With the NFL season right around the corner, let’s take a look at how good Washington will actually be in 2022.
Washington fans, it’s okay to be a little optimistic this season. There are several reasons why Commander fans can breathe easier as the 2022 NFL season approaches, let’s take a look at a few.
Week 1 could not get here soon enough for NFL fans, but Commander fans especially are counting the days. Washington has long wanted a talented and competitive roster, led by a capable quarterback to compete in the NFC.
In order to do just that, they’ll need to be capable of having a winning record. While that may not seem like a daunting task or ground-breaking accomplishment, it’s something Washington hasn’t been able to do consistently in quite some time.
Washington has only had five winning seasons since 2000, and only three 10-win seasons since their last Super Bowl win in 1991. They look to put an end to both droughts (and many more) this season.
The Demise Of The Defense
Washington last won the NFC East with a 7-9 record in the pandemic year of 2020. They were aided by injuries on rival division teams, but to the credit of the then-Washington Football Team, they had several injuries of their own.
The Football Team won the division in 2020 by having one of the best defenses in the league, despite having an offense that ranked 30th in yards per game, and 25th in points per game.
The next season, the defense had a noticeable regression and could unfortunately only manage seven wins. The 2020 defense ranked as the fourth-best scoring unit in the league. That ranking dropped to an abysmal 25th place in 2021.
Granted, the defense did have a stronger strength of schedule last season, and a couple of injuries to big players such as Montez Sweat, and Chase Young (15 missed games combined). However, the defense still fell short in areas where they previously excelled.
For example, Washington’s third-down defense was phenomenal in 2020. They finished sixth in the NFL allowing conversions on only 37.5% of the time. That number jumped to 48.5% last season, which was ranked 31st in the NFL. The redzone defense also had some regression, as their fourth-ranked unit in 2020 fell to a middle-of-the-pack 17th ranking in 2021.
Most notably, their passing defense dropped from being a top-five unit in 2020 to becoming a bottom-10 team in the league last season. As previously stated, the defense last year did have to go up against multiple top ten quarterbacks. They faced Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott twice.
In fact, the Football Team played each of the top five highest-scoring offenses in the league last year. The only top-five offense from the season before that the Commanders will play in 2022 is Dallas. Even if we assume they didn’t make any drastic improvements defensively (which seems to be the case), they’re already on track to fare at least a little better on that side of the ball this season.
On The Fence About Wentz
For those that remain highly skeptical of Wentz and his ability to perform well in Washington, a lot of those concerns lie in his ability to be a good decision-maker. Hopefully, by the end of this those who were unsure of Carson’s fit feel a little more confident he’s in a good position to succeed.
Now, no one is happier than Terry McLaurin to finally have a legitimate quarterback, but current Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner certainly has his own case to make as well.
Turner has been an offensive coordinator for two seasons, and a portion of another, but has been working with quarterbacks for years. From 2014-2016, Turner served as the QB coach for the Vikings and then served as QB coach for the Panthers from 2018-2019, before becoming Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2020.
Over the years, he’s coached several quarterbacks including Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, and Taylor Heinicke. All four of those QBs saw the best seasons of their careers at the position under Scott, especially with completion percentage. Newton is a former league MVP and has been to the Super Bowl, but at the same time, was never known for his accuracy. In Turner’s first year as a QB coach in Carolina, he paved the way for Newton to complete 67.9% of his passes after only completing 58.5% of his passes in his career up to that point.
Following that trend, I think it is safe to say that Wentz is in good hands.
Pass Catching Targets
Although it is true that the Washington offense has been average recently, they haven’t really gotten a fair chance to showcase their true potential. They were marred by injuries as receivers Curtis Samuel, and Logan Thomas were only able to play five and six games, respectively. Not only that, but many forget how short-lived Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tenure in Washington was, as Fitzpatrick was injured in the first half of last year’s Week 1 matchup against the Chargers.
Heinicke took over and started 15 games, resulting in a 7-8 record.
The offense also added rookies WR Jahan Dotson, RB Brian Robinson Jr., and TE Cole Turner. All three of these players are slotted to provide an immediate impact on the team and have already shown flashes in camp.
While McLaurin has been phenomenal, he can’t be the sole source of help the quarterback has in the passing game. Due at least in part to the injuries to Thomas and Samuel, Terry was all by himself and ended up being the fifth most double-covered receiver in the NFL in 2021.
As you can see from the list above, only two of the most-doubled receivers in the league have an open percentage of below 50%; Davante Adams and McLaurin. This, of course, is no coincidence as many of the perennial league leaders in receiving have a counterpart that will allow them to be open more times than not. Terry and Davante did not.
However both are now accompanied by a solid number two receiver and playmaking tight end, so we should see their open percentages increase.
Despite the multiple injuries to the offensive line, they were still the sixth-ranked unit in the entire NFL last season. Even if the loss of Brandon Scherff in Free Agency was disheartening to some, it was almost a matter of time to others.
Scherff had been the Commanders best offensive lineman since Trent Williams left a few years back and had a large part in contributing to last year’s top 10 unit.
However, Scherff hasn’t played a full season since his first two years in the league. Washington was able to post a top 10 ranking despite him missing six of those games and playing the majority of the season hurt. He was then replaced by former Jaguars and Panthers 1st-Team All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell, who graded similarly to Scherff last season and most importantly played every game.
There was another hole on the offensive line after the team decided to let Ereck Flowers go in the spring. Flowers has been replaced by Trai Turner and versatile linemen Wes Schweitzer. Schweitzer has experience at both tackle, and as an interior lineman, which came in handy last season when injury struck. There’s also added depth with the addition of rookie guard Chris Paul.
The tackle position is set with Charles Leno and Samuel Cosmi back as the starters protecting the edges. Cornelius Lucas is the team’s swing tackle and Saadhiq Charles is depth. While hopefully, the line will hold up, in case of injury, there is a good chance that very few beats will be skipped in their absence.
Running Back By Committee
At running back, playmaker Antonio Gibson is set to return (no pun intended) as well as pass-catcher J.D. McKissic, who made Washington fans gasp until they found out he wasn’t heading to Buffalo. Gibson is an amazing player, he’s racked up 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns from scrimmage in each of his first two seasons. It should also be noted that 2020 was Gibson’s first time playing running back.
That said, Washington still lacked a running back they were able to consistently use in between the numbers. That’s where the addition of Robinson comes into play. After an excellent camp and flashes of brilliance in the preseason, Robinson looks like he could be the workhorse Washington’s been looking for.
The improvement of the run game should also help improve the play-action which the Commanders seem to love. Washington ranked seventh in play-action passing yards last season and 11th in pass attempts. Wentz had the fourth most play-action attempts in 2021 and Indy was sixth in total play-action yards.
This is an area that Wentz should thrive in, and the Commanders should improve on.
What Does This Mean For The Commanders In 2022
All in all, it looks like after being an elite defensive unit during 2020, Washington will now look to their offense to win some games, and potentially have a winning season. Luckily for them, they have a lot of pieces in place to do so, and a seemingly easier path schedule-wise.
It should be only up from here, right?