I know what you’re thinking. Who are the Commanders? Is this some new team the league is introducing this year? No, the Commanders are the new, uninspiring name for the previously uninspiringly named Washington Football Team.
Maybe the Commanders are hoping that a new name will help fand forget about the rather disappointing season they had last year. The team has a decent chance to be a solid team in 2021 but ended up failing to meet those expectations.
If Washington wants to improve this year it will need some good production from their new quarterback, who is just as underwhelming as the team’s new name. Carson Wentz was once tabbed as an up-and-coming star in the league. Now, five years and three teams later, he is a quarterback you would rather see starting for the opposing team than your own.
The Commanders were able to acquire Wentz this offseason because the colts were disappointed with how he fared in his lone season in Indianapolis. Now, he will be on a worse offense (Washington doesn’t have Jonathan Taylor or a Quenton Nelson) but will be facing the same type of pressure. Wentz is going to need to play some of the best football of his career this season or else he might be searching for another team in the offseason.
There certainly is not Taylor for Wentz to rely on in the run game but that doesn’t mean the running back position is completely barren. The Commanders have young stud Antonio Gibson who has been very productive so far in his two-year career. There is talk of Gibson struggling so far in training camp, but Washington also has rookie running back Brian Robinson, who has shined.
Whether one of those two earns the starting job outright or they end up splitting the work, the running game should be solid. Throw in veteran back J.D. McKissic, who has exceptional skills in the passing game, and the backfield should be good enough to alleviate some of Wentz’s pressure.
The other component of the running game that will need to play well for the team to succeed is the offensive line. The Commanders’ situation up front will be a little different this year after losing guard Brandon Scherff, one of the best interior linemen in the game although he did have injury issues.
The team responded well to Scherff’s departure, adding guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner to occupy the two guard spots. They will bookend center Chase Roullier, who has been a solid starter for Washington.
The real questions come at the tackle spots. With Charles Leno and Samuel Cosmi both returning after making 17 and nine starts, respectively, the two positions will at least have continuity. But they will need to up their play this year to provide Wentz with enough time in the pocket to get the job done. Wentz is not the kind of quarterback that thrives under pressure (not like most are) so it is incredibly important that the Commanders give up fewer sacks than the 43 they gave up last year.
The one area that Washington’s offense might have the advantage over Indy’s is at wide receiver. The Colts had a very promising, young crop of wideouts for Wentz, but none of them were as good as Terry McLaurin.
McLaurin has the potential to be a superstar at the position but has largely been held back by poor quarterback play. It is still not clear how well Wentz and McLaurin will mesh together in their first year as teammates but the potential for a dangerous pairing is there. If the duo clicks in year one, then they could both have fantastic seasons.
Another promising pass-catcher on the Commanders is rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Washington took Dotson with their first-round pick this year after a great career at Penn State. Although Dotson is a little small (5-foot-11, 182 pounds), he has incredible hands and the strength to win contested catches. It may take some time for the rookie to develop but he has the chance to turn into a very productive weapon for this team.
The rest of the playmakers on the offense aren’t too bad either. Tight end Logan Thomas is a reliable option in the passing game that has shown the ability to be great at times. The former quarterback only played in six games due to injury last year but a healthy season in 2022 could have him looking much closer to his career year in 2020. Washington also has some young potential contributors at wide receiver. Curtis Samuel, Cam Sims, Dax Milne, and Dyami Brown are all either 26 years old or younger and can have the potential to be effective this year.
The good news for the Commanders is that the offense might not have to be that good in 2022 because the defense has the potential to carry the team. The bad news is that the defense looked a lot worse in 2021 than in 2020, which may be a sign that the unit isn’t as good as we may have thought.
The key to that will be defensive end Chase Young. In 2020, Young was bursting onto the scene with a Defensive Rookie of the Year award and looking like one of the best pass-rushers in the entire league. In 2021, Young played in just nines game and only recorded a sack-and-a-half. There is no coincidence that the Washington defense plays much better when Young is at his best.
The third-year player will miss at least the first four games of this season on the PUP list after his season-ending torn ACL last year. But when he does return he will need to prove that he is still the player that took the league by storm as a rookie. If Young can regain that form then it will go a long way toward the defense improving as a whole.
Of course, Young won’t be all alone on the defensive line; the Commanders actually have one of the most talented d-line units in the NFL. Defensive end Montez Sweat is one of the most freakishly athletic pass-rushers in the league and he has translated that into production, racking up 21 sacks over his first three seasons. Washington also has a trio of former Alabama players at defensive tackle, with Pro-Bowler Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and rookie Phidarian Mathis clogging up the middle.
The Commanders certainly don’t have as much talent at linebacker as they do on the defensive line, but the backers are still capable of holding their own. Linebacker Cole Holcomb has been a surprising revelation for the team. The fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft has not just developed into a starter, but a high-quality one, leading the team with 142 tackles last year.
Washington is hoping that Holcomb can help fellow linebacker Jamin Davis experience a similar type of improvement. Davis, a first-rounder in 2021, is incredibly talented but didn’t necessarily play up to his expectations as a rookie. He could just need a year to acclimate to the league but now in his second year, he will need to step up big time.
The secondary is another area where the defense will need improvement in order to get back to its play from 2020. The corners especially will need to step up this year after giving up the fourth-most passing yards and most passing touchdowns in 2021.
The Commanders have the players to put together a much better pass defense, so talent is not the issue. Corners William Jackson and Kendall Fuller are both very talented players that belong as starters in the league. They were both extremely active at getting to the ball last season but weren’t as good at turning it into turnovers (only three combined interceptions). Those two don’t need to improve too much in order for the defense to be better but a little bit more good luck on some interception attempts wouldn’t hurt them.
The real issue is the third corner spot where there is not a clear guy in that role. Benjamin St. Juste, a second-year corner, is the leading candidate for the spot but he has not solidified his place yet. He will need to not only win the job but make plays once he gets it if he wants to play significant snaps. If not, other corners such as Corn Elder, Danny Johnson, or rookie Christian Holmes could see some snaps.
At least Washington has some certainty at the other position in the secondary. Safeties Bobby McCain and Kamren Curl will both come back in the starting roles, which is a good sign. But the pass defense still had some major issues even with those two on the backend so good play from that dup may not be enough to elevate the entire secondary.
Unfortunately, even with the new name, I think the Commanders finish this year with the same record, 7-10, as last year. It seems like the same issues that plagued Washington in 2021 will still be present.
Quarterback may still be a problem even with the addition of Wentz. The offensive line and running game could take a step back. The defense may struggle again with a dominant version of Young. And the secondary has the chance to be one of the worst in the league again.
If the Commanders had a more manageable schedule then I could see them ending with a winning record but that is not the case for them. Not only will they play the Cowboys and Eagles twice each, but Washington will also face the Titans, Packers, Colts, Vikings, and 49ers. I fully expect the Commanders to struggle with the good teams while beating up on the bad teams enough to have a pretty solid season.
Obviously, all of this depends on Wentz. The Commanders could be much better or much worse based on his play this season. We will most likely get a decent version of Wentz, not great but also not horrible, which will lead to the Commanders ending squarely in the middle of the pack with a 7-10 record.