There are two games left in the regular season before the Commanders postseason games begin, but with Christmas and New Year’s happening, it’s kind of a slow week on the blog, so I thought I’d jump in early with the kind of article that is usually published in February, after the season has ended.
Back in June, I published an article in which I attempted to use a macro-to-micro (top down) method for estimating the 2022 production of the offensive skill players, i.e., quarterback, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.
With 15 games complete, I think we can, during this slow week, jump in a bit early and assess how I did.
First, the quarterback production.
- The left hand column shows the projection that I made back in June.
- The right hand column shows the actual production for Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke (combined) through 15 games.
- The middle column imputes 17-game totals based on the 15-game actual numbers.
As you can see, the number of pass attempts is very close. The Commanders are on track for about 585 attempts; I projected 600.
The completion percentage is about 1% lower than I projected. That’s close, but given the fairly narrow range of completion percentages, 1% is still a fairly significant miss.
I got the yards per attempt exactly right, though the slightly lower number of passes and slightly lower completion percentage means that I overshot the total yards by about 75.
The big miss is on interceptions. I projected 9 for the season; the Commanders already have 12, and are on track to hit 14 by the end of the season.
Breakdown by QB
Of course, when I created my season projections, they were done with the expectation that Carson Wentz would be the QB for most or all of the season. As it turns out, we’ve actually seen a bit more of Taylor Heinicke to date.
Here’s a breakdown of their production stats by QB:
Most of the stats are pretty comparable (not on a per-game or per-snap basis, as Heinicke has 9 games and 614 snaps, while Wentz has 7 games and 441 snaps). Surprisingly, Heinicke has the higher yards per attempt figure. My first thought was that Taylor was benefiting from more yards after catch, but interestingly #4 has been more aggressive throwing downfield than #11 based on two stats: intended air yards per attempt and completed air yards per completion. Not only that, but it’s Carson Wentz who has benefited from higher Yards after catch per completion.
This is pretty much the opposite of what I expected, and helps explain the 1% difference in completion percentage between the two passers.
All in all, I feel like the offense has produced the kind of attempts, completions and yardage that I expected when I made my projections, but has been less successful in converting that production into touchdowns. In fact, in my prediction article, I projected the offense to average 23.3 points per game; instead, through 15 games, they have averaged just 19 points per game, which I ascribe to issues scoring touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals.
The pattern on this chart is the same as on the QB passing chart, though, of course, it summarizes different statistics.
As you can see, Terry is on track for 83 receptions and 1,260 yards. I projected 88-1,200. The difference is that McLaurin has had a lot of explosive plays this season. Among wide receivers, he is tied for 13th in receptions of 20-yards or more with 14 such receptions, and 13th in yards after catch with 371 yards.
Dotson is on track for fewer receptions and yards than I projected, primarily because he missed 5 games due to injury in the middle of the season. Had he been healthy for the full 15 games, he would likely have been tracking ahead of my projection. You can see that his average of 14.3 is well ahead of the 13.5 that I projected, and with 7 touchdowns already, he is on track to double the 4 TDs that I projected for him.
Curtis Samuel has made up for Jahan Dotson’s absence, and has gotten more usage as a receiver than I expected him to, I had projected Dotson and Samuel to each get about a 50/50 split between slot receiver and lining up wide. In fact, per PFF, Samuel has 542 snaps (75.5%) in the slot vs 176 lined up wide (24.5%), while Jahan Dotson’s split is 27.3% in the slot and 73.7% out wide. You can see the difference those alignments have made in the averages, with Dotson outperforming my projection, while Samuel underperformed (10.5 actual vs 13.5 projected).
I didn’t project many receptions or yards for Dyami Brown, and he has delivered even less than I expected, but he’s been efficient in some ways. In fact, he has gotten a first down or a touchdown on every one of his 5 receptions this year.
As a group, these 4 pass catchers are on track for slightly fewer receptions, but more yards, a higher average, and more touchdowns than I had expected.
If the wide receivers have out-produced my projections, the tight end group has definitely under-produced compared to my preseason expectations.
You can see the numbers for yourself. Through 15 games, the group has just 51 receptions for 446 yards and 2 touchdowns.
I haven’t done any real analysis here, but I will offer my opinion based on having watched all 15 games. I think it’s the fault of the quarterbacks. Wentz and Heinicke have targeted the TEs less, and have thrown too many uncatchable balls when they have looked their way.
Logan Thomas averaged 4.28 receptions per game in 2020 & 2021; this season, he’s averaged just 2.81 per game, while his catch percentage has dropped from 67% to 61%, and his average has fallen from 9.6 yards per reception to just 8.1.
Per fantasypros.com Thomas has had only 31 catchable passes on 51 targets, with zero drops.
I have focused on Thomas here because he has more than twice the number of receptions and yards as John Bates, and the other two TEs (Turner and Rodgers) combine for just 6 receptions and 87 yards.
All in all, after spending two seasons making heavy use of the tight ends in general, and Logan Thomas in particular, the passing game shifted much more towards the wide receivers in 2022.
- I projected 102 receptions for 740 yards and 4 TDs for Washington’s running backs.
- Through 15 games, they have 82 receptions, 586 yards and 3 TDs.
- This imputes to production over 17 games of 95 receptions, 676 yards, and 3 TDs.
Overall, the running backs as a group are on track to come in slightly below what I expected from them in as receivers in 2022. They should end up with about 91-93% of projected receptions and yards, and within 1 TD of the projected receiving total, which seems pretty reasonable.
With Brian Robinson out early and JD McKissic missing the second half of the season, Gibson has been the primary receiver (56% of the receptions and 60% of the yards) among the running backs.
It will surprise no one that the Washington running backs have been carrying the ball more than I projected. I had predicted that the offense would shift to more of a passing attack as compared to 2021, and for a while, that seemed to be what was happening, but from Week 6 onwards, the percentage of runs has been among the highest in the league.
Overall, the running backs are on track to have more carries (460 vs 437) than I projected, but fewer yards (1,761 vs 1,840) because the running game has been less efficient (3.8 yards per carry) than projected (4.2 yards per carry).
Gibson and Robinson have both had a lower average than I projected, while McKissic matched the 4.3 yards per carry that I predicted for him this season.
The really dramatic difference for the group is in the number of touchdowns scored versus what I projected. I said in June that the running backs would carry the ball across the goal line 18 times, but through 15 games, the three backs have rushed for just 6 TDs.
Also, I projected Gibson and Robinson to combine for 1,305 yards; they are on track for roughly 1,430, which makes up a lot of McKissic’s missing production, but I badly miscalculated (back in June) how integral Brian Robinson would be to the Commanders offense. I predicted 82 carries and 345 yards for the full season — he has 181 carries and 710 yards in just 11 games!
It’s clear that the biggest issue for the Commanders this season has been scoring touchdowns. Averaging 19 points per game has been good enough for .500 record, but if the team wants to prevail over the next two weeks to reach the playoffs, and then have some success once they get there, the offense needs to be able to produce at least one more touchdown per game.
It appears as if Ron Rivera may be ready to return to Carson Wentz to finish out the season. If so, we need to hope that he can make use of the running weapon that Brian Robinson provides that he was missing in the first month of the season, and that he can improve the offensive scoring. If that happens, then Washington has the opportunity to do something special before the 2022 season comes to an end for them. If not, then the end is likely to come much sooner and be much less satisfying.
With the 21st ranked scoring defense in the NFL through 15 weeks, the Cleveland Browns could be just what the doctor ordered for this Sunday’s game. Of course, that’s what I thought about the Giants matchup on Sunday Night Football in Week 15, so we’ll have to wait & see. If Washington can get the victory on Sunday, then they control their own destiny with respect to qualifying for the playoffs, and everything they want will be possible.