When they last met: Washington and Dallas

The Commanders are hoping for a much different result this time around.

“When they last met” is an ongoing series during the NFL season, recalling the preceding game between Washington and the next opponent on the Commanders’ schedule.

Dallas 56, Washington 14 – Week 16, December 26, 2021

The Dallas offense reached the end zone five consecutive possessions on their way to a 56-14 romp of the Washington Football Team at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

It may have been the worst performance by Washington in a decade. Not only did Dallas move the ball up and down the field in those five consecutive possessions, but they also recorded a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown.

The Washington defense yielded four Dak Prescott touchdown passes to four different receivers (Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, Terence Steele, Amari Cooper).

DeMarcus Lawrence intercepted a Taylor Heinicke pass, returning it 40 yards for a touchdown and Chauncey Golston recovered a blocked Tress Way punt in the end zone for another score.

Trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, Heinicke had passed to Antonio Gibson for an 8-yard touchdown. In the final quarter, trailing 56-7, from the 13 yard-line Heinicke connected with John Bates who was hit at the two-yard line, fumbled and recovered in the end zone for the game’s final score.

Unfortunately for Washington, the most remembered moment of the Sunday Night massacre occurred on the Washington bench. In the second quarter, trailing 28-7, frustration building, the Washington defense was on the bench. Daron Payne voiced something to Jonathan Allen, and Allen replied; Payne then poked Allen in the head, and Allen rose to his feet and struck Payne.

 

When they last met: Washington and Philadelphia

The last meeting between these two teams is remembered more for what happened after the game.

“When they last met” is an ongoing series during the NFL season, recalling the preceding game between Washington and the next opponent on the Commanders’ schedule.

Philadelphia 20, Washington 16 – Week 17, January 02, 2022

Leading by halftime by 9 points, the Washington Football Team could not score in the second half, falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 20-16 at Fed Ex Field in Landover.

Washington moved the ball quite well in the first half with drives of 67, 63, 54 and 57 yards resulting in a 11-yard touchdown by Jaret Patterson and three Joey Slye field goals for a Washington 16-7 halftime lead.

However, four second-half offensive possessions resulted in Washington moving the ball -5, 9, 30 and 55 yards. The final WFT drive began on the Washington 25 with the Eagles having taken a 20-16 lead with 2:21 remaining in the game.

Taylor Heinicke completed five consecutive passes moving the ball to the Philadelphia 35. On second down, Heinicke connected with Patterson to the Eagles’ 30. Then Heinicke again found Patterson for 10 yards to the Eagles’ 20 with 30 seconds remaining.

However, on first down, Heinicke attempted to connect with John Bates in the end zone but was intercepted by Rodney McLeod, sealing the come-from-behind win for the Eagles. Washington had built first-half leads of 10-0 and 16-7, yet the Eagles responded, outscoring Washington 13-0 in the second half.

Immediately following the game, as both teams were leaving the field, a security railing being leaned on by several Eagles’ fans collapsed, leaving the fans on the ground and Jalen Hurts whom the Eagles fans were attempting to reach.

 

Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio in agreement on LB play

Ron Rivera agrees with Jack Del Rio’s comments from Thursday but remains positive and excited about Jamin Davis.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera may have surprised some of the media Friday, but he made himself absolutely clear.

Rivera was asked if he saw defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s comments Thursday concerning Commanders’ linebacker Jamin Davis. In addition, he was asked if those comments “were necessary to get some better play out of Jamin?”

Though the two sharply disagreed earlier this year resulting in Del Rio being fined, in this instance, Rivera made it clear from the outset that he and Del Rio are on the same page regarding the play of the second-year linebacker out of Kentucky. Shouldn’t they be? They both were NFL linebackers, linebacker coaches, defensive coordinators and head coaches.

“Well, I think we know that Jack’s honest and it’s an honest assessment. You know, the guy (Davis) did have a really good training camp. He played very well and we would like to see him play better. I don’t disagree with it. Jamin played hard. He gave a great effort, but let’s play smarter. Let’s understand that we gotta use our techniques. I talked about it. We put him in a tough position, but we think he can do it. Now, use the technique and make that guy go up and around. Don’t lose your leverage. Those are the things that I think Jack was a little frustrated with because he had a good camp and he did play well.”

Rivera was then asked regarding Davis’ struggles against Jacksonville in Week 1.

“Going up against somebody a little bit different, some things that you anticipate certain things happening, but something else happens. Well, then you’ve gotta react and fall back to your techniques and he didn’t. But that tells us that we’ve gotta continue to work with him and continue to put him in positions where he can have success.”

Rivera spoke of sometimes inexperienced players can inadvertently have the game’s excitement result in their missing their techniques. “The excitement of the game. The way things happen, and it’s gonna happen. And it’s a thing where you just continue to rep it, continue to work it and continue to develop your craft and your skill.”

“I think that (the technique) was probably the biggest thing. If you sit there and you watch him, he backs up a little bit, opens up the underneath and the guy takes it. Now, if he pops his feet, stays active, plants that inside leg, and forces him up over the top, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to get out of that situation. It’s just, those are little detail things that you’ve gotta continue to develop and grow as a player. And at that point, that would’ve been a good opportunity to show the growth that we’re looking for and expecting from him.”

Rivera likened Davis to one of linebackers in Carolina years ago.
“We had a player in Carolina, [LB] Thomas Davis, who arguably could be a Hall of Famer, but you look at the beginning of his career and he made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of things that he had to learn and grow through, and fight through the injuries that he had. But, you see the same thing when you watch Jamin, you see the little detail things that he doesn’t quite get right now. But as he continues to work at it, and continues to grow and continues to develop, his skill set is gonna translate because the young man has good quickness, he’s got good speed and he’s got good natural strength. It’s just a matter of time.”

Rivera also was clear that he and Del Rio expect more from Davis now in his second year.

“The expectations are higher. You know what I’m saying? And those are our expectations. So, our expectations shouldn’t be higher than his. He should be wanting to be perfect every time. We just wanna make sure he understands and again, I have no issue with what Jack said, because again first of all, it’s just his honest assessment. Secondly, I agree with him. I agree that the young man had a good camp and I thought he played well in the preseason. I expect him to go out and do those things. Again, if it’s a base fundamental thing, issue like that, like it was, let’s get those corrected, don’t repeat the mistakes.”

 

 

Commanders rally to defeat Jaguars 28-22 in 2022 opener

The Washington Commanders are 1-0.

Carson Wentz and Jahan Dotson connected on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:24 remaining as the Washington Commanders rallied to win their season opener over the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-22 Sunday at Fed Ex Field in Landover.

Wentz had experienced quite the roller coaster day, with two touchdown passes early but then had thrown two interceptions, and the Commanders found themselves down 22-14 when James Robinson scored from one yard with 11:45 to play.

But Wentz saw Terry McLaurin open down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown with 9:36 remaining. However, Wentz was sacked on the two-point conversion attempt leaving the Commanders trailing 22-20.

Following a Jaguars punt, Wentz led the Commanders on a 90-yard drive for the game-winning score. Facing a 3rd & 8 at the Jaguars’ 24, Wentz dropped back and looked left as Dotson was running an out and up route. Wentz lofted his pass in the end zone, and Dotson displayed his ability to catch contested passes, coming down with the biggest play of the day. It was also the second touchdown reception for the rookie in his first NFL game. Wentz then found McKissic for the two-point conversion and the Commanders led 28-22 with 1:46 remaining.

Ironically, the game-saver transpired on a third down with the Commanders’ defense. The 2021 third-down defense was nothing short of terrible, finishing next-to-last in the NFL. On this 3rd &11 from the Jaguars’ 44, Trevor Lawrence dropped back, was rushed, rolled left, and desperately lofted a reckless pass downfield which Washington safety Darrick Forrest intercepted, preserving the come-from-behind win.

Wentz finished his day 27-41, with 313 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Wentz spread the ball to seven different Commanders receivers with Curtis Samuel leading the way with 8 receptions (55 yards). Antonio Gibson caught 7 passes for 72 yards, followed by Dotson, Logan Thomas and McKissic each contributing three receptions.

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Comparing Commanders rosters from 2021 and 2022

Comparing Washington’s 2022 roster to the 2021 version.

Looking at the 53-man roster, have the Commanders made progress from the 2021 season?

Of course, we can’t ultimately be certain because games have never been played on paper. A quick look at the 2021 and 2022 rosters does reveal a few significant differences. Remember, there is also a 16-man practice squad enabling teams to bring up a player on short notice in the event of injury.

Quarterback

Gone from 2021 are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kyle Allen. Taylor Heinicke remains and the additions made are Carson Wentz and Sam Howell. Wentz brings six seasons of starting experience, and Heinicke gained 16 games of NFL experience in 2021.

Running Back

Antonio Gibson, J D McKissic and Jonathan Williams return, with the big addition being expected starter Brian Robinson Jr, the 2022 third-round selection. Robinson is out at least the first four weeks, recovering from a car jacking and gunshot wounds.

Offensive Line

Washington must replace both starting guards, Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers. New guards in 2022 are Andrew Norwell, Trai Turner and rookie Chris Paul. Tackles returning are Charles Leno, Sam Cosmi and Cornelius Lucas. Chase Roullier, Saahdiq Charles and Wes Schweitzer also return.

Wide Receiver

Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Cam Sims, Dyami Brown and Dax Milne return. Gone are DeAndre Carter and Adam Humphries. First-round draft selection Jahan Dotson is new to the position group.

Tight End

Logan Thomas and John Bates return. Ricky Seals-Jones departed via free agency. Free agent Armani Rogers and fifth-round draft choice Cole Turner are new additions.

Defensive Line

Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, Daniel Wise and Shaka Toney all return. Chase Young is recovering from an ACL tear and will be out for at least the first four games. Free agent Efe Obada and second-round draft choice Phidarian Mathis are new additions. Gone are reliable defensive tackles Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis.

Linebacker

Cole Holcomb, Jamin Davis, David Mayo and Jon Bostic return. Gone are De’Jon Harris, Jordan Kunaszyk and Jared Norris who appeared in 2021. Milo Eifler returns, having appeared in 3 games on special teams last year, taking no defensive snaps.

Cornerback

Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III and Benjamin St-Juste return from the 2021 squad. While seventh-round draft choice Christian Holmes and waiver-wire pickups Tariq Castro-Fields and Rachad Wildgoose are 2022 additions. Corn Elder, Danny Johnson and Darryl Roberts all took snaps in 2021, but are not on the roster. Troy Apke was on the 2021 roster, playing special teams.

Safety

Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest, Bobby McCain and Jeremy Reaves return to the 2022 safety group. Gone are Landon Collins and Deshazor Everett. Fourth-round draft choice Percy Butler joins the position group in 2022.

Specialists

Cameron Cheeseman (long snapper), Tress Way (Punter) and Joey Slye (Kicker) all return. Dustin Hopkins, Chris Blewitt and Brian Johnson each took their turns kicking in 2021 but do not return.

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Commanders Casey Toohill trying to do his job

Casey Toohill took advantage of his opportunities last season.

Next man up, Casey Toohill.

With Chase Young and Montez Sweat being limited to starting 9 and 10 games respectively in 2021, Casey Toohill and James-Smith Williams were each suddenly called upon to start 6 games.

Toohill came to Washington one day after he was released by NFC rival Philadelphia in 2020.

“I remember my first practice just getting tossed around and being like, I really just need to make my practice better. I need to have better habits. I need to spend more time outside of the building and then things should be better from there.”

Some of the defensive players have chided the offensive players when getting the best of the scrimmaging. But Toohill has noticeably not always been vocal. “That’s just not my style. You know, I do every once and a while. I think if you ask guys, they will say I can definitely be loud every once and a while. But yeah, in practice I just try to focus, feed off the energy.”

2020 was the last season Carson Wentz was with the Eagles. Toohill and Wentz overlapped briefly, with Toohill being released October 13. “I was there four or five games and the summer, so yeah, I overlapped with him. Really enjoyed meeting him there. He was nice to be from day one. I was a seventh-round pick, he had no reason to be but he was always kind to me which I appreciated.”

Chase Young’s sudden and terrible 2021 injury was Toohill’s sudden opportunity to contribute on the defense. “You never ever want to see someone get hurt or hurt severely. So obviously I wasn’t happy that Chase got hurt. It was very unfortunate to see. He’s a great player and a great friend, so I hated to see that, but yeah it was an opportunity.”

Toohill is learning more of the intricacies of the NFL entering his third season.

“I just think every year that I’ve played it’s become more about the details…  I remember after my first season I was like, I have to get a lot bigger. I have to get a lot stronger. Then last year, it was the minute details of my job. Hand placement, footwork, certain little pass rush things, the very small things that I thought could make a big difference in the end.”

When Toohill first came to Washington in 2020, one of his teammates was veteran Ryan Kerrigan, in his last season with Washington. Now this season, Kerrigan is a part-time coach, shadowing the coaches, and helping at times with the players.

“It’s been awesome. You know, it’s funny because I got here when he was still here, and I remember he introduced himself to me and I was like man I know who you are. I watched your film in high school class. That was awesome then. So helpful then.  I love working with him. He’s got a great mind set and it’s been a great pleasure.”

Next up for Washington is the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. In defeating the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, the Ravens extended the NFL’s consecutive record streak of preseason wins to 22. But Toohill knows what is important and what is not.

“I mean, you always want to win. That’s always the goal. But that doesn’t really change our focus. We want to go out there. We want to execute better. We want to play hard. Do our job, so that’s the focus.”

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Taylor Heinicke had 2 of the NFL’s most improbable completions in 2021

Taylor Heinicke may not be Washington’s quarterback of the future, but he provided plenty of highlights in 2021.

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When Ryan Fitzpatrick went down in the second quarter of Washington’s Week 1 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, it opened the door for playoff hero Taylor Heinicke to audition at quarterback for the Commanders.

Heinicke had some good moments, such as his performances in wins over the Giants and Falcons early in the season. There were lows, too, such as a tendency to force the ball into coverage when things break down around him.

Heinicke also played well during Washington’s four-game winning streak midway through the season to get the Commanders back into playoff contention. However, it was short-lived, and while Heinicke proved he belonged in the NFL, it was also evident Washington would continue its desperate search for a quarterback.

But Heinicke did provide Washington fans with some exciting moments in an otherwise disappointing 2021 season. In the aforementioned win over the Giants in Week 2, Heinicke’s fourth-quarter performance led the Commanders to their first win.

In particular, his touchdown pass to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones with 4:33 remaining was one of the season’s highlights for Washington. In its 2021 season review, NFL’s Next Gen Stats ranked the pass as one of the most improbable completions of the season, specifically ranking the throw No. 13 with a completion probability of just 13.7%.

As spectacular as that play was, Next Gen Stats had another of Heinicke’s completions ranking even higher. His touchdown pass to Cam Sims against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 ranked No. 6.

So, while it’s fair to say Washington needs a new quarterback, it’s also reasonable to say Heinicke did do some good things in 2021.

 

Who was Washington’s most improved player in 2021?

Who was Washington’s most improved player in 2021?

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The 2021 season was a difficult one for the Washington Commanders. On the surface, Washington didn’t take a major step backward, finishing the same amount of wins as the season before. Considering Washington’s moves last offseason, that was a disappointment.

There were the injuries, COVID-19 outbreaks and a historically bad performance from the defense during the first half of the season. Unfortunately for Washington fans, the defense was expected to carry the team until veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got comfortable with the offense.

We know how that story played out. During Washington’s early defensive struggles, almost every defender struggled throughout the first seven weeks, outside of defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. One of those, cornerback Kendall Fuller turned things around in the second half of the season.

Pro Football Focus recently named their most improved players of the 2021 season for every NFL team and Fuller was that player for the Commanders.

PFF Grade change from 2020 to 2021: 66.7 → 81.5 (+14.8)

Fuller was moved to the outside in his return to Washington in 2020, and it was volatile to say the least. He allowed a career-high five touchdowns and earned his second-lowest PFF grade of his career.

His second-year playing on the outside in 2021 went far better. He finished as the second-most valuable cornerback in the NFL and got better as the year went on. From Week 8 forward, he was the highest-graded corner in the NFL.

PFF used its own grading scale to determine each team’s most improved player. The results for Fuller are undeniable, although Washington fans who watched every game may have a different opinion of Fuller’s season.

The key statement in PFF’s grade of Fuller: “From Week 8 forward.”

That is correct. Fuller was a different player from the Denver game forward. His coverage was improved and his tackling — always a strength — remained outstanding.

As far as the eyeball test watching every game, and not using PFF’s data, I would give linebacker Cole Holcomb credit for a much-improved 2021 campaign. The third-year linebacker took another step forward in his career last season and if Washington can land a true inside linebacker, Holcomb can be even better in 2022 and beyond.

2 Commanders among PFF’s top 101 players of 2021

Two Commanders ranked among PFF’s top 101 players of 2021.

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The 2021 NFL season was one to forget for the Washington Football Team — now Commanders. After going to the playoffs in head coach Ron Rivera’s first season in 2020, Washington fell to 7-10 in 2021.

There were many reasons why the 2021 season was such a failure for Washington. First, the team signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in free agency to pair with returning stars Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson. Only McLaurin and Gibson played in more than six games due to injuries.

Then, there was the defense. Miscommunication, underachieving, injuries, and COVID-19 played a part in Washington’s defensive failures in 2021. While the Commanders were historically bad defensively early in the season, the unit played much better in Weeks 7-15 before COVID-19 took its toll.

Which Washington players stood out the most? According to Pro Football Focus, two Commanders ended the season on the analytics site’s top 101 players of 2021: defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Surprisingly, guard Brandon Scherff and wide receiver Terry McLaurin missed the cut. Unlike the NFL Network’s Top 100 players, PFF emphasizes the individual grades the site gives each player.

Here’s what PFF said about Allen, ranked No. 54:

Allen was one of the most consistent interior pass-rushers in the game this season, although he cooled off a little down the stretch. Allen registered 67 pressures overall, upping his career-high by 17. He made 32 defensive stops and recorded an elite 90.9 PFF pass-rushing grade for a Washington defense that vastly underachieved relative to expectations.

And Fuller, ranked No. 73:

Given the overall performance from Washington’s defense, it might be hard to believe that there was anybody who performed well in coverage, but Fuller was that man. He earned his best overall grade and coverage grade since 2017, racking up 14 pass breakups even though he came away with just one interception. Fuller allowed only 9.4 yards per reception and put up an excellent grade against the run.

If you ask Washington fans, many would disagree with Fuller. However, Fuller’s second half of 2021 was much better than his first half of the season.

Kendall Fuller, Jonathan Allen earn spots on the ‘All-Collinsworth Team’

The “All-Collinsworth Team” isn’t quite the “All-Madden Team,” but an honor nonetheless.

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One of the biggest honors for an NFL player from the 1980s until the early 2000s was the All-Madden Team. Yes, the All-Pro teams and Pro Bowl were still around, but if you made the All-Madden Team, that was a different type of special.

The legendary John Madden would name his All-Madden Team after every season. And in an era where Washington was a consistent winner, numerous players, the “Hogs,” to Gary Clark, Darrell Green and others were All-Madden regulars.

Players even received an All-Madden jacket.

Sadly, the All-Madden team is no more. But for players who received the honor in the 80s and 90s, it meant more than the Pro Bowl.

While no one can replace the All-Madden Team, Cris Collinsworth of NBC now does his All-Collinsworth Team. Again, Collinsworth is no Madden — no one will ever replace Madden — but as the majority owner of Pro Football Focus, he offers a different approach in naming his All-Collinsworth Team.

Collinsworth, using PFF grades and his role as the color commentator for Sunday Night Football, has a unique perspective in naming his “best in the NFL” team.

How many Washington players made the All-Collinsworth Team in 2021? Two, both on defense in Jonathan Allen and Kendall Fuller. Here’s what Collinsworth had to say about Allen and cornerback Fuller.

3. JONATHAN ALLENWASHINGTON COMMANDERS

Allen ranked second among interior players this year in pressures and first in quarterback hits. While his run blocking was subpar, he tallied a 90.9 pass-rushing grade that ranked third at the position.

3. KENDALL FULLERWASHINGTON COMMANDERS

Fuller is quite possibly the best tackler at the cornerback position, with a league-leading 64 tackles in coverage. He also regularly forced tight-window throws, allowing a 35.6% open target rate that ranked 20th among cornerbacks. His stick coverage and sure tackling helped him allow only three touchdowns in coverage this season.

Fuller is a bit of a surprise. He struggled at times earlier in the season but played much better in the second half of the season. Allen continues to prove he is one of the best in the NFL at his position.