Preface: This article was written before the news broke about Brian Robinson’s shooting, and I nearly decided not to publish it. This series is intended to provide a lighthearted take on fans’ excitement for the coming season. Like many fans, I am feeling anything but lighthearted after Robinson’s shooting. I was very excited about what Robinson would bring to the Commanders this season from the moment he was drafted. He was just on the cusp of making his NFL dream a reality when he was struck down by a random act of violence. I am sure many fans felt echoes of the Sean Taylor tragedy when they heard the news. Fortunately, in this instance the gunshots were not fatal, and Robinson is in stable condition and appears to be recovering well.
On further reflection, I decided that I shouldn’t let a senseless act of violence by street criminals prevent me from sharing a piece that might put a smile on one or two Commanders’ fans’ faces. I would like to wish Brian Robinson a complete and speedy recovery and hope that he will be able to get back to doing what he loves in the very near future. Now, back to our regularly scheduled hype update.
The hype train had to make a little detour last week, due to the Commanders’ less than awe-inspiring performance in Kansas City, but it is back this week with a full head of steam, following the sensational preseason finale in Baltimore. The young Commanders’ second teamers and roster hopefuls headed up I-95 with a chip on their shoulders and delivered some hype-worthy performances.
There were a few major story lines to watch heading into this game:
With starter Carson Wentz sitting out, would Sam Howell seize his opportunity on center stage and build on his promising first preseason performance to make his case as the QB of the future? Would extended playing time allow Howell to rekindle the fire with his Tar Heel teammate Dyami Brown? Who would emerge as the favorite for the sixth wide receiver position? Could the third-string defense succeed where the starters have failed this preseason, and make a stop on third down? Will the Commanders keep four running backs? Did the Commanders’ roster hopefuls have what it takes to end the Ravens’ preseason winning streak?
I am pleased to say that we got answers to all of those questions and more. Despite what you may have gathered from some of the overly negative comments on the Hogs Haven game threads, several of the young Commanders and roster hopefuls showed up to play and provided plenty to get excited about as we look forward to the start of the 2022 season. Here are some of the highlights.
Wide Receiver Competition Heats Up
Washington’s offense came out of the gate hot in Baltimore, with Howell firing rockets to three different receivers. The first was a crisp short pass to Dax Milne for 9. Milne emerged as a reliable target for Howell, catching all four passes thrown his way for 37 yards, with a long of 21. Milne seemed to be on his way to claiming the sixth receiver, with his polished route running and sure hands, until a few other wideouts made statements of their own.
Not content to let Milne claim the title, Alex Erickson made his case as a reliable receiving option, catching 5 of 5 targets for 36 yards.
Matt Cole has been one of the receivers on the outside looking to this point. That might have changed when he leapt over two Ravens defenders to make a highlight reel catch for 28 yards at the end of the third quarter.
Marken Michel made a few nice catches of his own on the night, including a long strike from Howell for 28.
Dyami Brown also caught two of his targets. Shame about the other ones.
As the evening unfolded, it became apparent that there might be openings for two of the receivers battling for roster spots. Rivera and crew will have to make some difficult decisions by Tuesday’s roster cut deadline. The game tape from Saturday night will only make that harder. Other teams will be lining up to grab the receivers the Commanders let go.
Third Down Defense Issues Solved
I have to admit, after last week’s showing, I came to this game with a fair amount of trepidation over how the Commanders’ second and third string-defenses would handle the Ravens’ mobile QBs and tight ends, which have been their Achilles heel, particularly on third down.
Much to my surprise and relief, the young Commanders’ defenders did something on the Ravens’ opening drive that I haven’t seen very often this preseason. They forced a three and out! And they kept doing it all night. The Ravens finished the game with an abysmal 1-8 third down efficiency, by far their worst mark of the preseason.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has caught his fair share of heat over the performance of his unit on third downs. Based on Saturday’s performance, he is clearly making the adjustments needed to fix the issues on third down. Passing defense on first down remains a work in progress.
Author’s note: this next section was written before the news broke about Robinson’s shooting. I decided to leave it as is. Patterson had a great game and is a talented young back who deserves a roster spot. Robinson’s hopefully temporary removal from the lineup obviously clears a path for Patterson to compete with Jonathan Williams for the final RB spot if they only keep three. If they keep four, he and Williams are both locks. All hype aside, that is not how I would have liked my prediction to have come true.
Jaret Patterson Makes the Case for Keeping 4 RBs
The discussion at running back has been all about Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson to this point in the preseason. With those two sitting out, the Commanders staff took the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the running backs vying for the fourth spot on the depth chart.
It was really a one man show against the Ravens. Jaret Patterson was everywhere, busting off chunk yardage runs to keep drives going and catching passes to become the Commanders’ leading receiver with 45 total yards and a long of 18. Against the Ravens, Patterson demonstrated the elusive running style that led him to rewrite the FBS and NCAA record books with the Buffalo Bulls.
I know a roster lock when I see one. Saturday night, Patterson staked his claim as the Commanders’ fourth running back for the 2022 season.
Jeremy Reaves Isn’t Going Anywhere
FS Jeremy Reaves is one of those players that just hangs onto the fringe of the roster and refuses to let go. Whenever we have thought that some younger player or FA signing will finally displace him, he steps up and makes plays to force his way back onto the team.
For example, with 1:20 left in the second quarter, and Baltimore driving just past midfield, Reaves burst into the backfield on a 3rd and 2 rush attempt to blow up the play for 4-yard loss, resulting in a Baltimore punt.
That is how you make a statement. Reaves’ position on the depth chart is safe.
Sam Howell is the Quarterback of the Future
I saved the best for second-to-last. Howells debut NFL performance against the Panthers was an eye opener, demonstrating a greater than expected level of comfort in the Commanders’ offense for a rookie transitioning from a simple college system, as well as the rocket launcher arm, quick release and dangerous running ability that he was known for at Carolina. He seemed to regress to more of what we would have expected in the second preseason game against the Chiefs. Fans were eager to see which Sam Howell would turn up in Baltimore.
Another subplot that many of us tuned in to watch was whether rookie QB Sam Howell would re-establish the connection with his favorite deep target from Carolina, Dyami Brown. Well, Howell held up his end of the bargain, an took up from where he left off in the Panthers game.
Howell opened the first quarter looking comfortable in control of the offense, leading a crisp passing attack as he connected with three different receivers on the opening drive. Facing constant pressure, Howell demonstrated poise in the pocket and good escapability on the evening, as he led the offense to its best performance to date and posted by far the best stat line of any Commanders’ QB this preseason: 24/35, 280 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 102.1 passer rating. He just needs to work on progressing through his reads a little faster and learning when to throw the ball away.
Based on what Howell has shown in the preseason, we should expect him to be pushing for starting time by the end of the regular season. If not then, definitely by opening day of 2023.
Commanders Nearly End Ravens’ Winning Streak
The Ravens came to Saturday’s matchup riding a 22-game preseason winning streak. This is one of the more bizarre records in the NFL, because preseason games are more about trying out players and preparing for the real games that start in September.
Nevertheless, the Commanders’ third stringers and roster bubble players were not intimidated. The Commanders scored first on a Joey Slye field goal in the first quarter, but fell behind when the Raven’s third-string QB discovered that WR Demarcus Robinson was being left essentially uncovered.
In the fourth quarter, Howell began to lead a comeback, putting together a 17-play, 64-yard drive, culminating in another Joey Slye field goal to bring the score to 9-17. With 9:57 left, the Commanders began their next drive, marching 66 yards down the field and ending with a Reggie Bonnafon pylon dive for their first touchdown that was worthy of Taylor Heinicke’s highlight reel.
The Commanders’ stout defense held and forced a punt on the Ravens’ next possession. The Commanders got the ball back with 2:17 left and an opportunity to end the Ravens’ winning streak with a field goal. Howell led the Commanders on a two-minute offense that advanced to their own 36-yard line, before running out of steam and turning the ball over on downs.
That was as close as any team has come to ending Baltimore’s winning streak.
This has been a thrilling preseason, highlighted by the emergence of a new Commanders’ offense, led by a seasoned veteran QB, backed up by an emerging QBotF, and surrounded by a new arsenal of weapons. The defense has shown steady improvement, as the coaching staff irons out the last remaining bugs with communication in the secondary and line discipline.
With better QB play, a strengthened rushing attack, receiving room and tight end corps, and better communication on the defense, I have every confidence that the team will finally break through the 10-win barrier, which has been the ceiling throughout the Snyder era.
Who will be the Commanders’ sixth WR?
This poll is closed
Who will be the biggest surprise roster cut?
This poll is closed