.

Tight end Logan Thomas will add a unique athlete to Washington’s group of pass catchers once he returns from injury. Second-year tight end John Bates is your more traditional, solid player at the position.

Washington looked like they were headed for a three-headed running back committee until reprehensible, tragic events occurred. Rookie running back Brian Robinson was recently shot during an attempted carjacking. Thankfully, Robinson’s injuries were not life threatening, and there is a chance he’ll be able to return to football this season.

In Robinson’s absence, Antonio Gibson is positioned to take on the early down role for Washington. Gibson has had a few spike games as a runner in his first two years as a pro, but he’s largely been inconsistent. Gibson is a former college wide receiver, making his sporadic passing game usage in Washington rather bizarre. The logical reason behind that is running back J.D. McKissic is a true weapon in the passing game. In many ways, McKissic is a similar player to Wentz’s Colts teammate Nyheim Hines. Overall, Washington has a good running backs group when they are at full strength.

Despite losing Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff in free agency, Washington still has a solid offensive line. The Commanders return both of their tackles in Charles Leno Jr. and Sam Cosmi, along with center Chase Roullier. Veterans Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner will man the two guard positions for Washington. If Norwell (30) and/or Turner (29) perform near their past peaks when they were both Panthers, Washington could move from a middle-of-the-pack kind of line towards a fringe top ten unit.

Defense

Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Commanders defense was:

  • 8th in rushing yards allowed.
  • 28th in passing yards allowed.
  • 17th in sacks, 17th in hurries, 5th in knockdowns, and 12th in pressures.
  • 25th in points allowed per game.

The strength of Washington’s defense is their front four, which has four former first-round picks. Unfortunately, Chase Young is going to miss the first four weeks, at minimum. Former No. 26 overall pick Montez Sweat hasn’t quite had a breakthrough year in his first three seasons. However, Sweat is already a quality pass rusher that has flashed the potential to be a perennial double-digit sack provider. Washington has one of the NFL’s best interior duos in Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. With all hands-on deck, Washington has the potential to be a premier front, in both phases.

Last year’s No. 19 overall pick Jamin Davis pairs with Cole Holcomb to form an average, at best, linebacker duo. Davis improving upon his lackluster rookie campaign is the clearest path to this group taking a step forward.

Cornerbacks William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller struggled at times last season, but ultimately form a solid perimeter duo. Jackson in particular looked more like the high-end player he was in Cincinnati down the stretch last season. Bobby McCain and Kamren Curl form an underwhelming safety duo. Nickel cornerback Benjamin St-Juste is a relative question mark heading into his second season. Washington’s secondary depth is very thin once you get past their starters. If Jackson or Fuller were to miss time, this would become a very vulnerable secondary.

Schedule

Washington could get off to a good start through their first six games: vs. Jaguars, at Lions, vs. Eagles, at Cowboys, vs. Titans, at Bears (TNF). The Jaguars, Lions, and Bears aren’t slam dunks for a team like Washington, but they are all beatable teams. A 3-3 or better record is possible for the Commanders through this run.

Into their Week 14 bye, Washington gets: vs. Packers, at Colts, vs. Vikings, at Eagles (MNF), at Texans, vs. Falcons, at Giants. The first four games of this stretch are pretty brutal, where Washington could conceivably lose all of those contests. After that, however, the Commanders could realistically sweep the Texans, Falcons, and Giants. Ultimately, Washington likely needs to go 3-4 or better through this stretch to have a shot at the postseason.

Exiting their bye, Washington closes out with: vs. Giants, at 49ers, vs. Browns, vs. Cowboys. Facing the Giants twice in a row split with a bye week is an unorthodox twist on the schedule. Those final three games at San Francisco, vs. Cleveland, and vs. Dallas comprises a difficult stretch. Especially since Deshaun Watson will be back at quarterback for Cleveland. A 2-2 record to finish up would be a borderline win for the Commanders.

Final Thoughts

Washington has a nice collection of young pass catchers paired with good lines on both sides of the ball. Their defensive line could finish this season as an elite unit once Chase Young returns. However, the Commanders lack a great answer at quarterback and their secondary could realistically be below average once again. Combine those factors with Washington’s tough schedule, and I’m surprised their win total has moved up to 8.5 games at some spots. In fact, that is one of two win total-related line movements that have surprised me this offseason.

If Russell Wilson went to Washington instead of Denver, I could see this team being a threat in the NFC. After Frank Reich let Carson Wentz walk after only one season in Indianapolis, it would be ambitious to expect much more out of Wentz than what he provided the Colts last year. I’m treating Wentz as a marginal improvement over Heinicke. I have Washington at 7-10, which has me on their current under.

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