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Commanders fans feeling good about the team, the critical final 5 games, and St-Juste’s return

Survey results!!!

NFL: Washington Commanders at Houston Texans Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Overall confidence

Based on the results of the most recent Reacts survey here on Hogs Haven, Washington Commanders fans are feeling better every week.

Confidence among surveyed fans reached its high point for 2022 at 85% of fans surveyed saying this week that they are confident in the direction of the team.

That is certainly linked in part to the not-so-recent news that Dan and Tanya Snyder plan to sell the team, perhaps as soon as March, but of more immediate impact have been the on-field results, as the burgundy & gold have won 6 of their last 7 games and are riding their second 3-game winning streak of the season.

The most significant factor in that win streak is undoubtedly the resurrection of Washington’s defensive unit, which opened the season by surrendering an average of nearly 27 points per game in the first 4 weeks of the season en route to a 1-3 record. In those 4 games, opposing offenses compiled an average of over 370 yards per game, with the Lions and Eagles both getting 400 yards or more.

In the past 7 weeks, beginning with the Chicago Bears game, the Commanders defense has held opposing offenses to an average of 15 points and 284 yards per game, and hasn’t given up more than 21 points to anyone. That’s impressive.

The team has played complimentary football, with special teams taking care of business. Punter Tress Way was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in October, and Kicker Joey Slye was just given the same award for the month of November.

Offensively, the Commanders have made rookie running back Brian Robinson — who was nominated for Offensive Rookie of the Week for his play against Atlanta and featured in the “Angry Runs” segment of GMFB this week — the focal point of a run-heavy offense that has run the ball 60% of the time or more over the past three games — all victories.

The team is playing a strategy based on defense, ball control and field position, and it’s working. Of the Commanders’ 5 losses in the 2022 season, four have come against the 10-1 Eagles (whom Washington beat in Week 10 to kick off the current winning streak), the 9-2 Vikings, 8-3 Cowboys, and the 7-4 Titans, with the games against the Titans and Vikings being very competitive late into the 4th quarter.

Still, most of Washington’s victories have come against weaker opposition. Outside of the win over the Eagles, the other 6 victories have come against the 5-win Falcons, and a collection of teams that have between 1 and 4 wins through 12 weeks.

What should we expect in December and January?

Washington has 5 games remaining, and their remaining strength of schedule based on opponents’ wins & losses ranks 3rd toughest in the NFL. Weeks 13 & 15 comprise a 2-game home & away series against the currently 7-4 New York Giants, with a bye in between for the Commanders, in Week 14.

The other three games are against the NFC West leading 49ers, who are currently 7-4; the AFC Browns, who are 4-7, but who will welcome Deshaun Watson for his first start this week as he returns from a suspension and a 2-year hiatus; and the 8-3 Cowboys to close out the season. As mentioned, Washington lost to the Cowboys by 15 points in Dallas in Week 4, back when QB Carson Wentz was still starting and Washington’s defensive unit hadn’t yet gelled.

With such an imposing lineup of opponents (a combined 26-18), what should Washington fans expect from the final 6 weeks of the season?

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Among fans responding to this week’s survey, 83% expect the team to win 2 or 3 games, with the largest proportion of fans (54%) predicting that the team will go 3-2.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about which three games will comprise the victories, except that most people seem to agree that at least one of them will come against the Giants, with a significant number of people expecting a season sweep.

Fans seem to be least confident about the San Francisco game, which will be played on the west coast in Week 16.

Feelings about the Week 18 home game against Dallas seem to vary greatly, with some fans feeling confident, some feeling skeptical, and most feeling at least a bit nervous about the possibility of Dallas sweeping the 2-game series.

Whatever path it takes, if the majority of fans are correct and Washington finishes 3-2, the team would achieve a 10-win season for the first time since Robert Griffin’s rookie season in 2012, and only the 4th time in Dan Snyder’s 23-year tenure as owner of the team.

Impact of players returning from injury

Washington’s success this season has been built in part on a foundation of good play by backups. The most notable example has been Taylor Heinicke, who seemed to give the team a lift when he took over for injured starter Carson Wentz against the Packers. However, the team has had to use the “next man up” philosophy at every position this season, and it has done so quite successfully.

Wide receiver - After getting off to a red-hot start in the first 4 games of his NFL career, Jahan Dotson missed the next 5 with an injury. In the 3 games since his return, he has averaged about 40 offensive snaps per game, but he has managed only two catches for 27 yards in those three November games.

Tight end - The TE position has been a carousel of injuries in 2022, with John Bates out for a game, Armani Rogers missing 2 games, Logan Thomas missing 3 games, and Cole Turner active for only 5 games so far.

Offensive line - Starting with the season-ending injury to Chase Roullier, the Commanders have had to play 4 different centers this season (as they did in 2021). Wes Schweitzer, Trai Turner, and Sam Cosmi have all missed games due to injury, and players like Cornelius Lucas and Saahdiq Charles have had to step up.

Running back - The biggest story related to the Commanders roster ahead of the Week 1 opener was about the two bullet wounds suffered by rookie running back Brian Robinson in an attempted carjacking following the last preseason game. Robinson was put on IR and missed the first 4 weeks of his NFL career, and is only now appearing to be near a full recovery. JD McKissic is currently on IR with an injury that seems to be related to his season-ending neck injury from last year.

Defensive line = Of course, DE Chase Young has not yet played in 2022 after suffering a complex ACL tear in mid-November of 2021. Also, rookie Phil Mathis saw his rookie season come to an abrupt end with a knee injury in his first-ever NFL game.

Linebacker - The team’s (lack of) depth at linebacker has been tested with Cole Holcomb missing 5 games and counting. He was not put on IR until he had already missed 4 games, so his return is not imminent.

Defensive backs - The Commanders opened the season with William Jackson manning one side of the field as a boundary corner. A back injury may have affected his play, and eventually ended his season. His move to IR by the Steelers also negated the conditional trade compensation for Jackson, so he was basically shipped to the Steelers simply for the benefit that accrued from clearing the balance of his 2022 salary from the books. His loss did not really sting because Benjamin St-Juste stepped up in his place, but BSJ himself missed the Falcons game with a minor ankle injury, and his status for the game against the Giants is uncertain.

Special Teams - Punt returner Dax Milne missed the Falcons game, and he has not practiced this week. Against the Falcons, he was replaced by veteran Alex Erickson, who was elevated from the practice squad for the week. The team can (and likely will) do the same thing against the Giants this week, but numerous fans have called for rookie Jahan Dotson to be used as the returner instead. The rainy weather conditions last week may have had some impact on the decision-making; we’ll see if the coaches take a different approach this week in New York.

In this week’s survey, we asked which player who can potentially return from injury this season will have the greatest positive impact on the team when he is finally active for a game.

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Sixty-nine percent of fans focused on two players — CB Benjamin St-Juste and LB Cole Holcomb.

Benjamin St-Juste

St-Juste has, so far, missed only a single game, and he was replaced by 7th round rookie Christian Holmes. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had faint praise for Holmes when asked to assess the rookie’s play in his first defensive snaps in the NFL:

Well, [Holmes was] largely special teams contributor until he was called on last week to play a bigger role. We’re constantly working with our guys. He was called on a bigger role last week and stepped up to do his job.

Head coach Ron Rivera was a little more generous in his assessment:

Playing [CB] Christian Holmes was really a decision [where we thought], here’s a young guy that’s got some potential,and got the kind of size you look for in a corner. And he had a pretty decent day. So, we felt pretty good about that. We’ve [also] got some other guys that deserve opportunities, and it’s all about their growth and development.

Reading between the lines, it seems like the coaches would like to see St-Juste back on the field, but this is a coaching staff that seems to be rather conservative when it comes to giving players many snaps when they are returning from injury. With the Week 14 bye looming immediately after this Sunday’s game in New York, it may be tempting for Ron Rivera to be extra cautious with any player where the decision is the least bit in question, as sitting that player against the Giants in Week 13 really means 2 weeks of added recovery rather than just one.

Cole Holcomb

The reason why Holcomb may not not be seen by Hogs Haven readers to be as impactful as St-Juste in his return from injury may be the way that 2nd year linebacker Jamin Davis has stepped up in Holcomb’s absence. Davis struggled a bit this past Sunday against the Falcons, but in the 5 weeks from the Packers to the Texans, Davis led the team in tackles and his PFF grades ranged from 62.8 to 74.9. For comparison, in the first 6 games of the season, Davis had only one PFF grade above 56.1, and in 2021, he was graded at 70 or higher only 3 times in 15 games.


You may find these results from the Vikings Reacts questions interesting:

This week’s game

The stakes are high for Washington in Sunday’s game against the Giants. While a loss would not end their playoff hopes, a win would catapult the Commanders over the Giants and into the 6th seed playoff position (in the “if the season ended today” scenario) since the Commanders would be 8-5 while the Giants would be 8-6.

DraftKings has the Giants as 2.5 point home underdogs with an over/under total of 40 points. I think this is gonna be a tough, low-scoring game decided by which team makes the fewest mistakes. Based on recent form (Washington 3-1 in November; Giants 1-3 in past 4 games), I’m gonna predict a win for the good guys, but my confidence level is not high based on our history with the Giants in general and Daniel Jones in particular.

Bill-in-Bangkok prediction:

  • Washington 20
  • New York 18

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