The Washington Commanders won their softball opener. Arizona is the NFL’s worst team with no fans traveling to FedEx Field, offering an easy debut for new owners...until the Commanders' offense struggled.
But, a win’s a win, and now comes a tougher test – a road game in thin air against the Denver Broncos. Win and maybe Ron Rivera won’t be atop wagers for first coach fired given a 2-0 start. Lose, and the schedule is about to get ugly with Buffalo and Philadelphia looming.
Washington learned a few things in its opener. Fear of poor play by the offensive line and tight ends came true. And, there’s no easy way to fix it. Just hope growing chemistry fills some voids.
But, Washington is still tinkering with the offense. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy wasn’t showing his best stuff in a lackluster opener. Better to save it for Denver, Buffalo and Philadelphia when needed more. Four passes to Terry McLaurin in the opener? Maybe it was a decoy.
The Commanders’ top priority against the Broncos is getting the ball out quicker. Quarterback Sam Howell held the ball way too many Mississippis. The ball is supposed to come out near Minneapolis, not New Orleans when running down the river of options. Howell was trying to be perfect, but doesn’t have the time with this line. He also was caught staring too often. Arizona picked off one, but blew two others.
That’s OK, nobody expected a passer with one career start to play mind games with opponents. Howell now sees the need to use his legs a little more, protect himself from hits after a summer of non-contact in practices and regularly get the ball to one of the first two options.
Bieniemy’s play calling was also caught being streaky. He finally remembered the running game late, but then Brian Robinson hasn’t exactly demanded attention. Robinson is a physical runner, but the offensive line left him no room. Washington has to create some lanes against defenses flooding the middle of the field by throwing deeper routes to back off safeties.
The defense needs to stop playing softer until backed up in the red zone. The opener was solid, but Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is liable to slice through the Commanders line of scrimmage. Either the front four get to Wilson in the backfield or he creates longer plays and more scoring.
End Montez Sweat yells in the huddle to teammates, saying who wants to be the closer? Well, how about finding the starter earlier in the series?
Washington’s secondary may be arguably better than the line, with safety Kam Curl looking like an All-Pro and first-round corner Emmanuel Forbes showing great instincts. But, this team was built on the line and that needs to be the first defense against Wilson.
As for the elevation factor? Washington receivers were blowing hard in practices when Canadian smoke filled the air in minicamp. But, that was three months ago. It shouldn’t be an excuse.
Washington discovered so much in its first real game. Now it’s about to get real against a comparable .500 team. Pass this test and maybe the team starts garnering some respect. Otherwise, it’s still a guessing game on how good the Commanders can be.