The season is only midway (kinda) and already the Washington Commanders have blown their playoff chances.
With a softer schedule, Washington should be at least 6-3 rather than 4-5 as it readies for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. November has been coach Ron Rivera’s highpoint over three years with a 9-1 mark after beating New England on Sunday. But like previous years, bad starts undermine making any real moves come December.
Washington’s midseason grades are reflective of a promising teen who seems bored in class. A mixture of mediocre marks you know can be better.
It starts with coaching. The Commanders get a D overall for underperforming because of the coaching staff. At times, Ron Rivera and Co. seem overwhelmed with few counters. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s answer to everything is a pass. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio wants his secondary to fall back with rarely a counter punch.
Too many clock mistakes, poor challenges and mishandling personnel. Rivera never got through to his prize 2020 second-overall choice Chase Young to become a team player and playmaker before finally peddling him off for a middling pick. Rivera the GM undermined Rivera the coach, but the latter has relied too much on patience that never matured. Too often, the team entered games flat and lost to inferior ones like Chicago and New York.
Washington could have won the two Philadelphia games. Really, the only loss was a butt kicking by Buffalo that is truly a better team. Washington could have been poised to be a real contender with a November move like past years before fading. Instead, it provides false hope at best entering the NFL’s sixth toughest remaining schedule.
When pink slips fly in January, they’re merely months late.
Quarterback Sam Howell gets a solid B. He’s a puncher and fighter who survived 44 sacks. Bieniemy is finally figuring Howell’s strength so this could be a solid combination for years depending on the possible coaching change. Could a new head coach keep Bieniemy as the OC? Maybe EB’s the next head coach.
Running backs receive a C partly because of sparse opportunity. They’ve been forgotten some games. Brian Robinson has several electric scores, but not punching through lines often enough. Antonio Gibson may finally have the proper role as a receiver/runner. Still, Washington needs more ground game, especially when leading late in games.
Receivers gain a B-plus. There’s not much more they can do. Terry McLaurin is on pace for 90 catches and 1,000 yards. Jahan Dotson has been less sure-handed than last year, but should be a 60-catch producer. Curtis Samuel has been steady when healthy and reserves go deep in this unit.
The offensive line gets a D, but there’s hope after inserting center Tyler Larsen and guard Chris Paul against New England. Washington stopped a decent Patriots pass rush. Rivera seems to want credit for inserting two players 30 pounds heavier than predecessors Nick Gates and Saadiq Charles. Instead, the blame goes for not choosing them at the start. If Washington can pass block, it has a puncher’s chance each week.
The defensive line will ultimately get a split grade after trading Montez Sweat and Young. But then, those two had a limited impact anyway. For now, the line gets a D. Interior linemen Daron Payne and Jon Allen haven’t played as well as last year. Sweat and Young weren’t impact players. The unit allowed too many big runs and little pass pressure. Definitely the biggest disappointment of the season.
Linebacker is a D-minus. Jamin Davis is finally starting to be a decent player three years after taken way too high in the draft. It’s nice that he’s not a major liability anymore, but it’s still a bad pick. Free agent Cody Barton is already on injured reserve. The unit has never been much under Rivera and Del Rio, both former NFL linebackers. Next year, find the next London Fletcher.
The secondary gets a D because no pass rush, no pass defense. First-rounder Emmanuel Forbes was benched for two games as another first-round reach by the Commanders. Kendall Fuller seems to quietly finishing his free-agent deal and gone in 2024. Benjamin St-Juste is a good tackler, but gives up too many big plays. An absolute must is re-signing safety Kam Curl.
Special teams is a solid B-plus. An occasional mistake by coverage units. Kicker Joey Slye has been dependable and converted a team-record 61-yard field goal. Jamison Crowder is the best punt returner in years. Snapper Cameron Cheeseman seems to have survived the yips.
Overall, it’s another lackluster year that will probably fade to black soon. Too bad – they coulda been contenders.