Editors note: Robert Smith was in the booth Week 1 for the Washington Commanders’ win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He shared his thoughts on the game and his message for both teams—and both fanbases—going forward.
A Fresh Face in Washington
I went into this game with high expectations—for both teams.
The Commanders and Jaguars added some playmakers for their quarterbacks. And in the Commanders case, a new quarterback in Carson Wentz. Talking to the Washington coaches before the game, we learned about their evaluation of Wentz. They felt he could bring the team an ability to get the ball downfield and to get the ball outside of the numbers. Washington just didn’t feel Taylor Heinicke was capable of making some of those throws at the level they needed.
They also had “Scary” Terry McLaurin back in this one, going for his third straight 1000-yard season. And they had a healthy Curtis Samuel, who we saw succeed early in this matchup. I thought it was tremendous how Washington used Samuel much like we saw him back in his days at my alma mater, Ohio State University. Washington did a good job lining him up in the backfield, lining him up at receiver and getting him the ball in all kinds of ways.
One of the things everybody wanted to know going into this game: What would Jahan Dotson, the explosive rookie out of Penn State, look like in the offense? Well, we saw 2 touchdowns out of him. And, of course, what ended up being the game-winning touchdown. So, it was just an outstanding performance.
Scott Turner, the offensive coordinator in Washington, did a great job in this one with his staff, really changing up looks and finding ways to get their playmakers the ball. And as far as Wentz is concerned, I think this is an experiment that proved fruitful for Washington.
Bouncing Back Strong
Wentz did have a couple of interceptions in this game. On one of them, he stared down a receiver, and the safety made a play on it. But then, we saw the young first overall pick from Jacksonville, Trayvon Walker, make a great play in the middle of a screen. When Wentz went to throw the ball, he never saw Travon Walker because of his speed, explosiveness and intelligence. Walker saw the screen develop and made a great play to intercept that one.
The great thing you saw from Wentz was his ability to overcome those turnovers. That’s something he talked about with us during our meetings. He pretty much said his perspective has completely changed. He got married when he was in Philadelphia, and he has two daughters now. They don’t care if he wins or loses. He made some bad mistakes; no two ways about it … but, he recovered. You have to have a short memory as a quarterback. Sometimes there are things you don’t want to repeat, but at the same time, you can’t just dwell on them. You have to go out there, and you still have to make plays.
A New Chapter in Jacksonville
Then, out of Jacksonville, really everything I needed to know about the Jaguars and what kind of team they are and what kind of mentality those players have was to look to their game against the Colts at the end of last season. That game against Wentz in Week 18 a year ago told me everything I needed to know about the team. They had every reason in the world to curl up into a ball and want to die. They could have just worried about getting their U-Haul packed in the parking lot after the game. It was just an awful and controversial season where they had all kinds of turmoil on the coaching staff and couldn’t get a lot of wins.
Instead of curling up, they went out and played an excellent game against a Colts team that was in a “win and you’re in” scenario. Jacksonville looked fantastic. Then in the off-season, they added Christian Kirk and Zay Jones at wide receiver, and on every level of the defense, they either added a player out of free agency or drafted a player.
Building Up Trevor Lawrence
You could say things couldn’t get much worse in year two than they were in year one for QB Trevor Lawrence. Something that Herm Edwards said to me a while ago is he would always prepare his defense and his team in general by saying, “Hey, rookie quarterbacks are going to throw the ball to the other team sometimes.”
That’s what we saw from Lawrence a year ago. He threw 17 interceptions which led the league. But, he came into this season with the right attitude, new offensive weapons and his old backfield mate, Travis Etienne, back and healthy. They found success, by combining Etienne with the rest of this running attack. You can line up Etienne in the backfield. You can also line him up outside as a wide receiver and get more burst plays.
If you look at the way this game went, Etienne should have had a touchdown on their first drive. Instead, they only got 3 points because Lawrence overthrew the ball. But then, on a fourth down a little bit later in the game, Etienne dropped the ball that, if he had caught, would have made for an easy walk into the end zone.
Lawrence said the biggest lesson from year one was how close games are and how many of them come down to just one play or one series. Lawrence made a really poor decision with a little more than a minute left in the game to just kind of toss the ball up rather than throwing it out of bounds to live and fight another down. He just threw the ball up in the air. Darrick Forrest, a player that was in for the injured Cam Curl, made the interception and sealed the victory for Washington.
So, what is the takeaway message from this game?
Both Washington fans and Jacksonville Jaguars fans have a reason to be excited about what these teams are going to do this year. Particularly with what we’ve seen from some of their competition, most notably in the NFC East. The Cowboys and their injury situation with Dak Prescott and left tackle Tyron Smith leaves the door in the NFC East wide open.
Washington can make a run at it! They can actually make a run and win it. They could end up winning the division, not just having a decent season.
I think the same thing for Jacksonville. We know Tennessee has been stout. We know Indianapolis, with the addition of Matt Ryan, ended up with a tie this past weekend. I think that division is wide open too, and Jacksonville has the talent now to compete. So, both of these fan bases have something to be excited about. You’ll see much better performances on both those teams this year, and maybe even playoff runs.